Writing about personal goals and plans regardless of goal type boosts academic performance

Michaéla C. Schippers*, Dominique Morisano, Edwin A. Locke, Ad W.A. Scheepers, Gary P. Latham, Elisabeth M. de Jong

*Corresponding author for this work

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40 Citations (Scopus)
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Academic underachievement is a problem for both our education system and general society. Setting personal goals has the potential to impact academic performance, as many students realize through reflection that studying is a path towards realizing important life goals. Consequently, the potential impact of a brief (4–6 h), written, and staged personal goal-setting intervention on undergraduate academic performance (earned European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System credits) was investigated. Using a time-lagged quasi-experimental design, our model was tested with two first-year university goal-setting cohorts and two control cohorts (total n = 2928). The goal-setting cohorts (n = 698 and 711) showed a 22% increase in academic performance versus the control cohorts (n = 810 and 707). This increase depended on (1) the extent of participation in the 3-stage goal-setting intervention, (2) number of words written in the exercise, and (3) the specificity of students’ goal-achievement plans (GAP). Contrary to goal-setting theory, which necessitates goal-task specificity, the results revealed that it did not matter whether the students wrote about academic or non-academic goals, or a combination of both. Rather, it appeared to be the overall process of writing about their personal goals, the specificity of their strategies for goal attainment, and the extent of their participation in the intervention that led to an increase in their academic performance. This study suggests an important modification to goal-setting theory, namely a potential contagion effect of setting life goals, an academic goal primed in the subconscious, and subsequent academic performance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101823
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020

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