The motivation of students is an important issue in higher education, particularly in the context of the increasing diversity of student populations. A social-cognitive perspective assumes motivation to be dynamic, context-sensitive and changeable, thereby rendering it to be a much more differentiated construct than previously understood. This complexity may be perplexing to tutors who are keen to develop applications to improve academic achievement. One application that is within the control of the tutor, at least to some extent, is the use of praise. Using psychological literature the article argues that in motivating students, the tutor is not well served by relying on simplistic and common sense understandings of the construct of praise and that effective applications of praise are mediated by students' goal orientations, which of themselves may be either additive or interactive composites of different objectives and different contexts.