Short-term goal setting

For short-term goals, those that span a week, a month, or a semester, a common piece of advice is to set SMART goals:

S = specific
M = measurable
A = attainable
R = realistic
T = timely


Let's try an example. Maybe you want to improve your GPA this semester.  Reflecting back on the three questions above:

GOAL: get better grades
PLAN: study harder
SELF-EVALUATION: improved GPA at the end of the term

Are these SMART goals?  No!  Is your goal to get better grades in every class or just some of your classes? For that matter, “better” than what?  Better than what you earned in high school or better than last semester?  Better than your friends? Due to a lack of specificity, while the goal is easily measured when you get your grades at the end of the semester, such a general statement of intent doesn’t allow you to assess whether your goal is attainable or realistic and such a vague plan doesn’t give you any accountability as you work through the semester. 

Try restating your goal in a way that addresses the points of the SMART goal system:


I will raise my cumulative GPA by the end of the semester


  • Go to every class, every day
  • Study every day, during the day
  • I will review my notes before class starts and I’ll review my notes as soon as possible after class
  • I will attend instructor/TA office hours weekly
  • I will visit the help room weekly
  • I will meet another student in each class
  • I will review each exam carefully so I know where I’ve made mistakes


  • I will learn how my grade is calculated so I’m always aware of how I’m doing
  • I will get to know the instructor/TA so I can get their feedback on my progress

This is a goal/plan that is Specific – the desired outcome is state clearly.
The action plan is Measurable – since you’ve listed specific steps, it’s easy to see that you’re following it.
The goal Attainable – you’ve given yourself daily and weekly goals that lead to an achievable semester goal.
The goal is Realistic -- the steps you’ve chosen come from current research on the best ways to be academically successful.
The goal is Timely – it’s something you can begin on immediately that will move you toward your desired end.