To succeed at university, students require more than just academic knowledge.
Natasha Todorov and Eva Tzschaschel (School of Psychological Sciences, FMHHS) set out to equip first-year psychology students with skills to critically examine their own learning strategies, identify strengths and areas for improvement and then empower them to seek the necessary support to enable them to thrive. In this post, Natasha and Eva outline the challenges faced by first year students, why academic self-reflection and help-seeking skills are important, and how they are developing these skills in their students.

From high school to university: a daunting transition

Transitioning to university, whether directly from high school or after a gap year, can be daunting. Many students are unsure about the best learning strategies to use. Even successful high school students may struggle with the higher expectations at university. Unlike high school, where students are frequently reminded about deadlines and assignments, university students must manage their schedules and responsibilities independently. Content, deadlines, and assessment guidelines are posted online on iLearn, and students are expected to track these without reminders. If they miss a tutorial or fail to submit an assignment, they can fall behind and feel overwhelmed.

Why self-reflection and help-seeking matters for first-year students

Academic self-reflection is a foundational study skill. It refers to a student’s ability to understand their own capabilities regarding academic tasks. It involves critically examining one’s learning process, strategies, and outcomes—essentially, knowing what you know and what you don’t.

3 benefits of developing academic self-reflection practices and help-seeking behaviours:

1. Boost academic success

Self-reflection helps students evaluate their learning strategies, identify strengths, and spot areas for improvement. This metacognitive process enables students to adjust their study habits (Zimmerman, 2002), replacing ineffective practices with more efficient strategies thereby enhancing their academic performance.

Help-seeking behaviour is equally crucial for academic success. By seeking help, students recognise their limitations and demonstrate a willingness to tap into available resources. This behaviour is associated with higher academic achievement and better mental well-being. (Karabenick & Knapp, 1991). Engaging with unit staff, using university services, and participating in study groups provides additional support, helping to clarify complex topics and fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter (Ryan & Pintrich, 1997).

2. Ease the transition to university

For first-year students, transitioning from high school to university brings new challenges: higher academic expectations, greater independence, and the need for effective time management. Developing self-reflection and help-seeking skills early can ease this transition, helping students to build resilience and adapt to new challenges (Credé & Niehorster, 2012).

3. Promote long term growth

Students who regularly reflect on their learning and seek assistance when needed are more likely to develop self-regulated learning habits, which are crucial for lifelong learning and professional success (Pintrich & Michael, 2000). These skills promote long-term academic and personal growth, encouraging a proactive approach to problem-solving and continuous improvement, benefiting students in both academic and professional settings.

The aim of self-reflection and help seeking is to:
* Recognise strengths and weaknesses, define academic goals, and set realistic, achievable objectives.
* Critically assess performance, identify areas for improvement, and develop strategies to address them.
 * Utilise on-campus and online resources, seek help from staff, peers, and university resources, and engage in active discussions.
* Regularly review progress, reflect on effective strategies, be open to change, and adjust study habits as needed.
* Communicate needs and concerns effectively with staff and peers and learn from both successes and failures.

Our approach

We divided our course content into 2 strands:

  1. Psychology content (i.e. the topics to be covered in Introduction to Psychology II)
  2. Academic resilience skills (taught through tutorials, modelling, and practice)

Resilience skills are designed to reduce learning barriers associated with high executive functioning demands, supporting students with executive processing difficulties who may struggle with planning, organising, memory, goal setting, task shifting, and self-reflection. The rationale behind the design of this unit, which is offered to both on-campus and online cohorts as well as external Open University cohorts (PSYU1102/PSYX1102), is detailed in Applying UDL principles to the design of a Very Large Unit (Teche).

Our academic resilience tasks aim to reinforce these abilities and form a foundation to develop tertiary-level study and writing skills. The approach to addressing literacy decline in this unit is explained in Surely they can write? Tackling literacy decline one scoop at a time (Teche).

Our approach differs from advice often offered to educators seeking ways to support neurodiverse students or those with executive processing difficulties in that it does not require students with difficulties to disclose their challenges in a classroom setting or to a unit convenor for specific assistance. Our approach ensures that all students in the cohort receive the necessary information and support, thereby reducing the need for individual disclosures which may cause a student discomfort, especially if in a large cohort or lecture setting.

How we integrated these skills into our unit

  • We paired academic self-reflection with help-seeking skills because we don’t believe it is useful to teach students to reflect on their learning without giving them access to ways to seek help if they need it.
  • We developed a Student Support Services Hub with a downloadable Student Support Services Booklet (on iLearn) for our first-year students. It’s a comprehensive resource centre for students to access Academic Support, Technical Support or Personal/Crisis support if needed.
  • We devoted tutorial time to teach approaches to self-reflection and help-seeking.
  • We provided written materials and exercises for students to practice developing self-reflection and help-seeking behaviours.
  • We included self-reflection and help-seeking tasks at the end of every lecture module so it becomes a habit.

Techniques for self-reflection to get students started

We teach two techniques in tutorials:

Writing a Journal

Journal writing is a well-established technique that improves essay writing skills (Gebremariam & Asgede, 2023) and students have been found to transfer those skills to future activities (Alt et al, 2022). We used Bailey and Rehman’s (2022) technique, where students reflect on aspects of their academic life that surprised them, frustrated them or perhaps led to failure. This was balanced by asking students to also consider some of that week’s successes. The technique is intuitive and easy to explain but students understand that if it doesn’t work for them there are other options (such as those provided in the Student Support Services booklet (access via iLearn here).

Using a “minute paper”

Typically, a minute paper is a brief written response to a question that allows students to reflect on their learning where the responses are returned to the unit convenor to help gauge student understanding, gaps in knowledge and the effectiveness of teaching practice. They are called “minute papers” because the aim is to give students “a minute” to fill out 2 or three short questions. You can read more in Minute Papers: the ULTIMATE teaching tool for busy educators.

In our case, the student answers three questions: what they have learned, what they still need to clarify, and how they will find the answer to their questions. The response does not come back to the tutor or convenor as the response is for the student’s benefit.

Making reflection a habit

  • Classroom time is given to practice writing journal entries and filling in a minute paper.
  • Minute papers are attached to the end of every lecture module, so once students have been taught how to use them they are reminded to use them each week.
  • Students are encouraged to do a broader academic self-reflection [“How am I progressing?”] at key points in the semester, e.g., as we approach the census date. Reflecting (hopefully) becomes habitual.

Key points we remind students about

  • Academic self-reflection takes courage
  • Academic self-reflection takes practice and is ongoing
  • Academic self-reflection is constructive and positive, whereas rumination is repetitive, judgmental, negative, and emotionally charged. We are aiming at reflection, not rumination.

Promoting help-seeking behaviour

  • We remind the students that if, during their self-reflection, they decide they need assistance, there is plenty available in the university. They are not alone in their academic endeavours.
  • To familiarise students with the help that is available, they download the MQ Support Services worksheet in class and work through it in small groups. Discussing any services that students have used and recommend is generally a good way of advertising what is available. There is no better recommendation than that of a fellow student!
  • Students are directed to our unit’s Support Service’s booklet and reminded that their tutors are available to assist.

Developing self-reflection and help-seeking skills early in their academic careers helps students adapt to university life, build resilience, and achieve long-term success. By integrating these practices into our unit, we aim to support students in becoming self-regulated learners, equipped to tackle both academic and personal challenges effectively.


Some MQ resources to help build Academic Resilience:

  1. Academic Progression Self Guidance Tool – Students ( This is a good starting point if you have a student who would like begin academic self-reflection and help-seeking but may not know where to start.
  2. Unit: Time Management | iLearn ( This is an excellent module introducing students to many time management concepts.
  3. CU_CCFPIH: Developing a Growth Mindset | iLearn ( This module was developed for students in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Human Sciences as a way of introducing students to developing growth mindset strategies.
  4. MyLearn ( MyLearn is a tool that can provide students with the capability to develop a time management plan across all of the units they are undertaking over a session. It allows an overview of assessment due dates, learning activities and forum posts, over all their current units.

Resources developed to teach academic self-reflection and help seeking in PSYU1102/PSYX1102:

  1. PSYU/PSYX1102 Academic Self-Reflection Journal page
  2. PSYU/PSYX1102 Academic Self-Reflection Minute Paper
  3. MQ Support Services worksheet (prepared by Dr Olga Kozar)


Alt, D., Raichel, N, Naamati-Schneider, L. (2022). Higher education students’ reflective journal writing and lifelong learning skills: Insights from an exploratory sequential study. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 707168-707168

Bailey, J.R. & Rehman, S. (2022). Don’t Underestimate the Power of Self-Reflection (, Harvard Business Review (online)

Credé, M., & Niehorster, S. (2012). Adjustment to college as measured by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire: A quantitative review of its structure and relationships with correlates and consequences. Educational Psychology Review, 24(1), 133-165.

Gebremariam,H.T.,& Asgede, D.M.(2023). Effects of students’ self-reflection on improving essay writing achievement among Ethiopian undergraduate students: a counterbalanced design. Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education,8(1), 30-21

Karabenick, S. A., & Knapp, J. R. (1991). Relationship of academic help seeking to the use of learning strategies and other instrumental achievement behaviour in college students. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(2), 221.

Luzia, K. (2023). Minute Papers: the ULTIMATE teaching tool for busy educators, Teche

Pintrich, P. & R. Michael P.G. (2000). Multiple goals, multiple pathways: The role of goal orientation in learning and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology,92(3), 544-555

Ryan, A. M., & Pintrich, P. R. (1997). “Should I ask for help?” The role of motivation and attitudes in adolescents’ help seeking in math class. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(2), 329.

Todorov, N. (2023). Applying UDL principles to the design of a Very Large Unit, Teche.

Tzschaschel, E. & Arbige, S. (2024). Surely they can write? Tackling literacy decline one scoop at a time, Teche

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(2), 64-70.

Natasha Todorov is the Psychology First Year Level Lead in the School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Human Sciences and teaches at first- and fourth-year levels. She has focussed on integrating the teaching of generic skills into her first-year curriculum to assist students with difficulties with executive function. Her research interests lay in the role forgiveness and self-compassion plays in building resilience and in the development of a professional development course to empower high school teachers to explain research ethics to HSC students about to conduct their first research projects.

Eva Tzschaschel is an A/Lecturer and Co-Course Director for the Bachelor of Psychology (OUA) program at the School of Psychological Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Health and Human Sciences. Eva is passionate about teaching psychology and focuses on imparting transferrable skills such as clear communication and critical thinking to her students. Eva is also a member of the Macquarie University Lifespan Health and Wellbeing Research Centre. Her research interests primarily lie in health and perception research. 

Banner image: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Apple image by BÙI VĂN HỒNG PHÚC from Pixabay
Swan reflection: Image by Jürgen from Pixabay
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Post edited by Kylie Coaldrake

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