What is the point of goal setting?

Profile photo for Alison, a tutor with Owl Tutors
AlisonOwl Tutor

8 Plus, 11 Plus, 13 Plus, Other School Entrance, English, Geography, History & Maths

December 5th, 2022

In this article, Ali, an experienced teacher and tutor, explains the difference good goal setting can make to a student. Her series of practical tips should be helpful to learners of all ages!

Goal setting is a means of turning your bigger picture aspirations into reality. Goal setting encourages you firstly to identify the smaller steps you need to take to reach that dream, and secondly how to plan to achieve those steps. 

Goal setting:

  • Increases your likelihood of success
  • Provides guidance and direction
  • Helps you focus on the important things
  • Helps you to see how you have grown and developed enabling you to celebrate progress
  • Keeps you motivated

How does goal setting help?

Motivation comes from setting our own long-term goals and realising our inner resources to reach them. Imposing goals on others is unlikely to be successful, and even if the desired outcome is achieved, it often has a negative impact on self-belief and efficacy. If you have set your sights on a particular school, it is important that your child also shares that ambition. Talk to them about why you think it is important and find out their ideas and possible motivations for working towards this goal. Similarly, if you are employing a tutor to help your child make progress in a particular subject, make sure your child is clear about how the desired outcome will impact them, and that they share the desired goal.

Writing down a goal helps you to clarify that goal. It gives you a reminder of the goal and a means to measure progress.

People who write down their goals you are 42% more likely to achieve their goals.

Why is it important to share your goal with others?

Sharing your goals with others, whether that is a friend, a parent or a tutor, helps you commit to the goals. 

People who share their goals with others are 50% more likely to achieve their goals.

Why is a regular review of your goal important?

Reviewing your goal reminds you of the goal, and keeps you focussed. A written goal, shared with others, helps you to stay accountable. Regular review increases this accountability and your likelihood of success. 

People who gave regular updates to the person they had shared their goal with were 78% more likely to achieve their goals.

Regular review of goals enables you to identify what is going well and any obstacles that have come up. Planning for obstacles and finding solutions is an important part of goal setting.

How should I set appropriate goals?

A good place to start is thinking about your aspirations. This helps you identify what is important to you, and why. Some questions you might like to ask of yourself, and your child, are:

  • What does success mean to you? 
  • What is the outcome that you want to achieve?
  • What is important about that outcome?
  • What difference will that outcome make? 
  • How will it feel to achieve that outcome?

The next step is to think of a specific time in the future, perhaps 6 months or a year. Use these questions to identify a broad goal (or goals) with your child. For example: I want to feel more confident in maths.

  • What do they want to be?
  • What do they want to have?
  • How do they want to feel?

Then try to break down the smaller steps to get there. Your tutor can help you with this. Owl Tutors set goals for students at the start of tuition. Often, initially this is a broad goal and more specific goals are agreed with the student and parents once the tutor has worked through some diagnostic assessments with the student. Tutors then provide monthly feedback on the likelihood of reaching goals. 

One way of breaking goals down is using the S.M.A.R.T. goal formula. S.M.A.R.T. is a well-known acronym used in many businesses. 

  • Specific – Identify the goal, state what you will do and use action words: be specific about the resources you will use to achieve the goal.
  • Measurable – Define the goal in measurable terms, provide a way to evaluate, use metrics or data.
  • Attainable – Choose goals that are realistic and manageable, challenging but possible to accomplish in the time you set. Then outline the steps needed to achieve your goal.
  • Relevant – Make sure the goal is really important to you and that you can answer why this is your goal.
  • Time Bound – Define the time frame during which you will achieve the goal. Be specific about a certain date or period.

Many people can recite what each letter stands for, but what does it actually mean? 

On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy said: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” This is often cited as one of the best examples of a S.M.A.R.T. goal.

To maximise the possibility of success, balance achievement goals (for example: to achieve over 80% in my next assessment) with practice goals (for example: to read for 20 minutes each night) and learning goals (for example: to develop a mnemonic to help me remember how to do long division). 

Talk to your child about obstacles that might get in the way of achieving a goal before they encounter them, and when they encounter them. Discuss who, or what, might help overcome the obstacle and whether the goal needs to be adapted. Recognise and share with your child that sometimes we are not able to achieve goals we set due to factors outside our control. However, if we commit to trying, we will always take away learning, even if we do not achieve our initial goal. A growth mindset approach to goals recognises that through effort and hard work, we will learn and improve (even when we fail) and therefore each attempt makes future success more likely.

Summary toolkit for achieving goals

  1. Set your own goals
  2. Break them down and if possible make them S.M.A.R.T.
  3. Write them down
  4. Share them
  5. Review them regularly
  6. Identify obstacles and make plans to overcome them
  7. Identify who or what can help you achieve your goals

What is the impact of achieving goals? 

Tim Robinson once said that ‘the key to happiness is progress’. Goals help our students identify and celebrate progress and this in turn increases their self-belief.

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