The Power of Goal Setting — Michelle Yien

After checking my emails this morning, I decided to catch up on some news. I came across an article that showcased the importance of goal setting in academia. It seemed very relevant to what we do here at the Centre. To summarize the article in one sentence or less – realistic goal setting increases grades and reduces drop-out rates.

I strongly emphasize the word “realistic”. It is unrealistic to set goals that can be too challenging for the individual. Simply stating a goal and not working towards it will not get a student a 90% in a course. It is my belief that if goal setting were implemented into our curriculum, educators would see an increase in grades. It encourages both students and educators to achieve success in the classroom. It is a great way for educators to evaluate what students expect/ want from their course. It doesn’t mean that educators should hold students’ hands and walk them through it, but to introduce goal setting skills into our young students. I remember starting university and how confusing everything felt. I didn’t feel connected to my professors or programs, which led to poor grades. Explaining grading systems and how students can achieve good grades can induce students to take on a more proactive role in investing into their future.

In my earlier university years, I was guilty of just cramming before midterms and writing final exams. I never thought about how much I actually learned, what I took away from the course, and quite frankly I don’t think I cared. My goal was just to get high grades at the end of the term. It wasn’t until I met a student that was quite older than me that I realized we’re not here just to get good grades, but we should actually “learn”. He was so passionate about improving and learning from his mistakes. I’ve never met another student who was so comfortable talking to professors and constantly going to office hours. Learning, to me, is the ability to take away knowledge and skills from a course to apply them in our lives and real world situations.

I was introduced to goal setting during my last year of high school. My business teacher used a “Management by Objective” model to set goals with us. For every goal we achieved, we received 1% of our grade (up to 3%). I recall setting goals that I thought were realistic, but I didn’t manage to achieve them all. Sometimes, failure can help you reflect and understand what went well and what didn’t. It gives you a taste of reality.

Perhaps you are skeptical about the power of goal setting. Let me share a story with you. My business teacher has a habit of writing a journal. In one entry she wrote about her dream to drive a BMW in Greece. After many years, she forgot about that dream. One summer she travelled to Greece to spend time with her family. She decided to rent a car for that summer. She said she remembers driving along a coast in Greece and then she realized something. She was in Greece driving a BMW! She believes that because she wrote out her goal in vivid details, her brain subconsciously worked towards that goal.

After three years of studying at the University of Waterloo, I think I’ve started to feel the key of success – hard work and care. When I look at my grades, I realize that the ones I’ve done exceptionally well in are those where my professors cared about our achievements and wanted us to succeed. All it takes is that sense that someone wants me to succeed, and together we work hard towards that goal.

Here is the article:

“Making Kids Work on Goals (And Not Just in Soccer)”


The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.

Leave a Reply