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Academic Study Skills

This guide can assist you to increase your understanding of course material, improve your marks, and make learning a little less stressful. Here you will find strategies for time management, reading and note-taking, study skills, and test-taking.

Do I Have a Fixed Mindset or Growth Mindset?

Do I Have a Fixed Mindset or Growth Mindset? 

 By: Chelsey Finney and Cody Rogers

When you study, do you have to bribe yourself with a reward to concentrate? Or do you find it easy to study, because you’re interested in the theories y and want to learn more about them it? Do you ever want to give up when learning a new equation, because it’s too difficult? Does failing an assessment make you want to find new ways to study, so you’ll do better the next time? We will explore the connection between Fixed Mindsets and Extrinsic Motivation, as well as the relationship between Growth Mindsets and Intrinsic Motivation. We will also illustrate how these dynamics have an impact on your ability to learn!​

Originally conceptualized by social psychologist Carol Dweck, the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset theory has come to have many implications in the classroom. A mindset is a perception or theory of oneself. You can be aware or unaware of your own mindset, though it still impacts your ability to learn, acquire skills, develop personal relationships, and succeed professionally (Partnership, 2013).

In a snapshot, students with Fixed Mindsets believe that the traits they have (e.g. capacity to learn) cannot be improved with hard work. They perceive their base-line of traits to be enough to warrant academic, interpersonal, and professional success on their own. Students with these mindsets tend to rationalize why they can’t learn what is asked of them.

Those with Growth Mindsets, comparably, believe the traits they possess can be improved with hard work, dedication, and intrinsic motivation. Students with this mindset tend to learn more at a quick pace and view their failures as opportunities for development (Partnership, 2013).

The combination of motivation and mindset have an impact in the way you approach assignments (individual or group), preparing for assessments, or taking lecture notes. These pairings are Fixed Mindset & Extrinsic Motivation as well as Growth Mindset & Intrinsic Motivation.

What is Motivation?

Motivation drives all of our behaviours! Motivation is the desire we have to get out of bed and complete our dailytasks (e.g. eating breakfast in the morning) as well as accomplishing our goals (e.g. passing that big exam, or ultimately graduating). It is fuelled by the neurotransmitter of dopamine. As a neurological chemical, dopamine plays a role in regulating the brain’s reward/pleasure, emotional/behavioural, and learning domains (Ng, 2018). It is arguable that the reward/pleasure domain of the brain plays a role in both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation refers to our internal desire to do something or accomplish a goal out of genuine passion or interest. For some, this may be learning an instrument, playing a sport or video game, watching Netflix or reading a novel. In short, we do it because we like it because it’s fun, or interesting and enjoyable. When we’re motivated by our own self-interest, we’re more likely to work towards improving our learning and skills in any of the hobbies or skills we put time into. Rather than comparing yourself to others, you’re more likely to compare to your older self and recognize how much you’ve improved! 

Extrinsic motivation refers to any outside factors that are influencing our desire to complete a task or accomplish goals. For students, grades are a primary extrinsic motivator. There are many different extrinsic motivators outside of school that push us to seek out new endeavours in life, such as paycheques or even the approval of family and friends. Unfortunately, we can get too hung up on our extrinsic motivators, which can kill our passion for the project. This leaves us only focusing on the reward at the finish line. As a result, we can find ourselves comparing our outcomes to other people's outcomes, rather than how we have or could continue to improve.


Reflection Time!

What is/was your motivation to enrol in your current program? Try to list three intrinsic motivators and three extrinsic motivators? Bonus points if you can apply them to course work!


How is Extrinsic Motivation connected to a Fixed Mindset?

At the core, extrinsic motivation means we’re driven to accomplish our goals in an effort to receive “payment” in return. For many individuals, this could easily be working for a biweekly paycheque. As students, we study for unit assessments, work at assignments, projects, and presentations for a grade; which constitutes our extrinsic motivation.

But how does this apply to a fixed mindset, you might ask? There are a few ways to think about this. Generally, fixed mindsets are associated with goal-oriented outcomes. Students who struggle with math may think they have no room for improvement, and will, therefore, judge their own success based on the grade(s) they receive. Fixed mindsets and extrinsic motivations go hand-in-hand in a vicious cycle.

How is Intrinsic Motivation linked to a Growth Mindset?

As a recap, intrinsic motivation drives the amount of passion, interest, and effort we put into our assignments and assessments. As students, this motivation may stem from having a genuine interest in the topic of our essay or project. It could also come from us wanting to expand our knowledge on the subject for the sake of pleasure – it has nothing to do with needing to turn in a paper on it.  

So, how does intrinsic motivation foster a growth mindset? Students who have a growth mindset typically self-guide their own learning experiences, exploring different mechanisms to cope with the demands of their courses’ objectives. They are more likely to integrate instructor or peer feedback and think of solutions to their mistakes (Ng, 2018).

A 2014 study demonstrated that the way students approach studying for their exam(s) largely differs according to both mindset and deadlines. The researchers found that students who had fixed mindsets disregarded the value of self-testing and review before their assessment. They bought into the myth of “if we don’t know it by now, we’re never going to.” Students who embodied growth mindsets, however, did see the value of self-testing and reviewing course materials beforehand (Yan, Phuong-Thai and Bjork, 2014). They likely believed that their capacity to learn difficult concepts and theories could still be improved. They just had to work at understanding the idea(s) from multiple angles that made sense to them.

In this Ted Talk, social/development psychologist Carol Dweck speaks on the power of believing you can improve in your learning capacities:


Activity Time!

Want to know where you fall on the Mindset Spectrum? Take this interactive quiz to find out!



Ng, B. (2018). The Neuroscience of Growth Mindset and Intrinsic Motivation. Brain Sciences, 8(20), 1-10. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from

Partnership, G. S. (2013, August 29). Growth Mindset Definition. Retrieved June 12, 2019, from

Yan, V. X., Thai, K. P., & Bjork, R. A. (2014). Habits and Beliefs that Guide Self-Regulated Learning: Do They Vary with Mindset? Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 3(3), 140-152. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from