Shortly before exams, many students create revision timetables. They spend hours working out a “suitable” schedule and in the end they fail to stick to it. How about you? If you’re struggling, all you have to do is boost your motivation and learn about SMART goal setting.

So, what is a SMART Goal?

A SMART goal should be: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant and Time-related.

Specific: The goal is definite. It is clear who is involved, what the exact accomplishment will be, where it will be done, how it can be achieved, and which limitations may have to be overcome to achieve it.

Measurable: You can track the progress and outcome. You know at all times whether you are working towards your goal and when you have achieved it.

Actionable: The goal has to be realistic for you. Make sure you don’t raise the bar too high, but be sure to challenge yourself a little.

Relevant: The goal must be worthwhile to you and in line with your priorities and beliefs.

Time-related: The goal must have a certain deadline, as this prompts urgency and can increase action.

Blank paper with pen and coffee cup on wood table

The #1 study mistake: A Vague Idea

The most common error when it comes to goal-setting is being imprecise, for example:

I will study for my IGCSE Geography exam

This goal is very far from useful or applicable, but not uncommon in daily life. Many students only have inspecific plans related to exams, education or their other priorities. Failing to set strategic goals reduces the likelihood of achieving them.

Instead try to formulate clear thoughts, such as:

I will write my geography essay on weather forecasting by Friday 12th of February. This gives me three days for planning (creating an outline), four days for writing the draft, and two days for correction. This leaves me one day for unexpected problems.

This goal answers the most important questions. Also, the author of the statements has a strategy for coping with sudden events. The goal is traceable and time-related, due to intermediate deadlines. The goal is likely to be relevant, though this is more of a personal thing.

idea, bulb, thinking

How to use SMART goals for your revision plan

On a sheet of paper answer these questions

  • Which subjects am I taking?
  • When are my exams and how much time have I got for revision?
  • What other priorities do I have that might conflict with my goal?
  • How can I prevent conflict?
  • How will I keep myself motivated to stick to the goal? Will I ask friends to keep me accountable?
  • How much time do I want to dedicate to each subject?
  • Which grade/score do I want to achieve?
  • How am I going to revise for each topic?
  • What is all the material I need to know?

Structure your thoughts

Organise all your material using a calendar. First, create a rough outline of what you have to complete per week to revise the complete syllabus (or the topics you wish to cover). Leave at least 3 weeks for extra revision/past papers before the exams.

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For instance:

If you have got 8 weeks before your exams, you leave 3 weeks for final reviews. This gives you five weeks to revise the syllabus. In IGCSE Geography all topics are:

  1. Population
  2. Migration
  3. Settlement
  4. Marine processes
  5. Rivers
  6. Weathering
  7. Plate tectonics
  8. Weather, climate and ecosystems
  9. Hazard management
  10. Industry
  11. Agriculture
  12. Energy and water supply
  13. Tourism

This leaves you about 2-3 days per topic. You may want to spend more time on more challenging themes, and revise less for easy topics.

So, if you allot 3 days to population, break that down into daily goals. On day 1, you could focus on population growth and population pyramids. Day 2 could focus on population density and distribution and day 3 could focus on carrying capacity and the respective case studies.

The last three weeks before the exam, you would go over the whole topic again (as well as all the other topics in your syllabus. But during that period, focus only on the areas you are struggling with.


school, old, board

Work according to your plan. Review your revision timetable to make sure it suits your needs. But don’t fall into the trap of undercommiting!

You can always revise weekly plans or break daily plans into hourly assignments if necessary. Just experiment a little, but make sure to stick to your goal.

Also, be sure to learn how to prevent procrastination and check out my revision advice for smart and lazy people.