If you work in the corporate world, you may have heard of so-called SMART goals, which help you work better with your team and be more productive. But the SMART system is helpful for all kinds of tasks outside the professional world too—including if you’re a student. Here’s are some tips for using SMART goals when you’re studying.
What are SMART goals?
SMART goals aren’t just good ideas—it’s actually an apt acronym. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, and the idea comes from business consultant George T. Doran in 1981, when he wrote into Management Review to criticize the poor goal-setting he encountered at many companies. (In his original outline, the “A” stood for “assignable,” but with time, “achievable” took hold as the go-to designation.)
When using the SMART system, all your goals should align with one of the five elements of the acronym.
How to use SMART goals to study more effectively
There’s a little inception at play here, as you might at some point study SMART goals (and how they apply in your chosen field)—I had a lesson on SMART goals this week in my own Program Planning and Evaluation course. But you can and should start using them now to study whatever you’re being taught.
It starts with writing a goal statement that hits on all of the elements of the SMART acronym. Here’s an example: Say you have a test in statistics next week and you got a C on the last one. You can write, “My goal is to get a B+ or higher on the exam by studying for an hour every night from now until the test date.” It’s specific, because you’re setting not only the exact grade you want to get, but the steps you need to take to get it. It’s measurable, because you’ll be able to see whether you accomplished the goal as soon as your test is graded. It’s achievable, because it’s just one letter grade higher than what you got last time, so it’s not as lofty as aiming for an A+. It’s relevant, because it’s an upcoming test, and not a vague goal for your end-of-semester grade. Finally, it’s time-bound, because you’re basing it on a looming date and making a plan for all the days between now and then.
SMART goals are like a personal mission statement, and they work by forcing you to get specific and in the weeds about what you’re aiming to accomplish. Vaguely saying you want to get a good grade on a test isn’t as helpful as outlining the steps and timing necessary to achieve a specific grade. And writing it down somewhere helps you visualize not only the specific goal, but the steps you need to take to meet it.