Student Success · Thoughts from Tutors · Tutor Success Story

Studying with an End in Mind

By David Johnson, Master Tutor

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That is a question that most of us encounter when we are young. We might have imagined ourselves to be an astronaut, a firefighter, or a world-renowned musician. As we have grown older, we may meet individuals who have become what we wanted to be at a young age and marveled at the hard work they have put in.

For example, take the world-renowned musician. It is hard to imagine an award-winning pianist or a first-chair violinist in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra reaching their status without putting in hard work. It is also hard to imagine this person not having the dream of reaching their end goal and directing their efforts in an attempt to get there.

In his 1989 best-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey suggests that the second habit of highly effective people is to “Begin with the End in Mind.”

To “begin with the end in mind means to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen” (Covey). In other words, you know where you want to go and take steps to help reach your goal. While the context of this quote is focused specifically on overall life direction, I think the same principle applies to study habits.

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

Most students have great sight in regards to their classes. They see their desired end goal, let’s say an A on their next exam or a 4.0 for the fall semester, and hope to achieve it. However, like the Helen Keller quote above, sight is not the same thing as vision. Sight is oftentimes clear, but it lacks meaningful depth. Vision, however, is all-encompassing: it requires sight, planning, and confidence.

An example may help clarify what I mean. Let’s say you desire to spend your winter holiday on a Florida beach. It is likely you would find dates that work with your schedule to go and ask for time off from work. I imagine would look up where to stay, like a hotel or a rental cottage, and make reservations. You would then find flights online and purchase tickets or, if you are cost-savvy, calculate the best route to drive. After making all these arrangements you would eventually go and enjoy the warm Florida sunshine.

Indicative in this example is a desire, a plan, and action. Certainly you imagine where you want to go (Florida), but you don’t stop there. You plan (research places to stay), take meaningful steps (take time off and buy plane tickets), and then go. This is vision. An architect, for example, may dream of a beautiful building (sight), but it is doubtful that the building is built without first making a blueprint and making arrangements with a contractor.

A stack of books

I often incorporate this idea into my sessions with students. As I mentioned earlier, many times my students have a goal or an end destination but don’t have a map to get there. They may start studying but lack direction or focus. A common question I have asked during my sessions is, “What are you going to do about it?” It is a very practical question with implied direction and action. There could be very simple and proactive steps you could take to reach your academic goals. You could make a weekly study schedule or keep a planner. You could study in a place where you get less distracted or form a study group for a specific class.

Now, this approach does not promise success. Other factors like discipline, commitment, flexibility, and perseverance are big helps. However, from personal experience and encouraging my students to try it out, there is usually progress toward the end goal!

While this post is not a “ten step study technique to guarantee an A” post, I do hope it provides encouragement to focus your own study habits with the end in mind. I hope you can see the benefit of keeping your goal in sight and directing your efforts around that goal instead of keeping your goal and your efforts disjointed.


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