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There's a common misconception that goal-setting is like creating a holiday wish list. You input your desires – and the powers that be conspire to make those wants a reality. Unfortunately, it doesn't work like that.

Goals are only as good as your motivation to achieve them. Nevertheless, setting goals is a fantastic first step toward defining your ambitions, developing a roadmap for how to get there, and shoring up the motivation to embark on the long journey.

Of all the types of goals, the best for students is "SMART goals." This article discusses what SMART goals are, why they're beneficial and how to track them.

What Are SMART Goals?

Yes, SMART goals are smart. But more accurately, the name is an initialism (a kind of acronym) that stands for:

  • Specific: Goals that are clearly defined with real numbers, real deadlines and precise terms.
  • Measurable: Goals that you can measure or benchmark somehow. (For instance, you can't measure “I want to be a physics master,” but you can measure “I want to have at least a B-plus standing in Physics 12 by the middle of the semester.”)
  • Achievable: Goals that you have a chance of successfully attaining. Instead of saying, "My goal is to get into all the top Ivy League schools," try saying, "My goal is to maintain a 3.5 GPA or higher to remain competitive for my top university choices."
  • Relevant: Goals that are relevant to your life. How do these goals fit with your broader aims? For instance, if your goal is to succeed in English, is it because you want to be a novelist?
  • Time Bound: Goals that have a clear timeframe for achievement. Give your goals an end date.

As you develop your particular goals for the school year, use these criteria to guide and shape your language. Write your goals in an easily accessible place, like an online agenda or notes document.

Why Are SMART Goals Beneficial?

Compared to traditional goals, SMART Goals are very precise. They don't leave students much room to wiggle out, check out or otherwise abandon their goals. By being exact, reasonable and relevant about your goals, you stand a better chance of following through on them.

These goals can be particularly beneficial in challenging classes like the MHF4U course online (grade 12 university-level math), where you might need an extra internal push of motivation to stay on track.

Tracking Your Goals

Remember that notes document or online agenda you created for your SMART Goals? Return to this document at set intervals (once every two weeks is standard) to evaluate your progress. Write the date of your check-in alongside a few short sentences about how your goal is progressing.

For instance, you might note a recent grade you received that puts you on track to achieve your goal, a new skill you've acquired that can help you complete the goal, etc. Contrarily, you should also list any setbacks or roadblocks, like lower-than-expected marks or challenging units you encounter. By tracking both successes and setbacks, you remain realistic about what you still need to accomplish on the road toward achievement.

Before you begin the fall semester, take an evening to define your SMART goals. If you're unsure how to situate your goals within your broader academic or professional aims, speak to a guidance counsellor for more information.