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Set your sights on VCE success with goal setting

Jen Huang

In most cases, the ‘secret ingredient’ to success in VCE changes hugely depending on which successful graduate you ask. The way we approach these defining final years of our high school careers is very personal, and many different routes can lead you to the same final destination of being able to pat yourself on the back and say, ‘I did well’.

Personally though, I think the most critical reason why I was able to give 100% throughout my VCE experience was motivation. I had clear, well-defined long and short term goals that I always kept in mind, which gave me the discipline and determination to work hard.

However, if you’re feeling the very opposite of goal-oriented and driven right now, every member of our Connect Team, myself included, can empathise. It’s natural to feel worn out, especially after a disappointing SAC result or a hellish week of assessment. However, the important thing is to be able to pick yourself back up, and I hope that these tips for goal-setting and focusing your sights on a specific marker of success will help you do so.

Goals: concrete, achievable dreams.

Before you have solid goals for your VCE experience, you have dreams: personal aspirations that are vague, but which you’ll still feel great about if you achieve.

Transforming an idealistic vision of how the VCE year should pan out into concrete goals is something that many students don’t bother to do. But forgetting this step is like mixing all the raw ingredients for a cake in a bowl, and forgetting to put it in the oven and bake it: all the elements of success are there, but the final step transforming an idea into reality is missing.

The ‘VAST’ rule for writing goals

Since deciding appropriate goals to set should be the hardest part, let’s make the process of actually writing goals more straightforward. The ‘VAST’ rule simply refers to a formula that we can use to define our goals:

  • V: start with a verb (action word). For example, ‘write’, ‘begin’, ‘complete’, or ‘discuss’.
  • A: make it ambitious. An ambitious (but still reasonable) goal is an excellent motivator in itself for you to work harder and 'reach for the stars'. This type of motivation (called intrinsic motivation, where you're driven to achieve something for its own sake) has been proven by four decades of research to be many times more effective than extrinsic motivation (where you're driven by the desire to gain specific rewards or avoid being punished) at helping people complete complex, creative tasks. 
  • S: make it specific. The more detailed you make you goal, the more concrete it becomes. And since you always want to be working towards a clear end-point, it’s a good idea to get right down into the nitty-gritty when composing a goal. For example, ‘questions 4, 5 and 9 of exercise 7.3 from my Maths Methods textbook’, ‘two paragraphs of my Burial Rites character analysis’ or ‘five visual analysis tasks my Studio Arts teacher assigned as homework’.
  • T: set yourself a specific time-frame in which you need to achieve this goal. The importance of this ties back into the ‘the more specific, the better’ idea: by putting a timer on a goal, you motivate yourself to achieve it efficiently by giving it a greater sense of urgency.

Long and short term goals: for big-picture and detail-oriented thinkers alike

Depending on the time-frame of the goal in question, it can either be can either be a long term goal (achievable in months to years) or a short term goal (achievable before you go to bed that night, over the next three days or by the end of the week). Both are important if you want to keep your eyes on the prize. 

Long term goals

Your long term goals should closely correlate with your dreams for your VCE experience, just with more focus. Due to their scope, you might only have a handful of these goals.

For example, one of my long term goals for Year 12 was to be able to fluently write an exam style language analysis comparing three unfamiliar pieces of media for English by the Term 3 holidays. As a mostly detail-oriented person, I found setting myself concrete long term goals to be important for linking my day-to-day efforts with the bigger picture of what I wanted to achieve. It kept me motivated to complete two exam-length language analysis pieces per week during Term 2, even though sometimes it seemed like the last thing I wanted to do. 

Short term goals

While long term goals provide the light at the end of the tunnel and certainly helped motivate me to work towards VCE success, short term goals are the rungs on the ladder towards achieving your long term goal.

Without these smaller objectives, it's easy for big-picture thinkers to lose track of the details, and ignore immediate problems until they create significant roadblocks later on. For example, you might have excellent intentions of achieving your dream Further Maths study score. However, without guidance on how you can realise this through everyday actions – for example, doing ten questions from the Financial Modelling module every day – you might forget to back up your good intentions by meticulous hard work.

But what makes short term goals especially satisfying is that they can be ticked off, one by one. As Royal Society of Medicine Fellow, psychologist and author Dr David Cohen agrees, this small encouragement can be fantastic for morale, helping you feel in control and like you are making solid progress.

For this reason, short term goals were truly the hero of my VCE experience. Whenever a particularly draining Maths Methods SAC made me question my ability to live up to my own expectations, I found that ticking off a checklist of practice exam questions I had done that day always lifted my spirits. 

Planning and habit-making.

So we have our goals – the rungs on our ladder and the reward at the top – but we don’t necessarily know how we’re going to climb that ladder yet. Motivation and drive are not very useful unless we have a plan by which we can reach our end objectives, and good habits that set us up for success.

Planning is essentially the process of identifying what you can do to achieve your goals: which parts of your lifestyle and schedule you need to change, and which can stay the same. 

The four important jobs of a plan

Planning is all about turning goals into recognisable, achievable steps. No matter what your plan looks like, it should be able to benefit you in the following ways:

  • A plan should define your priorities. This is incredibly helpful when assessments become more frequent and you feel like you’re flooded with new content from every subject. A well organised plan makes deciding which short term goal to achieve first much less stressful, and set you up for success overall. If you are indecisive by nature, this can be life-saving when every task seems essential and like it needs to be immediately completed. 
  • It must fit your goals into other aspects of your life. Extracurricular activities that have nothing to do with VCE (for me, those were weekly drawing lessons) are often extremely enriching. Instead of abandoning them, plan academic short term goals effectively around the times you know you are going to be doing extracurricular activities. This can help you make the most of your precious time.
  • It needs to keep you accountable at all times. By planning study beforehand, you know that you’ll feel the pinch of guilt when you don’t carry it through later: a sneaky technique to make yourself stick to your original good intentions. The idea is that a pre-written plan acts as a gentle guide to prevent you from straying too far from the right track. Note that if you do decide to communicate your plan and goals to you teacher, family and friends, you’re being held extra accountable. Making personal goals public is actually a technique often used by big companies to increase employee productivity. So if you know you tend to bail on things and sometimes need reminders from others to keep on track, this might be a good move.
  • It should help you set up effective habits. Though challenging to establish, habits can be incredibly useful in your quest to achieve your goals. For one, they don't require willpower to maintain. So when something else in your life chips away at your will to study, your habit to, say, skim your text response novel every night and jot down one new observation about the theme will ensure that you don't slack off entirely. Stanford psychologist BJ Fogg's tip to plan for and form habits is to start by establishing very small habits, such as just opening your English novel every night before bed. Achieving this extremely simple task tricks your brain into becoming much more motivated to perform the rest of the habit (i.e. reading and analysing three pages of the novel).

What your plan could look like

Your plan can be a to do list, physical or digital. It can look like a daily entry into your study planner, or it can simply be telling a friend or family member what you want to achieve that week.

I took the more traditional route and made daily short term goal entries in my schedule as to-do lists, but remember that a plan is a very personal device, and can be approached many different ways, as long as it fulfils its three roles well.

Summary.

Whatever your aspirations are for your VCE experience, having a game plan and goals to work towards can only improve your chances of achieving them. They not only helped me maintain that all-important self-motivation and focus. They also ensured that even when the work-load was heavy and I was getting increasingly stressed out, I had a logical plan of action to follow, a way to document and celebrate my progress and success, and a clear light at the end of the tunnel to encourage me.

Hopefully, you can find the same value in these simple yet powerful devices for VCE success as I did.

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