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Are you motivated?

Learn Better Series

Motivation: that mysterious force that gets us to where we want to go.

It's importance lies in the way it impacts your drive to study and boosts exam success. On that basis, it's worth exploring.

Motivation can be described as:

The wants, needs and beliefs that drive an individual towards a particular goal or outcome.

Effective ways to think about motivation

After considering Alan McLean's Motivational Drivers* we can outline some useful ways to think about it.

Engage – with yourself

Ask yourself a few simple questions. How have you come this far? What's been your motivation? What is it you want, and why do you think that passing this exam will help you?

The idea of talking to yourself might seem odd, but it can be insightful.

Once you identify what's motivated you so far, and there will be something, you can use it to motivate yourself even more.


Most thoughts and ideas have structure, motivation is no different.

This is where the goal setting fits in. Set yourself a goal, and realistic targets.

Below guides you through the questions you need to ask, to set motivational goals.

  1. What do you want? – State the goal in positive terms, what you want, not what you don't want.
  2. What will you accept as evidence that you have achieved your outcome? – Make sure it is real and tangible (i.e. opening a letter and seeing it stating you have passed).
  3. Is achieving this outcome within your control? – Must not depend on others, it must be within your control.
  4. Are the costs and consequences of obtaining this outcome acceptable? – What do you gain and lose as a result of achieving your outcome?


Ask why is this goal important to me? What will it give me that I don't have now? Repeat the questions several times, what pictures do you see?

The goals that you set have to be relevant to you, they have to have meaning for you.


What do you believe about yourself? Do you believe you're 'clever' or not? Do you believe you should pass? What do you believe will make a difference to your exam success?

Beliefs are probably the most important element of motivation. As Henry Ford once said "Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right."

So challenge what you believe. Ask yourself one very simple question – 'Does this belief help me achieve my goal or not?'

If not, change it!

Delving deeper - motivation types

In his book Drive – the surprising truth about what motivates us, Daniel H Pink (a former Al Gore speech writer) argues that there are in fact three motivational systems:

  1. Survival - Playing to our instincts, we're motivated to eat, drink and reproduce.

  2. Seek reward and avoid punishment - the so called 'carrot and stick'. Reward for success and punishment for failure. You will probably have used carrot and stick techniques on yourself:

  3. 'If I answer these exam questions by the weekend I will have Sunday off, or if I don't answer these exam questions by the weekend then I won't have Sunday off' - and so on.

  4. Intrinsic - the idea that motivation comes from within.

Obviously we can have a combination of all the above: you are still motivated to eat, drink and reproduce, whilst carrots/sticks can work. But what are these intrinsic motivators?

Intrinsic motivation for your study

Studying and learning requires a huge amount of energy and input, so rather than using carrot and stick motivators, you might be better using intrinsic ones.

Pink explains that intrinsic motivators can be broken into Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

  • Autonomy – This can be achieved by making your own decisions as to how you study when you study, rather than listening to others or being rewarded for doing it. It's about taking ownership.
  • Mastery -This is a mind set and involves you believing that what you are learning is not something in isolation but contributing to a greater and longer term skill set.
  • Purpose – This links nicely back to goals, which has been the topic of previous blogs. You must feel that what you are learning has some value and purpose possibly beyond simply passing the exam. Will it help you do your job better? Etc.

Motivation can be difficult to understand, and it ultimately comes from within. It's your desire to do something, not someone else's.

But it's one of the most important components of success. It's hard to find anyone who has improved and maybe even got to the top of their sport, career or achieved an ambition without some degree of self motivation. And it's no different for exams!

We hope you're successful in maintaining or kick-starting your own motivation.

The Learn Better blog is a series of evidence based stories from the world of education, with a common theme - to inspire and motivate students. They are mostly based on original articles/blogs by Kaplan's Head of Learning, Stuart Pedley-Smith.

*A framework for motivation – Motivational Drivers, Alan McLean