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Mastery Goals


Help students understand the difference between mastery goals and performance goals.


Goal theory is a term used in education to discuss research dealing with student motivation and daily success. Even though setting goals is crucial, its the matter of choosing what type of goal a student wants to set for themselves. Many students educated themselves for future rather than learning material just to get the task over with. When students start out with setting mastery goals it can better prepare their studying habits for college and into their work fields. Establishing mastery goals will always guarantee a positive outcome which will carry on to the student. These habits can motivate a student to reach outside the educational system and strive to make a positive effect on the community.


20 minute lesson that can be used in any class; grades 9-12; early in Fall semester.


Mastery Goals

Students who demonstrate mastery goals are motivated on increasing their knowledge. Behavioral research has found that mastery goals are more effective because a student’s satisfaction is not related to external indicators. Therefore, a student has less of a chance to give up in difficult circumstances and are more likely to preserver through setbacks. Recovering from setbacks and persevering through studies result in a motivated successful student. Thus, setting mastery goals is always more effective than setting performance goals.

The orientation of goals are associated with outcomes. Individuals who set mastery goals are more likely to:

  • Choose challenging tasks
  • Use adaptive learning strategies
  • Seek help when needed
  • Have a positive attitude towards task, and the classroom environment (Ames)
  • Display effort and persistent while studying


Performance Goals

These are goals that are directly correlated to an outcome, (you want to get an “A” on that Spanish test). These goals can be great in the short term, but they also have some downsides. Performance goals by their nature are rather shallow. If you had to cheat, at least you still hit your goal. If you made a mistake in the process, well at least you still hit your goal. Performance goals also tend to undermine long-term performance. If you hit your initial goal, you become less motivated to continue towards excellence (after all you hit your goal). And if you don’t hit your initial goal, you become discouraged and de-motivated because your self-worth is based on external inputs.

Individuals who set performance goals are more likely to:

  • Display anxiety
  • Be disorganized
  • Engage in superficial learning habits
  • Have low exam performance
  • Avoid engaging actively in task requirements
  • View that success is indicated by outperforming others, surpassing normative standards, or looking smart.


Connection to other components

This tool is simply to educate students on Goal theory and so it can be included in Educator Team category to inform PASL Teachers as well.

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