Success Characteristic #4

This article introduces goal setting and attainment. The “attainment” part is important because many people can set goals but some cannot fulfill, or “attain”, them. In order to increase the likelihood that your goals are achievable, they should be reasonable. As an example, it is probably not reasonable to expect you will get an A in a course where your grades have been C’s and one F. However, a more reasonable goal may be that you work toward achieving a solid C grade.

Sometimes students set goals (I want to get an A in this course or on this paper or on this test) but they are not sure how to go about achieving them. Consider the following questions: 1) is this a realistic goal? 2) If realistic, what steps do you need to take to achieve the goal? As an example, in order to get an A on the paper for the FUN 120 course, I would have to make sure I had completed all of the relevant reading, understood the concepts that were covered, understood what the assignment was asking me to do and be able to write a clear, coherent essay that met the requirements set by my professor.

To avoid getting behind in a course, a well-written syllabus can be your best friend. Using a syllabus to plan when you are going to do what can be very helpful in setting reasonable goals. For smaller goals to achieve (for example, completing homework), getting the work done in chronological order is usually appropriate. However, if all of your studying was done in chronological order, then you would likely not be leaving enough time for bigger papers and projects that were given earlier in the semester to be due later in the semester. The same goes for final exams.

Sometimes it is useful to “work backwards” from the due date of a paper or exam when planning your study time. As an example, if you have to write a paper in three weeks, work backwards to plan when you want to get the research done by, the outline or draft done by and the final paper done by the due date. Consider if it takes you longer to read than to write, you would put more time into researching and less into writing, or vice versa if it takes you longer to write. Breaking the task into parts allows you to tackle one part at a time which is less overwhelming than trying to accomplish the whole task at one time.

Once you have set a timeline for completion, consider the best environment in which to work on achieving your goal. If you study better in quiet environments, then your dorm room may not be the best option. Do you study better in the morning or late at night?  Try to do more difficult work the time of day when you are at your best.

Also consider what hinders you from achieving your goal. Do you procrastinate so you don’t have enough time to finish work that you need to? Do you get overwhelmed by what you need to do so you don’t do anything? Do your friends, social media or the internet itself distract you from doing what you need to do? Once you recognize what stands in the way of reaching your goals, take steps to work around them or eliminate them completely. As an example, during finals week, a student does not go on Facebook and only sees her friends for dinner. The rest of the day she can focus on preparing for her final exams.

If you feel you would like some help improving your ability to set goals and achieve them, consider the DRES Academic Coaching Program. A “coach” (a graduate student intern at DRES) will meet with you on a weekly basis to assist you in setting reasonable goals and holding you accountable for achieving those goals. For further information or to schedule an appointment with a coach, please contact Dr. Kim Collins at DRES:

For more information about goal setting and attainment, check out a powerpoint presentation on the DRES web site. Here is the link: