Your ticket to success? Building motivation through reward-based revision

03 Dec 2020
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm. at

It’s no secret that it can be hard to motivate yourself to study, especially when there are so many more enjoyable things to be doing. So, how can you stop being distracted and start actually getting work done?

The key thing here is distraction. Even now, every time I think about doing something that I know will be a little bit hard, my mind wanders onto things that don’t provoke a ‘panic now’ response. And with watching Netflix, scrolling through Instagram or taking a nap usually pretty close to the top of my list, that difficult task is nearly always at the bottom.

And with watching Netflix, scrolling through Instagram or taking a nap usually pretty close to the top of my list, that difficult task is nearly always at the bottom.

Over the years, one of the ways I’ve learnt to tackle this problem is by rewarding myself with something I like when I’ve completed that not-so-appealing job.

It could be allowing myself an hour to catch an episode of my favourite show or indulging in some expensive chocolate – the reward has to be worth it and it’s worked for me on more than one occasion.

Have a think about the things you’d be willing to work hard for, but remember that you’ll need to stick to your revision schedule in order to get them. Rewards could include:

  • Watching a movie
  • Catching up with friends/li>
  • Getting the t-shirt you’ve been dying to buy since last month/li>
  • Scheduling in a whole night off to relax/li>
  • Eating a chocolate every time you finish 200 words of your essay/li>
  • A two-minute phone break after each chapter of your textbook/li>

There are some pros and cons to this method, though, so the key is in making sure this technique actually works for you and you’re not just reaping the rewards without the hard work.

The pros

Rooted in reinforcement theory, rewards-based learning is a great way to control and build on your behaviour. The more you reward yourself for hard work, the more you are subconsciously motivated to do the work in the first place.

Think of it this way. When you work hard at a job for longer, you get more money. It’s the same for revision in the sense that the harder you work, the more chocolate you get (you might not be a chocolate fan, but it’s my absolute vice, so you’ll forgive me for the regular references).

It’s not a new way of working, either. Remember your teacher giving out stickers when someone did something good in school? It works the same way but, this time, the reward is more exciting.

The main benefit here, though, is that you still get to do what you enjoy. Rather than sacrificing all of your time to revise (or trying to revise, but failing because you’d rather do something else), you’re specifically making time to do the things that keep you happy. No matter how hard the work is, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

The cons

There are a few issues with reward-based learning, though, and the biggest fear is that it can encourage a bad work ethic.

Say, for example, you’re giving yourself a chance to watch some TV after two hours of revision. The problem could be that you’re not really concentrating during those two hours, but simply thinking about the time before you can have some freedom.

Essentially, you’re not working to the best of your ability. This is referred to as ‘finishing’, which essentially means you’re doing the work, but not actually learning from it.

The other key thing to note here is that it can then be even harder to motivate yourself when those rewards aren’t available (such as running out of that post-revision beer or chocolate stash). If you think this is something you could be prone to, follow this revision guide from Matt instead.

The final word

Everyone studies in different ways and what works for you might not work for someone else. Over the years, I’ve found that testing lots of different methods has led to finding the things (ahem, chocolate) that specifically work for me.

If you need some inspiration, check out more nifty tips from the Unite Students team to help you on the way to revision success right here.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.