Updated: Mar 28, 2021
The first step to achieving any major goal in school (or life!) is figuring out exactly what you're
aiming for. This step can be easily overlooked because many students think a mental record of
their goals is enough. Unless you've spent your entire life contemplating your objectives with minimal distraction, it might be a good idea to write down your goals. After all, goals are not achieved by accident, but by having a plan.
In this tutorial, we will walk you through a simple method for writing down your goals in a
structured manner using the S.M.A.R.T framework.
Your goal should be very specific, otherwise it would be very difficult to focus your efforts and
achieve it. Ideally, your goal should answer the five "W" questions: What, why, who, which, and
What is it that you want to accomplish? Why is it important to you? Who is involved? Which
resources do you need? When do you want to accomplish it?
Example: A grade 11 student is struggling with math and wants to study computer science in
University. A specific goal could be "I want to improve my knowledge and skills in calculus
class with the help of my teacher, tutor, and online resources to get the grades required to
study computer science in university."
It's extremely important that the goals you set are measurable. Otherwise, how do you determine whether you've achieved them? Writing measurable goals will allow you to track your progress and performance, but it will also keep you motivated because you know where the finish line is! To write a measurable goal, try to answer the following questions:
How much? How many? How will I know when it's accomplished?
In the example above, the student can measure "knowledge and skills in calculus class" by
tracking their grades and aiming for a specific grade (at least 90% - the average acceptance criteria for computer science in university).
Is it humanly possible to achieve your set goal? What resources do you need? What actions can
you take to edge closer towards achieving your goal? Answering these questions will help
determine whether or not your goal is realistic. It's wise to set high goals for yourself and "shoot for the stars", but you also don't want to set yourself up for disappointment by setting goals that are impossible to achieve. Set goals that are realistic.
This is meant to ensure that the goal carries some degree of importance or value to YOU. Does
this goal align with your other goals and vision? Answering yes to the following questions will
help you determine whether your goal is relevant:
Does it seem worthwhile?
Is this the right time?
Is it applicable in the current environment / circumstances?
Would I suffer without it?
Will I greatly benefit from it now?
In the example above, the relevance is clear. The student has to do well in math class for the next two years to get admitted into a computer science program. It's worthwhile to the student because they're interested in computer science and this is the right time for the student to act (grade 11).
Every goal needs a target date, just like every race has a finish line. Knowing where the
"finish line" is will give you a clear indication of where you stand in the "race" and how much is
left to complete. Target dates also create a sense of urgency and determination to achieve your
goal. It's a commitment to yourself and holding yourself accountable.
Goals with target dates will usually answer the following questions:
When will I accomplish my goal?
What can I do this month?
What can I do this week?
What can I do today?
In the example above, the student could set a goal to study every weekend, in addition to regular
classwork, to make sure they get a grade above 90% by the end of the semester. The fact that the student is limited by time (one semester) gives them an idea of what they need to accomplish weekly (extra studying).
Ultimately, goal setting is the primary step for any significant growth because it provides the
clarity and focus needed to improve. S.M.A.R.T is a useful tool that anyone (students and professionals) can use to establish their goals and reach for the stars (not literally!). Once you clarify your goals, it's a good idea to set a personal mission statement (check out our other blog post for how to write a killer personal mission statement!).
Now it's your turn!
If you’d like further instruction and a custom template for writing S.M.A.R.T. goals for
instruction and resources, including live one-on-one guidance with an academic expert.