Why is setting academic goals useless?

Have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution to exercise more, to study harder, to spend less time on games… only to stop doing it a month later?

I definitely have. And I’ve seen many students aim to do better at Chinese (and other subjects), but eventually fall short. In this blog post, we explore why students don’t achieve their academic goals and how to excel in Chinese by forming good study habits.

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

If your child didn’t do well last year, chances are they made some sort of New Year Resolution or promise to do better this year, like “I will get 95 marks for Chinese.” Goal setting is helpful, but just like 80% of New Year resolutions fail, many student resolutions don’t materialise.

Why?

Two reasons. Firstly, many students set improvement goals after doing poorly in an exam or assessment. A month or two later, the feeling of “I must avoid doing badly again” tends to wane, and distractions like the playground or Minecraft become more important.

Secondly, students tend to focus on big goals (score full marks for Math) rather than small daily routines (do one Math practice paper every Saturday). After all, the big goals feel motivational and transformational, while the daily routines feel like menial work. However, setting goals without corresponding changes in habits is like wanting to become more healthy while not changing diet, exercise habits or sleeping patterns.

FOCUS ON HABITS

One of my favourite books is #1 New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits by James Clear. The central message is instead of focusing on big goals (I’m going to ace Chinese), we get far better results by making changes to our routines (I’m going to revise Chinese 3x a week).

To quote his blog post

“You get inspired by The Biggest Loser, head to the gym, bust your butt to the point of exhaustion, and take the next three months off to recover.

You finally get that urge to write your book, write all day over the weekend, and then head back to your day job on Monday and never come back to it.

Too often, we let our motivations and desires drive us into a frenzy as we try to solve our entire problem at once instead of starting a small, new routine.

I know, I know. It's not nearly as sexy as saying you lost 30 pounds in 3 months. But the truth is this: the dreams that you have are very different from the actions that will get you there.”

This fits with what we have observed over the years – students who focus on making small upgrades to their study habits tend to stick with it and improve quickly, while students who only set goals but don’t change their daily routines tend to see little improvement.

WHAT SHOULD PARENTS DO?

As parents, we want our children to excel and enjoy learning Chinese (if you don’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog post). Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, especially if your child doesn’t get sufficient exposure at home.

In our previous post, we talked about how focusing on vocabulary helps students both improve in Chinese and enjoy the language more. As a quick reminder, when your child learns a new word, he or she forgets half of it within a day, and almost all of it by next week. Regular revision improves retention and helps your child lock in the word.

So what should we parents do?

Step 1: 

Have your child come up with an academic objective (I want to ace Chinese this year). You can work with your child to come up with the objective but it should be something that your child wants to achieve rather than something we parents force down their throat.

Step 2: 

Come up with one to three study habits that your child will do regularly to achieve the academic objective in Step 1. For instance, “I will read 1 Chinese book a week” or “I will revise vocabulary every day for at least 15 mins” or “I will research and write one compo every fortnight”.

Ideally, each of the study habits should be quantifiable (“I will read 1 book a week” is better than “I will read every week”), and doing all of the study habits regularly should naturally result in your child fulfilling his or her academic objective.

Step 3:

Accountability. There’s no point setting objectives and study habits if they aren’t being followed. Check in with your child regularly to ensure that he or she is on-track, but if the study habits that were originally set are too loose or stringent, adjust accordingly.

WHAT IF MY CHILD DOESN’T WANT TO PRACTISE CHINESE?

Most students don’t want to revise Chinese. If that describes your child, read on.

Over the last year, we built a portal where students capture and fight cute pets by practising Chinese (think Chinese equivalent of Koobits), and just 10 mins of practice a day helped students improve tremendously in vocab and language confidence. Each time your child answers a question, our AI system understands his or her standard better and personalises a learning journey that helps your child learn optimally.

If you are currently a member, just log on and practise. If you aren’t a member, simply sign up for a trial account and practise, free of charge with no time limits.

10 mins a day is extremely doable for any child, especially since they are having fun in the process. But if your child currently doesn’t revise Chinese at all, you can always start with 10 mins once a week, and gradually increase.

The key is to build sustainable study habits that will naturally help your child improve. Good luck!

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