Student Motivation Questionnaire

The Student Motivation Questionnaire - the SMQ


Introduction: Measuring Students’ Emotional Wellbeing 

There is a proven correlation between a student’s emotional wellbeing, or happiness, and a motivated student who achieves more academically at school.

The difficulty, however, is in identifying which students from a class of 30 need support, and to what degree and how quickly. Low wellbeing status, if missed or even ignored, will be detrimental for the student and has significant long-term consequences for them, teachers, counsellors and the school.

SMQ provides an insight into and measurement of the wellbeing and emotional state of a student. SMQ identifies which students need support and when. By intervening at the appropriate moment and, where needed, a referral to a counsellor or to another member of the pastoral team for motivational tutoring, will result in a happier student and higher student attainment.

A 2015 study published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry measured students’ happiness and psychological wellbeing status in secondary school students. The students’ general health status, happiness, self-efficacy, perceived stress, hopefulness and life satisfaction were measured.

The study concluded there was a significant relationship between happiness and psychological wellbeing. Those students with good relationships and those who had reported enjoying social events indicated better mental health status. The findings also revealed that students with higher happiness scores achieve a better school performance.

The Philosophy and Thinking behind the SMQ

SMQ philosophy is very simple. Happy students are more motivated and achieve more. Whilst we all understand the word happy, it is sociologically less than precise and difficult to singularly define, so we think about it as emotional wellbeing. The SMQ measures the emotional wellbeing of secondary school students and is invaluable for knowing who needs support to increase their happiness resulting in motivation and achievement.

The SMQ bases its measurement of emotional wellbeing on the levels of satisfaction and frustration in a student’s life. The level of balance between the two enables the questionnaire accurately to pinpoint the sources of difficulty for a student so that appropriate support can be given. Additional, deeper questions add to the understanding of the mental or emotional health of a student and clearly indicate whether it is at school or in general life where major difficulties arise. The results also point to the type of support suitable for each student. Very unhappy students usually need professional counselling before they can be encouraged to work harder, whereas moderately happy students can be given more motivational coaching, and happy students can be pushed to do better.

What is Happiness and Emotional Wellbeing? Click here

Proven Methodology

The Student Motivation Questionnaire is inspired by the work of Professor John Heimler who created the counselling method called Human Social Functioning (HSF) with a questionnaire to use in adult therapy called the Heimler Scale of Social Functioning (HSSF).

The Simplicity of SMQ

Students fill in the online questionnaire themselves. We recommend re-administering the SMQ over a period of time which will show either an improvement or decline in the student’s emotional wellbeing. When completed, the SMQ algorithm quickly and dynamically analyses the data and generates reports. There’s no complicated analytical work to do by staff. The reports are self-explanatory and can be shared with colleagues and relevant professionals.

The Reports are easy to understand

The SMQ provides two kinds of report, 'Individual' and 'Group', which can be used in a number of ways. They can identify students for support appropriate to their specific needs, highlighting the specific problems each student faces (Individual Report) and clearly identify who needs what support in order of priority (Group Report). Both types of Report give answers in numerical form and are also colour coded in green, amber and red, quickly indicating the urgency of need.

  • The Individual Report provides an analysis of each student under a number of themes
  • The Group Report puts groups of students, within their Tutor Group/Home Room, into bands of emotional wellbeing clearly identifying those most in need of support.

The following pages describe the types of SMQ reports giving examples and analyses. They also indicate appropriate actions, depending on the questionnaire results, which are also indicated.

Individual Reports

Sample of Individual Report – Example 1

Results of SMQ test for The Best College
Individual student report for students and staff

Name: A N Other

Overall Summary 67%   Might be OK, but likely some issues needing attention

Satisfaction Total 66%   All things being equal, school life should be reasonably ok
Frustration Total 32%   Might be OK, but likely some issues needing attention
Coping Ability 67%   Tough most of the time. Burdened and probably feels painful
"Good Day" 76%   A reasonable balance between satisfactions and frustrations
"Bad Day" 58%   Tough most of the time. Burdened and probably feels painful
Total Uncertainty 36%   Indefinite about a number of issues/feelings. Maybe a need for clarity
School Outlook 68%   Mostly fine. Look to see if any imbalances - i.e. low scoring answers
Life Outlook 65%   Mostly fine. Look to see if any imbalances - i.e. low scoring answers
Life - School 3%   Life and School Outlooks in accord with one another
Self Motivation 65%   Good self-motivation with schoolwork
Self Esteem 71%   Positive self-esteem
Integration - School 46%   A moderate degree of integration with the school - OK'ish
Integration - Peers 80%   A high degree of integration with peers at school
Support 75%   Well supported even if not entirely ideal
Self Control 70%   No problems with self-control - autonomous and in command
Stress Concerns 63%   Distressed - which unless alleviated is likely to get worse
Anxiety 19%   No obvious problems of anxiety
Implosion 56%   Self destructive behaviour will be operating, but maybe not picked up
Explosion 43%   Behaviour may become disruptive and even destructive


Good Bad
School better than life matched Life better than school

The main use of the Individual Reports is as a major aid to Form/Home Room Tutors and the School Counsellor. As seen in Example 1 above, there are a number of themes scored with percentages and highlighted with the green/amber/red colour scale.

Example 1 (taken from a 'real' student) shows a person who gets by most of the time (overall summary) But there is a cost with a significant difference between good and bad days (coping ability good/bad day). On the plus side, motivation for school work is at least satisfactory (self-motivation) and she feels reasonably well supported. However, there appear to be unresolved issues which cause considerable stress (stress concerns) which show themselves in behavioural problems, both internal and external (implosion and explosion). This student integrates well with peers but much less with school (integration – peers/school). Whatever the exact cause of this, the problems need addressing as without some intervention the situation is likely to worsen. Given a good level of self-esteem (self-esteem) and a flexible approach to life (total uncertainty), she should respond well to sensitive help and support.

Such analysis is invaluable to Tutors and Counsellors as it enables them to get to the core of the problem very quickly, and resistance is likely to be low as it is the student her/himself who has, in effect, made the analysis and so will recognise the feedback and be amenable to talking about it and finding a way forward.

These reports are invaluable for deciding the right support programme for students, for example who you can push, who needs more careful support.

If used carefully alongside academic achievement data the SMQ can also help you identify 'the hidden middle', those students who can get forgotten: they do 'alright' and keep their heads down so get less attention than either the gifted and talented or the obvious under-achievers. Specific learning programmes can be devised to enable the 'hidden middle' to do much better than 'alright'.

More details of some specific actions suitable for different categories of students identified with the SMQ are given in the next section.

Group Reports

Sample of Group Report – Example 2

Results of SMQ test for XYZ School, 2015, #1

Tutor Group 4G

Janet R 88
David A 82
Cem M 80
Claire F 78
Marcel S 76
Amir W 86
Ayomide D 71
David H 71
Clare P 70
Penny F 69
Nina H 65
Jamal L 63
Joao G 58
Kadir O 57
Susan F 57
Henry A 52
Elektra S 47
Kevin P 46
Claudia Y 38

The Group Report groups students by levels of happiness/emotional wellbeing. Again, graded by percentages and the green/amber/red colour scale, this report enables simple identification of the support suitable to students in the various groupings and clearly indicates the urgency of support required within any cohort thus making targeted responses much easier.

Possible Actions

There are three actions indicated by the Group Report:

  • Refer for Counselling

    Typically, the SMQ will identify a significant number of students who could benefit from counselling. These should be referred to the School Counsellor where there is one, or an external counsellor.

    These students will show up in red on the Group Report.

  • Refer for additional pastoral support

    Usually the majority of students will not be referred for counselling, but typically there will be a number who might benefit from extra care and attention from the Form/Home Room Teacher or perhaps the Head of Year. It is suggested that those staff offer ‘little chats’ from time to time, (asking open ended questions, showing interest) because these are the sort of things that will help this group of students feel more confident and perhaps ready to work a bit harder.

    These students are identified with the colour amber on the Group Report.

    Many schools using the SMQ that the Motivated Learning Trust has worked with have received training in active listening skills that helps Form/Home Room Tutors and Heads of Year carry out this support.

  • Refer for Motivational Coaching

    There is normally a group of students who are emotionally stable with no requirement for the kind of further support described above. However, some may not be working as hard as they could and are certainly strong enough to be pushed. Motivational Coaching is indicated.

    These students will be marked in green on the Group Report.

What is Motivational Coaching?1

Motivational Coaching is a term that the Motivated Learning Trust has coined to describe a 1:1 listening session, or series of sessions, focusing on the student's work. The Coach puts the student at the centre of the session and then both work together to get the student to create a set of action points which will help her/him to do better with his/her studies.

It is the non-directive nature of the listening that nearly always has the effect of increasing motivation. Thus, the Motivational or Academic Coach does not make suggestions or give advice but helps the student her/himself work out what needs to be done, as well as identifying what may be getting in the way of them doing it. Motivation is the key.

A very effective way of improving results is to appoint a part time Academic Coach to the staff. It could be a new stand-alone post or an 'enhancement' to an existing member of staff. In either case the person would benefit from being a trained listener.

Some schools give what is, in effect, a regular academic coaching session to ALL students, perhaps once a term or at least once a year. To differentiate this from Motivational Coaching we will refer to it as Motivational Tutoring. The typical way of doing this is to collapse the timetable for a designated day and 'do' the whole school with timetabled sessions, pre-sessions and post-sessions to prepare for and consolidate the work done during the Motivational Tutoring session itself. Some schools, however, have changed this pattern and found ways of fitting it in within the normal timetable over one or two weeks.

Ideally Motivational Tutoring should follow quickly on the administration of the SMQ so that the Tutors can be informed of the issues affecting a student's ability to study optimally. Training in Active Listening Skills can turn Tutors into great Motivational Tutors!

1 Sometimes referred to as Academic Coaching

What is the Definition of Happiness?

Student happiness is a primary objective of an educational institute. Yet how often do they consider what ‘happiness’ means and how should they promote it? Happiness is not only hard to measure, but it is also difficult to define.

A psychologist’s definition

The ancient Greeks thought happiness to have at least two aspects: hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (a life well lived). In contemporary psychology, happiness is referred to as simply pleasure and meaning. Psychologist Dr Martin Seligman has recently added one more distinct component to the definition of happiness: engagement. Engagement refers to living a ‘good life’ of work, family friends and hobbies.

And a more common definition: Happiness is a mental or emotional state of wellbeing defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

Emotional Wellbeing

Because happiness is so difficult to define, we think about it as emotional wellbeing (EWB). The Mental Health Foundation describes emotional wellbeing as: ‘A positive sense of wellbeing which enables an individual to be able to function in society and meet the demands of everyday life…’

Student Happiness

It is the responsibility of educators to create a safe school environment, where students feel secure, valued and share mutual respect. Teachers should strive to create a place in which students are happy and where they can actively engage. They need a sense that they are contributing to creating happiness and contributing to the happiness of others. They also need to think about difficult and challenging matters of long-term importance, all of which isn’t easy. However, there’s no reason not to engage and discuss these difficult issues. Avoiding them does not make children happier.

It’s worth remembering that learning should be enjoyable and a sense of fun should spread throughout school. Monitoring wellbeing is just as important as measuring academic progress, while a willingness to hear young people discussing difficult issues is vital. It’s imperative for educators to listen and offer support when needed.

Successful people rarely say happiness comes from fame or fortune, but it comes from a deep sense of enjoyment and personal achievement. For the student, experiencing positive and negative aspects of everyday life is no bad thing. Real, substantial happiness comes out of struggle, out of challenge and out of achievement.

The path to student’s emotional wellbeing starts with measurement and assessment - that’s where SMQ comes in.

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