Goal Setting

Key words: goals (short-term, medium-term, long-term), goal setting, realistic/unrealistic goals

Would you set out on a journey without a plan of where you’re going and a map of how to get there? You could end up anywhere—even back where you started! Planning (goal setting) where you want your studies to take you and how you’re going to get there puts you in control and gives you a greater chance of success.

Reasons for setting goals

There are several reasons why you might set goals.

Exercise 1: Why might I set goals?

Complete this checklist. Click the box next to the statements that apply to you.

By setting goals I can:

decide what I want for my future
provide focus for my efforts
motivate myself better
monitor my progress - am I on track?
enjoy the feeling of being in control

Different types of goals

When goal setting, first consider your long-term goals, then your medium-term goals and finally your short-term goals.

Exercise 2: Goal setting

Long-term goals

These are goals that embrace a vision of your future. They reflect your hopes and ambitions. What are your hopes and ambitions for your university experience, five years from now?

Print and complete this long-term goal setting exercise.

Medium-term goals

These may be your goals for this year with regards to your studies. Medium-term goals are generally guided by your long-term goals.
Keeping in mind your long-term goals noted above, set yourself five goals you wish to achieve this year.

Print and complete this medium-term goal setting exercise.

Short-term goals

These are your every-day practical, achievable goals. For students, they tend to be strongly influenced by the assessment requirements for each unit.

Some examples of short-term goals (Click on each question to see the answer):

I plan to study for 2 hours but will break my study into half-hour blocks. How will I use my 30-minute study sessions?
  • 5 mins – scan a chapter to get the “big picture”
  • 20 mins – read at least the first two pages of the chapter and understand them
  • 5 mins – verbalise my understanding of the two pages.
I have a 2000 word assignment to write. How do I break the assignment into short-term goals?
  • choose the question and analyse it
  • brainstorm
  • research
  • write a plan
  • write the first draft …
I have an exam to prepare for. What short-term goals should I set?
  • find out exactly what I’m expected to know
  • research past exam papers
  • set specific revision goals
  • write a plan
  • practice writing past exam questions under exam conditions

What do you want to achieve within the next seven days?

Print this short-term goal setting exercise, and record your short-term goals for the week. Tick the goals as you achieve them and record the date.

Click for hint

Setting realistic, achievable goals

The goals you set must be ‘doable’ in the time that is available. If a goal is not achievable, you need to either redefine the goal, break it up into achievable chunks or invest more time and personal energy to it.

Be prepared to go through some trial and error in determining realistic goals.
Exercise 3: What if …?

Click on each question to see the answer.

What if I set unrealistic goals?
  • you probably won’t achieve the goal
  • you will become despondent
  • you may wonder ‘why bother?’
  • you may feel you’re not in control of your study
  • you may realise that it takes more time and personal energy than you first planned
What if I set realistic goals?
  • you will achieve the goal
  • you’re more likely to be able to set further realistic goals
  • your energy for study and motivation will increase
  • you’ll begin to think ‘Yes! I am in control of my study!’
  • you’ll learn better

Analysing your goals in detail

Asking and answering questions about your goals enhances your chances of achieving them, no matter what they are.

Exercise 4: Analyse a goal

Analyse your most important long-term goal for university (as determined in Exercise 2).

Download and print a copy of this worksheet. At the top of the worksheet, write your most important long-term goal for university (as determined in Exercise 2).

Complete the worksheet by answering the questions.

Visualising goals and successes

Visualising your long-term goal can help when things get difficult. For example, your long-term goal may be to get your degree or to graduate. When things get difficult during your course of study, imagine yourself being awarded the degree and ‘feel’ the excitement, pride, sense of achievement, happiness ….

Visualising has benefits with short-term goals as well. For example, your short-term goal might be to create a mind map of a chapter from your textbook. Before you commence the task, take time to visualise yourself having achieved it. Close your eyes and ‘see’ the finished work in front of you and allow yourself to feel good that you’ve completed the task. You then take the good feeling into the start of the session and will perform better as a result. Many sports people use this technique.