Setting SMART goals in education helps students and educators develop clear plans. SMART goals follow the acronym: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.
Specific goals avoid vague language like "better" and "effective." Instead, they list specific ideas you want to accomplish. For example, rather than saying you will strive to be a better student, your goals should reflect specific activities that will help you achieve this result. For example, "The student will begin all school work within one day of its assignment" gives a specific activity and time frame to help the student prevent problems with procrastination. Before the term begins, a teacher might set a goal to cover a specific chapter each week of the semester.
Using specific numbers or other measurements helps you determine when you have achieved success. Instead of a general statement about improving your grades, your goal might be, "The student's GPA will rise to at least a 3.0 at the end of the semester." If your GPA ends up lower than 3.0, you can clearly see you have not reached the goal. Similarly, a program administrator wanting to build up the program could have a goal to increase the number of students in the program by 5 percent each semester. This is a measurable goal, since it includes a specific number that will illustrate if the goal is met.
People may get discouraged when goals appear unrealistic or unattainable. Expecting to earn straight As in all courses may not be reachable for some students, but turning in all assignments or entering a graduate program within two years of finishing the bachelor's degree represent potentially attainable goals. Teachers may not be able to help all students increase test scores, but a reachable goal might state that the average score for the class will increase by a certain percentage. "The student will obtain an associate degree in two years" expresses this aspect of the SMART goal, because an associate degree typically takes two years to complete.
Relevance to Larger Goals
For a science major, achieving a high grade on a history exam may figure less prominently in long-term goals than finishing a laboratory experiment on time. That same student may not need to set a goal to attend biology classes that interest him, but may establish a goal of attending at least 90 percent of the literature class meetings to fulfill degree requirements. A goal such as, "The student will create a calendar that lists due dates for assignments and testing dates," can help a disorganized student establish a system to stay on track. An educator's goals should tie into departmental or institutional goals, such as developing and presenting writing workshops each week to help reach the school's goal of reducing plagiarism.
Including a deadline or time frame helps keep you focused on your goal but should also be realistic. Increasing your grade in a class may not be feasible until the final exam or end-of-semester project, so your goal should reflect that timing. A goal to become more studious may include a note that you will study for at least one hour every day. A goal such as "The student will finish writing essays at least 24 hours before they are due" gives a deadline and fulfills the time-bound requirement of a SMART goal. Similarly, teachers might set a goal to complete progress reports by noon on the last day of each month.
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