Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals For Your Effective Study Plan 

“There are 7 days in a week, and ‘Someday’ isn’t one of them.”–Unknown 

So, you’re a week or three into your study plan. How’s it going? How effective is your study plan? How good are you at keeping up with studying when you say you will? 

At this exact moment, how far behind or ahead are you? What do you need to do these next two weeks in order to pass your exam? If you find it difficult to answer these questions, you’re not the only one. In fact, you might still be engaging in “hope studying” just by force of habit—that old saw of “I plan to study a few hours every night.” Or “I hope I can do a few problems on Friday.” Something to that effect, right? 

The problem with all this is undefined goals. You don’t know if you’ve reached them or not. If you say, “I’m going to study as much as I can,” then a different friend asks you to go out, and you do, can you really say that you’ve done as much as you could. If you say, “I’m going to do a lot of problems,” okay, fine. But how many is a lot?

Are you aiming for 10? 30? 50? 100? You get the idea.

You want the winning approach instead: SMART goals. But what are SMART Goals? Learning what they are and how to apply them is the destination for today.

Destination of This Journey 

The destination this time is actually four-fold. You’ll need to be able to: 

1) Identify the five elements needed to create a SMART goal.

2) Use SMART goals to set and accomplish concrete objectives for your study plan.

3) Determine if you’ve met your goal definitively.

4) Utilize a very easy metric to determine if you should study, or if you can have fun. 

What does SMART Mean? 

SMART is an acronym for:






Let’s walk through each of these with a really great example: “I plan on studying as much as I can.” How do we turn this on its ear and make it a SMART goal? 

First word: Specific. 

It’s about not having vague goals. Vague goals are the uber-idealistic statements like “I plan to study hard.” Okay, what does that mean? In order to turn vague goals to specific, concrete ones, go for the five W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why. 

So, let’s turn the vague into the specific: “I plan to study hard” becomes “I plan to study hard enough to pass my exams.” 

But the question remains: How do you know if you’ve “studied hard enough.” 

To answer this, we need to: 

Get Measurable. 

This is truly crucial and one of the steps that you’re likely to trip on. First, however, you need to define what you mean by “study hard.” Is it putting in the recommended hours per exam, or to do 200 questions a week? These are concrete questions you need to be able to answer.

If your goal is exam-related, a measurable goal might be to do a specific number of questions for your first pass-through. Or you might set a goal of studying 30 hours a week. 

But say your goal is job-related. Your measurable goals might be to reach out to three people, or set up a specific number of informational conversations—for this purpose, let’s say five. Or your goal might be to submit your application or resume to five different companies. Whatever your plans are, take a few seconds and think of how you can make them more measurable. 

Going back to the previous example, let’s refine “I plan to study hard” to “I plan to do every question in the practice problems for each section in the manual.” 

Third Word: Attainable. 

Okay, so your goals are measurable, but are they attainable? Are your goals something you can actually achieve within the time frame that you’ve got available, accounting for all your non-negotiables, classes, etc that you have going on? 

It’s in this area that people can be incredibly idealistic as well as unrealistic. Say you want to set up 25 information conversations for the job you want.

You have to ask yourself if you really have the hours available to find, reach out and schedule time with these people. If you’re exam-focused, based on the plan, does it make sense to try and do every problem in each section? 

For example, you might be planning on doing 2 run-throughs of the material. In this case, making your goal more attainable might consist of doing just the first 15 problems of each section in your first pass. 

So, the original goal of “I want to study hard” has turned into “I will answer the first 15 problems of each section for the first run-through.” 

Fourth Word: Relevant.

What does it mean to make sure your goals are relevant? After all, how can you not make relevant goals when it comes to your actuarial exams?

It’s actually fairly easy. One mistake you might end up making is studying outdated materials, which can really hurt. Yes, you might be studying for a particular exam, but if you don’t get the updated materials, you might be “crushin’ it” with the prep questions.

Yet completely bomb the actual exam because you didn’t study the more current, more difficult materials, or studying the stuff that’s relevant to what you really need to know. Definitely a waste of time and a major ouch because you’ll end up not passing the exam.

Speaking of time, let’s talk about the last part of making SMART goals:

Fifth Word: Time-Bound. 

You can make all those amazing goals specific, measurable, attainable and relevant, but when did you want to accomplish these goals? What’s your deadline? 

Going back to the chief example, if you do 15 questions in each section within 3 months, that’s definitely do-able. But 3 days? Not so much, right? And if you wanted to do practice problems after your exam, well, why would that be relevant? The exam’s over with by then. 

What might help is for you to think in quarterly, monthly and biweekly terms as far as your goal deadlines are concerned. What do you need to do in order to achieve your specific goals in these specific time frames?

 How To Know If You’ve Made a SMART Goal 

Now that you know how to create a SMART goal, how do you check to see if you’ve actually made one? 

Firstly, use the Yes/No formula: “Can I say this goal was definitely finished or not?” Don’t give yourself partial credit for SMART goals—either you’ve hit your goal, or you haven’t. For example, if you plan on studying for a certain number of hours a night, but you only do half that amount, yes you studied, and yes you tried, but you still didn’t hit your goal. 

To recap: 

SMART goals are: 

Specific—Being vague is not helpful.

Measurable—Thinks concrete and binary. Did you achieve your goal or not?

Attainable—Is the goal possible for you to accomplish?

Relevant—Does the goal move you towards your ultimate aim?

Time-Bound—Is there a specific timeline, deadline or time frame in which you’ll have this complete? 

You’ve Reached Your Destination 

So the takeaway of today’s destination lesson is four-fold: 

  • Identify 5 elements needed for a SMART goal.
  • Use SMART goals to set and accomplish concrete objectives.
  • Determine if you’ve met your goal in a definite way.
  • Utilizing a simple metric to determine if you should study or take time off and have fun. 

Not only does turning your ordinary plans into SMART goals help you get things done faster, it will literally be working smarter, not harder. Because, as the quote at the beginning says, there are 7 days in a week, and “Someday” isn’t one of them. “Someday” is too vague in all senses of the SMART system. SMART goals, on the other hand, are winning goals.   

Want more help with your journey?

  1. Actuarial Community: Feeling alone on your journey? Become a part of the Actuarial Journey Community!
  2. Create a study plan you’ll actually stick to!: This free video series will show you the step-by-step process to create you own Personalized Study Roadmap and design your Study Lifestyle
  3. Actuarial Job Course: a completely free full-length course with videos, worksheets, tools, and community all geared to help your get your entry-level actuarial job and start your actuarial career.
  4. Actuarial Journey Podcast: Get more insights and lessons learned each week sent directly to your phone!

Let us know in the comments below – Which one of these principles do you think would be the best for you to focus on for the next month?