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Goal setting methods suggested by our IB tutor

At HKExcel, we believe that setting goals is vital to a student’s academic success. Our IB tutor have a lot of tips on how students should set goals. In this blog post, we will share a section from our best selling publication Becoming an IB Miracle about how to set goals.

Setting goals is like choosing a destination you want to embark on.

Without goals, you wander around with no real purpose in life. Your goals

are what give you motivation to fight for the better. It gives you direction

to the right path. Based on our interviews, we have found a very specific

way of setting goals that differentiates great students from average


Make your goal as specific as it can be

We found that all top students always set a specific score as their goal,

while average students just want to “do better”. Average students feel okay

about a range of scores but top students, on the other hand, only desire one

specific score.

Setting a very specific goal helps you turn your goal from a “should” into a

“must”, which is the essence of determination. If you give yourself an

acceptable range, you will lose focus and you will likely perform below

your true potential because you will be happy with achieving the lowest

grade within the range when you can actually do better. More importantly,

a specific goal will give you a sense of certainty that a vague goal will not.

By knowing exactly what you want, you will have the determination to do

whatever it takes to head towards your destination. Remember, to take the

island you must burn the bridges. Don’t settle for an acceptable range, find

a score that will truly fulfill you and go after it as if it is the only possible


All top students we interviewed were able to achieve their specific goal or

came extremely close to it. Choosing an exact destination is their first step.

Have compelling reasons to follow through

Ask yourself honestly, why do you want top academic grades? The answer

to this question differs from person to person. What motivates you is

different from what motivates others. Finding a motive for your goal is

your job. But during our interviews, we can confirm for sure that you need

to have a compelling reason to give you the drive to push yourself over

your limits. Below are a few reasons that might work for you.

Common motivating factor 1: My grade determines my future!

Your high school grades directly determine what kind of university will

accept you. Of course, for many universities, your grades are not the only

determining factor but without meeting the minimum requirement, you

wouldn’t stand a chance! Furthermore, some occupations require a specific

major, and graduating from a top university will increase your chance of

being hired by large and prestigious firms.

One student we interviewed, Henry Wong, has always aspired to be a

doctor. Saving millions of children’s lives in developing countries was his

goal in life. What a big dream he has! Of course, the first step of living his

ultimate vision is to study medicine in a top university. The university he

aimed for required him to score 45/45 in the IB Diploma Program, which is

a score that only a few top 1% students could achieve. It is obviously very

difficult to score full marks in IB, and Henry knows that. Accomplishing

your dream is never easy, but for Henry, it means he has to do whatever it

takes to get 45/45. For students who do not have a dream like Henry’s, it is

hard for them to work that hard and aim for full marks. But Henry knows

exactly what the reasons are behind his sacrifices. In the end, 45/45 is

exactly what Henry accomplished.

Common motivating factor 2: My friends and relatives would know

that I am smart and competent

If you are a high school student, people often judge how smart and

competent you are by your academic performance. Getting good grades

comes with a certain social recognition. We found this to be an underlying

motivation for many top students we interviewed.

One of our top students, Reagan, whose aim is to get 40/45 in IB Diploma,

used to be a lazy student who achieved average grades throughout middle

school. Back then, he simply couldn’t see the value of studying hard but as

he got into high school, he found his peers are more devoted to studying

than before. This motivated him to study hard and beat all his peers.

Moreover, subjects in high school are more intellectually challenging than

in middle school and Reagan thought that being the top of his class could

truly show his ability. The reason why he aimed for 40 was because the

score is seen by many as a distinctive line between top students and good

students. If you can score 40 or above, you will be considered a top

student. The vision of being complemented by peers and adults was

compelling to Reagan. In the end, Reagan achieved exactly 40/45 in the IB


The two motivating factors may or may not motivate you, but they are the

two most common found amongst the 100 students we interviewed. Think

deep. Why do you want top grades? Find a compelling motive for yourself

and this will give you the reason to push yourself farther than you can


Remind yourself often

A difficult goal, like achieving a top score in a public exam, is not

achievable within a few days. It is more about working hard day in and day

out for months and achieving daily victories that accumulate into a

significant result. To build a great wall, you need to lay each brick

perfectly one at a time. Thus, it is essential for you to maintain momentum

consistently and not lose sight of your ultimate goal. Most top students we

interviewed had a ritual for reminding themselves of their goal daily.

Below are a few common ones that are proven to work.

Reminder technique #1: Visualization

Visualizing a scenario over and over again will help reinforcing your

belief. A top student, Vingie, told us that she used to visualize her report

card with her dream score written on it. She even imagined all the joy and

compliments she would receive. This mental movie was played in her head

day after day. She believed that getting her dream score is an inevitable

outcome and in the end, that is exactly what she achieved.

In 1993, famous actor Jim Carrey wrote a 1-million dollar check to himself

for acting services rendered that is dated 1995. He kept it in his wallet and

looked at it day after day. The check deteriorated but he never stopped

believing. In 1995, his dream came true; he landed his first acting role in

major productions with Dumb and Dumber.

Getting your dream grade is much easier and less nerve-wrecking than

winning a 1-million dollar movie contract, but you can still use the

visualization technique to achieve results!

Reminder technique #2: Think of your opponents

The score you get on any public examination is determined by a curve that

is based on everyone else’s score. You need to do better than the majority

to score in the top percentile. Some top students told us that putting this

into perspective often motivates them when they got lazy.

When you are not studying, other students might be working hard to

accumulate new knowledge and skills. But the good news is that when you

are studying, you are back on the “racetrack” again. Ellie, a student who

scored in the top 5 percentile of the HKALE exam, created a sense of

urgency for herself by picturing others studying hard while she was resting.

She credits this technique for preventing herself from slacking off. If you

want to increase your chances of winning, you need to be on the

“racetrack” more often than others!

Reminder technique #3: Read motivational quotes when you lose


Along your long journey, you must overcome various challenges and

barriers before reaching your final destination. These challenges may give

you reasons to give up or lose sight of your goal. Several students told us

that reading motivational quotes is a great way for them to overcome their

fears. More importantly, motivational quotes remind them of the big

picture and the insignificance of their problems compared to their ultimate

goal. A few top students told us that they would go online regularly when

they felt demotivated. Some of them would stick posters of their favorite

motivational quotes on their walls or use them as their desktop picture.

Below are a few quotes recommended and read by the top students:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to

keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how

badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the

people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other


-Randy Pausch

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a


- Aristotle

“Where there is a will, there is a way”

- English proverb

“And all may do what has by man been done”

-Edward Young

Reminder technique #3: Affirmations

As we talked about earlier, daily affirmation is a scientifically proven way

to shape your beliefs. It is also a way to constantly remind yourself of your

ultimate goal. Write a short and easily memorized script that you can read

out loud to yourself 3 times a day! Remember, the key is to relax while you

read it out. Do not have doubts, say the words out loud as if it is your


Know your sacrifices and make them immediately

There is no free lunch in this world. The same goes for achieving your

goals. To become a successful student, there are certain sacrifices you must

make. Some less successful students we talked to told us that they wanted

good grades but are too occupied with other endeavors such as sports or

video games. They have what we call inner conflicts. They want to do two

things at the same time that will inevitably conflict with each other by

nature. If you are serious about achieving your academic goal, you need to

remove your inner conflicts.

Ryan used to be a dedicated football player in middle school, playing at

least 3 times per week. His focus was to become a regular starter in his

club’s youth team. But as soon as he got into high school, he identified

achieving 40/45 in the IB exam to be his ultimate goal. He knew that he

had to spend more time and focus on his studies. In no time, he removed

his inner conflict by making the conscious decision to quit the team, which

allowed him to commit fully to his studies.

So above are some of the keys to setting goals to help you achieve success. IF you want to register for lessons with our IB experts, click here

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