Goal Setting With Students

Goal setting with students for standardizing testing has been a quick lesson tool. 

I currently teach ACT prep classes. I travel to different area schools and meet new students every class. For a few years of teaching these classes, I hesitated with how to begin class. I wanted to know something about these kids, but class is only three hours! I wanted them to know why I could teach this class without simply rattling off degrees. 

For too long, my introductions to standardized test prep classes were weak. I had to change. Whatever I did, it needed to segue neatly into instruction.


It’s a unique position as a teacher. Getting to know your students is the norm—and telling your students about yourself is too. For a three hour class, I want students to get the most lesson time. Plus, I won’t see these students again. We’re simply not going to have a typical teacher-student relationship.

At first, teaching these classes began with bumps. After attendance? Sharing: too much, too little. Establishing enough of a repertoire for three hours wasn’t happening.

Then one time, I told students my personal feelings about standardized tests.

An Idea

I asked myself what students need from me in these three hours. They do need the rules for subject and verb agreement. I had that covered. I thought about what teenagers need, not simply what students need.

With testing, students crave compassion. Many students practice for the ACT or SAT for years. Some only practice in school. Other students simply want to avoid embarrassment with test results. I need to reach all students.

When I start a review class for standardized testing, I provide background about myself. I’m older than my students (obviously) and when I took the ACT, no one prepped me. The test wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college, and I didn’t know where I wanted to attend college. Plus? Twenty years ago, weight wasn’t attached to the ACT as it is now.

I took the test, with no prep. No one told me to prep. My high school wasn’t competitive. My parents were indifferent.

And because of this experience and because I personally think that the stress attached to tests crush students? I tell them that as a teen, I would have melted if I was in their shoes. I have compassion toward them because that is the truth. Teens are young, and adults attach lots of merit to this test.

I begin class by telling students that I acknowledge what they are facing, what they may feel they’re up against. I further stress that I never felt that as a student. My path is different than theirs.

Covering test prep? Try goal setting with older students. Help students realistically prepare for standardized testing like college entrance exams. #TestPrep #StandardizedTesting

Goal Setting

After sharing my story (and acknowledging that yes, I now have a degree in English), I tell students that I realize they’re all in different places when it comes to the ACT. Because of these varying paths, students’ goals will all be different.

I ask students to think what they want from the ACT, and to make it realistic, a common sense goal. For very few, earning a 36 is a goal. Others know what score a college wants. Some students simply want to improve upon a previous score, while others want to be in the upper twenties, others in the low twenties.

This method relaxes students. They know that I want to help them meet that goal, and I will provide techniques for a variety of situations (slow test takers, careless test takers, and on). What works for one student may not work for another. Part of the class is deciding how each person should take the test, and how each person will meet his or her goals.

At the end of the class, the goal setting provides a perfect conclusion. Students spend a moment deciding how they will meet their goals, and acknowledging what tools they now have. We finish by deciding what the focus should be for students at home before the test.

I wish I could return to the ACT prep classes years ago and give those students a better start to the lesson. Acknowledging that every student brings unique needs and strengths to standardized test prep would have developed a quick repertoire with students, showed them compassion, and given them a better starting point. Goal setting with students narrows the focus for standardized test prep classes.

Originally, I began goal setting with speeches and carried the process to other areas of my courses. 

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