Effective Learning Strategies

Study with Purpose

It is easy to overlook an important initial step in a study session. It involves outlining a clear purpose for the study time by strategically using goals. In particular, we will discuss using what are known as S.M.A.R.T. goals.

The S.M.A.R.T. acronym is a useful guideline for ensuring an objective is both helpful and attainable. It is used in a wide variety of contexts and for many different purposes.

In general, using goals keeps us oriented and able to see the progress we have been making. We won’t beat our heads against the desk wondering if we’re actually getting somewhere. We can make progress that is demonstrable, which in turn boosts confidence.

Here is a breakdown of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym with a math-related example.

Applying the goal guidelines

Let’s say on Monday we learned how to use the Pythagorean theorem, a topic which is learned within the context of right triangles in geometry or trigonometry. If you’re not familiar with this example, that’s okay. The process will still apply to your specific topic. Furthermore, we know we will have a quiz on Monday, so we want to study over the weekend.

Specific: The goal should not be “learn about right triangles.” Instead it should focus in on one specific topic within this area. This allows us to

Measureable: It’s not enough to say we want to gain a better understanding of a concept. We must ask ourselves, “How do I know I have made progress?” If instead my goal involves getting 5 practice problems correct at the end of the session, I know that I have made progress.

Attainable: Have I set myself up for success? It’s not reasonable to expect myself to learn a semester’s worth of content in one setting. However, I can set a smaller goal of learning a topic at a time. This will keep me motivated as I know I’m making progress.

Relevant: Will this help me advance another goal? To return to our example, if we are ultimately studying to prepare for a quiz or test, we want to know that our study time has moved us toward that goal. We want to make sure we are picking topics that will be tested upon. We also want to make sure

Time-bound: Time-bound is important. Don’t let this make you feel like you need to master a topic rapidly. Instead, you should be mindful of how much time you are spending on a goal. If I set down to learn a topic, maybe I need to ask someone to explain something or look for a video on YouTube.


Putting it together

Old goal: Learn the Pythagorean Theorem.

S.M.A.R.T goal: Understand when and how to use the Pythagorean Theorem because it will be featured on an upcoming quiz. 

I will be able to correctly solve 5 practice problems after a study session that lasts from 1-3 pm on Saturday.


The bigger picture

It is useful to use theses goals as an outline for a general study plan. You can learn more about that here as well as download a study plan template.


Read more about maximizing the impact of your studying below.