Skills Earth Sciences

Formulating your learning goals

Are you having a hard time formulating your goals?  Take a look at the SMART method, which can help to clearly define what it is that you want to achieve. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Here, each of these terms is explained by using the example goal of a student who plans to better prepare for their exam.

  • Specific – The goal is formulated clearly and describes a result that can be observed. Example: I will focus on lecture content and make flashcards for revision.
  • Measurable – It is clear when the goal has been achieved. Preferably you can observe or measure this, by the final grade, hours spent studying, or by a stress-score that you give yourself each day and monitoring if this decreases over time. Example: I will have a set of at least 5 flashcards for each lecture that I can use to revise.
  • Attainable – The goal is acceptable by you and others involved. Is your goal realistic? If you need help from others to reach your goal and they don’t agree with your terms, the goal will be hard to achieve. Example: I will make flashcards for one lecture per evening, so I will finish making my flashcards after two weeks. As the teacher puts additional material online one day after the lecture, I will make a set of flashcards two days after the lecture.
  • Relevant (or Realistic) – When the goal is an accurate representation of reality. Example: The student asks themselves if making flashcards will be relevant when studying for their exam.
  • Time-bound – The goal needs a clear start and end date. If you formulate a goal without a time frame you won’t know when you have achieved it. Example: The deadline of my goal is December 1st.

SMART goal example: To make at least 5 revision flashcards per lecture for all 12 lectures from my second period course by December 1st.


If you need more examples, you can easily find them by a quick Google search. Now, try to formulate your own SMART goals based on the requirements of your learning tasks and the learning strategies you want to use (see Learning strategies) Note that setting SMART goals can be difficult for long-term goals or goals that cannot be measured. The aim is to use this method to get a better grip on the goals you want to set yourself during your studies, not to formulate everything SMARTly.