Changing Resident Physician Studying Behaviors: A Randomized, Comparative Effectiveness Trial of Goal Setting Versus Use of WOOP

J Grad Med Educ. 2017 Aug;9(4):451-457. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-16-00703.1.


Background: Following through on one's goals to study is essential for effective, self-regulated learning. This can be difficult for residents because of clinical demands and limited personal time. WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) is a self-regulation strategy, also known as mental contrasting with implementation intentions. WOOP increases follow-through on goals in many domains, although it has not, to our knowledge, been evaluated in medical education.

Objective: We compared the effect of WOOP versus goal setting on time residents spent studying.

Methods: Through a prospective, randomized, comparative effectiveness study, during a 1-month, intensive care unit rotation, we clustered anesthesiology residents in single-blind fashion to WOOP versus goal setting. Both groups received organized study materials. The intervention group performed WOOP to study more; the comparison group set goals to study more. Residents tracked studying with daily diaries. The primary outcome was total time spent studying toward stated goals. Time spent studying "non-goal" medical material was a secondary outcome.

Results: Of 34 eligible residents, 100% participated. Sixteen residents were randomized to the WOOP group and 18 to the goal-setting group. The WOOP group spent significantly more time studying toward their goals compared with the goal-setting group (median = 4.3 hours versus 1.5 hours; P = .021; g = 0.66). There was no significant difference in time spent studying non-goal medical material between groups (median = 5.5 hours versus 5.0 hours, P = .99).

Conclusions: WOOP increased the time residents spent studying toward their goals as compared with setting goals alone.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Comparative Effectiveness Research
  • Goals*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Single-Blind Method