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Succesful Academic Goal Setting

Divide and conquer

Never forget this idea. It could save your sanity when the work begins to pile up. Whenever you are faced with what seems to be an overwhelming amount of work, take each big task and break it down into smaller pieces. If those pieces still seem too big, then break those down too. Keep doing that until you have a long list of tasks - each of which you could start now and finish in an hour or even half an hour. This will help you overcome procrastination. It will also help you see real progress and make you feel more in control. A two-hour study session could result in three or four things getting crossed off your list.


This is the most important concept. Starting college or university means that you will be faced with more of everything. There is more homework than you ever dreamed of, as well as more parties, sports, dances, clubs and other extra-curricular activities than you thought possible. You have to make a conscious effort to get a good balance of the two opposing forces. Don't study 24 hours a day. Don't party 'till you drop and forget your courses. It's very easy to slip into either trap. Start off by making a commitment to study when it's time to study, and then really enjoy your free time because you've earned it.

Set goals

You can't tell if you've achieved something unless you set a goal to begin with. The kind of goal setting that helps with studying is that which helps you complete the tasks on the list you created in #2.
Your goals must be specific: don't say "I'll read some Psychology tonight", rather you should say "I'll read 15 pages of Psychology from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.".

These goals must be manageable and realistic: 15 pages of Psychology reading in an hour is realistic (you may even manage to do more). 200 pages is probably not realistic. Make sure you set goals that you can accomplish.
Use fractions of time

The biggest waste of study time is ignoring the great ways to use small bits of time throughout your day. Use the time between classes to review and enhance notes from the previous lecture - capture all the information you can before it's lost. Make up flash cards with basic memory stuff that every course has: vocabulary in a language course, formulae in math or science courses, all the parts of a combustion engine, etc. Carry these cards with you and review them while waiting for the bus or in one of those ever-present line-ups. Make up your own techniques for using fragments of time.

Do it right the first time

This concept is the most important factor in being able to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Do your very best each time you sit down to study. Don't waste that time. Work hard. In the words of time management expert Jeffrey Mayer, "If you haven't got time to do it right the first time, when will you find the time to do it over?"

Be an active learner

Develop ways to be active with the stuff you are trying to learn. Make it into a speech. Try to teach someone else. Try a mind map. Talking, writing, singing and drawing are all good active things you can do to make the material your own. Simple passive reading is not going to be enough.
If you think of your brain as a computer, then the more kinds of active learning activities you do, the better input you have. The better and more varied the input, the more likely you are going to be able to generate output when you need to - like writing a final exam when you feel a lot of pressure.

Find good study places

You need at least two places in your world that are completely devoted to studying. You need one on campus and one at home. These are places where you do nothing else but study.
Your home study place can be any corner of your home where you do nothing else that might distract you. Do not study on your bed, at your kitchen table, or in front of the television.

Your school study place must be somewhere quiet and away from the potential distractions of friends and other activities. Do not study in or near the coffee shop or pub; near the gym; or in that part of the library where all your friends gather.

Your study places must become so familiar that as soon as you sit down your subconscious says "STUDY" to you.

Go to class

This may seem an unnecessary thing to say, but you would be surprised at the low level of attendance as soon as the first month is over. Some lectures may be tedious and boring and a great cure for insomnia, but that's where the information is, and you've paid for it. Don't kid yourself that you can borrow someone else's notes or just get it all from the textbook. Think of each class as a chance to get active with the information you'll need to know for the final exam.

Use your textbooks

This isn't high school where you have to give the books back. At college and university you buy the books and you own them. They are your tools, so use them. Don't be afraid to mark them up! Highlight, underline and, especially, write notes in them. These are all legitimate ways to be an active learner.
Build concentration

If you have a problem concentrating there are lots of good exercises you can do to build up your study endurance - just like running or weight-lifting. Any good study skills book or course will help you build your concentration stamina.


Enroll in a study skills course if one is offered at your university or college. If you learn just one thing that improves your grades it will be worth taking the course. Buy a good study skills book that you can mine for gems of advice when you have a particular problem.