Study: If College Students Want Better Grades, Set Better Goals

Jul 11, 2017

If college students want a better chance at getting As in their classes, new research says setting goals at the beginning of the semester increases the opportunity to earn better grades.

Victoria Prowse is an associate professor of economics at Purdue University and helped conduct research on how goal setting affected the grades of college students. The study worked with 4,000 students at a large, public university, all taking a required class.

Prowse says they had all students articulate two goals at the beginning of the semester: what grade they wanted to earn and what their goal was for achieving that would be, specifically asking for their goals around practice tests leading up to exams.

Prowse says having a student set a goal of what grade they wanted didn’t necessarily result in achieving that goal. But setting studying goals did help students achieve better grades.

“Asking students to set a goal for how much their going to study, the input goal or the effort goal, was very effective in getting students to study more,” Prowse says.

For male students setting these goals, they had a 50 percent chance of earning an A or A- when they set out clear studying goals, and those who didn’t set goals had a 40 percent chance of earning that same grade.

Prowse says the goal setting activity had little effect on the grades of female students, because she says social science finds female students already set goals on their own.