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A new school year is underway, and students are facing unprecedented challenges as most are having to “learn how to learn” in a whole new way. Due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, students have brought traditional classroom learning back into their own homes, giving a huge rise to the relatively new concept of online education.
But, despite learning environments taking on a new look, students are still eager to get back into a routine, learn new things, and make some marked progress in their extra-curricular activities of choice.
While students have always needed motivation and self-discipline to excel in school, this new academic climate takes that requirement to the next level. Students no longer have a teacher looking over their shoulder or instructing them to put their smart phones down and pay attention. It’s now up to all learners to be proactive in their studies and feel a sense of responsibility for their educational outcomes.
Teachers can support students in this endeavor by teaching proper goal-setting techniques so students can focus their efforts appropriately, effectively manage their time, and see the positive results of their work. And setting SMART goals isn’t just important for helping students focus and maintain their momentum during these months of virtual learning–it’s a critical skill they will use for the rest of their lives.
(If you're a teacher looking for some inspiration in creating your own SMART goals, check out this post.)
Now, if you’re the student, learning the art of setting SMART goals will help you continuously improve yourself, which will help you gain a competitive advantage over your peers once you enter the working world. And, the simple act of setting effective goals will be an integral part of your success.
According to Locke and Latham’s goal setting theory, two people with the same skills and knowledge can perform very differently on the same task if they have different performance goals because their goals ultimately determine their motivation to succeed. Whoever is more driven to succeed will probably do so.
In this article, we are going to look at the value of SMART goals and why students of all ages should know how to set SMART goals to lay the foundation for their academic success. Then we will go over 10 specific examples of statements that students can use to improve their performance at school, in their extra-curricular activities, and in their lives in general.
Let’s start by taking a look at what SMART goals are and why they’re so valuable.
(Side note: One of the best ways to get what you want from life is to create and set SMART goals. To get started, check out this post, which provides a step-step blueprint on setting SMART goals.)
What You Will Learn
What Is a SMART Goal?
SMART goals are statements that turn your vague intentions into an actionable plan. They provide you with a strategy to achieve your vision by guiding you to set objectives that fit into the “SMART” mold.
The SMART acronym exists in a variety of forms, but each one touches on the same fundamental ideas. Here, we refer to SMART goals as being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Let’s look at each one of these characteristics individually.
Let’s take a quick look at what these goals do not look like to help further your understanding of them:
SMART goals set you in the right direction, push you to take that critical first step, and keep your goals organized so you can achieve them.
Why Is It Particularly Important for Students to Set SMART Goals?
It’s important for people in any stage of life to set goals, but because students are immersed in a learning environment, which often leads their learning to go beyond the subject at hand, this is the perfect time to practice setting SMART goals. Also, with so much being expected of students, there is a lot of material to work with (so to speak) for setting goals and maintaining order in life.
One longitudinal study looked at the relationship between goal setting and student achievement in over 1200 high school students learning Spanish. The researchers performed a correlational analysis that revealed a statistically significant relationship between the process of setting goals and students’ proficiency in Spanish. The researchers went on to explain that setting goals gave the students a greater sense of autonomy in their learning, which lead to higher levels of motivation to succeed in their studies. (Check out our compilation of the best motivational movies for students.)
This suggests that students who set goals are more motivated to learn than those who don’t, which leads to better educational outcomes. Seeing as autonomy is an integral part of today’s learning culture, there’s no better time than now for students to become pros at setting SMART goals.
Now, let’s look at 10 examples of SMART goals that you can use if you’re a student to increase your chances of being successful in school–not only for this year, but for many years to come as well.
10 SMART Goals Examples for Students of All Ages
1. “I will meet with each of my teachers individually within the first two weeks of class to start building a rapport and gain clarity of their expectations so I will feel comfortable going to them with future questions throughout the year.”
S: This statement answers all of the questions: who, what, when, where, and why.
M: Each meeting with a teacher acts as one unit of measurement and progress can be measured at any point during that two-week time frame by counting the number of meetings left to do.
A: The goal setter has all of the tools they need to achieve this goal.
R: This goal is relevant to the student’s success in class.
T: The goal setter has set a two-week deadline for achieving this goal.
2. “I will complete all of my assignments this year at least one day before they’re due to avoid rushing through any work. To do this, I will list all of my assignments in order of their due date and work through them accordingly. I will spend 30 minutes every Sunday night determining which projects need attention during the week ahead.”
S: The specific goal set is to complete all assignments one day before they’re due.
M: The goal setter will know his progress with the passing of each assignment’s deadline.
A: By being organized with a list of assignments and a schedule for completing them, the goal setter has made an achievable goal.
R: Finishing projects before they’re due is an appropriate way to avoid turning in work that has been hurried.
T: The deadline for this goal is threefold: 1) one day prior to each assignment’s due date 2) every Sunday night 3) the end of the school year.
3. “To keep myself accountable for my learning, I will raise my hand at least five times each week in class to answer a question posed by the teacher.”
S: The clear objective is to answer at least five of the teacher’s questions in class per week.
M: Each time a question is answered, the goal setter has made progress toward meeting his goal.
A: The student will stay on top of his assigned reading, homework, etc in order to be prepared to answer the teacher’s questions.
R: It’s worth the goal setter’s time to participate in class if he wants to stay accountable for his learning.
T: The deadline for this goal is every Friday at the end of the day.
4. “To improve my grade in English to a B or higher, I will complete all of the grammar, punctuation, writing mechanics, and word usage modules in the writing center, scoring at least a 92% on each within the next 4 months.”
S: The unambiguous nature of this goal makes it specific.
M: Progress can be tracked as each module has been completed with a score of 92% or above.
A: As the student becomes more skilled at using proper grammar and punctuation, his English grade will improve accordingly.
R: Spending extra time completing English modules is a worthwhile way to improve an English grade.
T: The deadline for this goal is 4 months from the starting date.
5. “I will demonstrate growth in my reading accuracy and fluency by the last day of school by reading 70 words per minute with 95% accuracy. I will practice reading for a minimum of 20 minutes per day.”
(Note: This SMART goal is designed for a student at the third grade level. While this may seem like a young age to write such an articulate goal, many teachers offer fill-in-the-blank worksheets to help younger students practice setting goals such as this one.)
S: This student wants to be able to read 70 words per minute with 95% accuracy.
M: Progress can be checked by doing reading tests throughout the year to look for improvement.
A: By practicing reading every day, the student will improve his reading skills.
R: It is appropriate and relevant for a child this age to learn how to read to set himself up for future success.
T: This goal’s deadline is the last day of school.
6. “By September 15th, I will have found another student who also enjoys theater with whom I can practice lines in order to audition for the school play. We will practice for three hours per week together and I will practice for four additional hours per week alone until auditions on November 5th to land a role in the school play.”
S: This student has set a specific plan to improve his chances of earning a role in the school play.
M: There are two measurable parts to this goal–one is finding a partner by September 15th and the other is completing seven total hours of practice each week.
A: By practicing, this student will have a higher chance of achieving his goal.
R: Because theater is this student’s extracurricular activity of choice, practicing for the play’s audition is relevant.
T: This goal has two deadlines: September 15th to find a partner, and November 5th, which is the day of tryouts.
7. “I will complete ten college applications by January 1st to help ensure I get accepted into a school.”
(Note: This goal would be for a high school senior.)
S: This goal statement is clear and to the point.
M: With each application completed, the student will become closer to achieving this goal.
A: While ten college applications may have seemed unreasonable 15 years ago, it is not uncommon for high school seniors to apply to 20 or more colleges today.
R: Applying to college as a high school senior is a relevant goal.
T: The deadline for this goal is January 1st.
8. “To earn an SAT score that is over the 75th percentile range for my target colleges, I will work with a tutor weekly and take practice tests every 2-4 weeks to measure my incremental progress until the test date in December.”
(Note: This goal would be for a high school junior.)
S: This student wants to get a better score on his SATs than 75% of his peers applying to similar colleges.
M: His progress can be measured with the results of his practice tests.
A: By dedicating so much time and energy to studying for the SATs, this student will increase his chances of achieving a high score.
R: All students must take the SATs, so preparing for them is relevant for this student’s stage in his education.
T: This goal’s deadline is the date of the test in December.
9. “I will receive a job offer in my field of study by May 1st to make a seamless transition from college to working in the professional world.”
(Note: This goal would be for anyone finishing up a degree-seeking program.)
S: This student wants to accept a job offer before graduating from their program.
M: Each job application and interview this student completes will show measurable progress toward his goal.
A: Because this person is graduating with a degree in the field in which they’re job searching, this is an achievable goal.
R: Job searching is relevant to people’s lives who are nearing graduation from a degree-seeking program.
T: The deadline for this goal is May 1st.
10. “I will develop 5 new peer relationships by the end of the year with people I’ve never interacted with at school before. I’ll do this by sitting with an unfamiliar group of people for lunch at least once per month, asking one person in each of my classes to be my accountability partner for that class, and interacting with the other students who engage in the same extracurricular activities as I do outside of those meetings.”
S: This student wants to develop 5 meaningful connections or relationships with peers before the end of this year.
M: Each new relationship this student cultivates will show marked progress toward his goal.
A: By putting himself out there and being proactive about meeting new people, it is probable that this student will develop friendships that go beyond that of an acquaintance.
R: This goal is worthwhile because as students graduate over the years and move to other cities, it will always be useful to have connections, whether that ends up being for personal or professional purposes.
T: The deadline for this goal is the end of the school year.
Younger learners who are at the beginning of their life’s journey are at an opportune time to build their skills in setting goals. These skills will benefit them for the rest of their lives and developing them now will help students design their futures in whatever unique way is personally meaningful to them.
Very young students can benefit from learning how to set goals because it will give them the opportunity to experience small wins, which will help them develop self-confidence and belief in themselves. (If you're looking for examples for kids, check out these SMART goals examples for children.)
And, for students of all ages, writing a carefully considered goal is only the first half of the battle. Intentional actions need to follow in the footsteps of these powerful statements in order for any goal to be met.
Consider your strengths and weaknesses when drafting your SMART goals and think about strategies that have worked in the past for reaching your goals. For example, some people find it’s most effective to identify the end goal and then work backwards to the beginning to create a schedule of objectives. You just need to find what works best for you–and in the meantime, if you start working toward a goal and realize your strategy isn’t productive, don’t shy away from changing it.
Want to get started? Here are some SMART goal templates you can download and print.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, then be sure to check out this post that provides a step-by-step blueprint for setting SMART goals for all seven areas of your life.
Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.