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Staying motivated through test preparation – the WOOP method

student undergoing test preparation

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have a goal you wish to achieve but find yourself unmotivated to work towards your goal: be it going to the gym, establishing a healthy sleep routine, sustaining healthier relationships with others – or studying for standardized test like the SAT?

You are not alone. Psychologists have found that humans are a fickle, unmotivated bunch; their resolve faltering at the faintest sign of obstacles. So, how can we overcome our tendencies to lose our motivation when we need it the most? Surprisingly, psychologists have found, through over 20 years of research, that obstacles can help us achieve our goals – if they are framed through the right mindset. Thus, they have come up with a framework to help people stay motivated in the pursuit of their goals. This framework, formally termed Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions, is more popularly known by its catchy title: WOOP. WOOP is an acronym which stands for the four steps in this process: Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

Before you start, make sure you are in a space where you are calm and comfortable, and you can fully focus on this exercise. This exercise would take about 10 to 20 minutes in total to complete.

W: Wish

What is your wish?

Consider a wish that you would like to fulfil over the next few months. This wish should be something that is reasonably challenging, but also feasible to achieve. Find this one specific wish and summarize it in 3 to 6 words. Then, write this down on a piece of paper, or repeat this thought to yourself. If you have multiple goals which you wish to achieve, find the one that you would like to achieve the most and focus on it.

This step helps you identify what it is that you truly desire. Take everything out of the way – if you could achieve or obtain anything in your life, what would it be? Don’t rush this step – you should be taking about a couple of minutes for this step.

O: Outcome

What is the best outcome?

Now, after you have thought about your wish, think about the best outcome that you can associate with fulfilling your wish. As before, summarize this outcome in 3 to 6 words, writing it down or repeating it in your head. You should truly immerse yourself in this stage. Imagine yourself fulfilling your goal as vividly as possible, and allow yourself to recognize and feel the emotions you would feel when you fulfil your wish. You can close your eyes and imagine for a couple of minutes, should you want to do so. Once you are ready, slowly come back and proceed to the next step.

O: Obstacle

What is your main inner obstacle?

In your pursuit of your wish, there are bound to be obstacles that hold you back from fulfilling your wish. What are these obstacles? These could be literal, physical obstacles that stand in your way, such as geographical distance, or they could be internal obstacles such as your habits or emotions. Think hard, and reflect upon what the largest obstacle standing in your way is. As before, summarize your main inner obstacle in 3 to 6 words and write it down or keep it at the back of your head. Then, imagine yourself facing this obstacle as vividly as possible, recognizing and feeling your emotions as fully as you can. Then, when you are ready, move on to the final step.

P: Plan

What is your if-then plan?

This final step helps you overcome the obstacle you have just thought about. Think about one thing you can do to overcome this obstacle. It could be a physical action, or it could be as simple as a change in mindset. Summarize this in 3 to 6 words, and write it down or keep it at the back of your mind.

Now put your if-then plan together. 

If (obstacle), then I will (plan to overcome obstacle)

Write this if-then plan down, or repeat it to yourself in your head three times.

Putting it all together

In summary, WOOP stands for Wish-Outcome-Obstacle-Plan. Take the time to purposefully go through each step: don’t rush it, and really think about what it is that you need in order to achieve your goal. When you become more proficient at the WOOP method, you will be able to use it to achieve anything you desire (feasibly, of course!). 

Preparing for a standardized test has frequently been likened to running a marathon. Just as running a marathon is not just about your running abilities, standardized test preparation is not just about knowing the content: it involves staying disciplined and motivated over an extended period of time. With this tip, we hope you will be able to find that motivation to push yourself towards that dream score!

If you would like to discuss test preparation tips further, your IvyPrep tutors are always happy to discuss the psychological aspects of test preparation and how you can prepare yourself mentally for the big test.