Growth Orientation: Personal best and challenging goals

How is it defined?

Growth orientation refers to the extent to which students aim for self-improvement by setting academic personal best goals and challenging goals for themselves in their schoolwork (Martin, 2006). Academic personal bests (PBs) are personalised goals or targets which students strive to match or exceed their previous performance.

Why is it important?

Goal-setting is positively associated with self-efficacy, perseverance, class participation, enjoyment of school and engagement (Martin, 2006; Martin & Leim, 2010).

  • Growth goals help students direct attention and effort towards the goal-relevant tasks that are important to attain educational outcomes (Martin, 2011).
  • Research suggests that challenging goals and activities provide a high level of task satisfaction and pride when accomplished (Mento, Locke, & Klein, 1992; Wigfield & Eccles, 1992).
  • Intervention studies show that students who participate in PB goal-setting report significantly greater achievement gain and higher academic aspirations compared to students who did not engage in the program (Martin, Durksen, Williams, Kiss, & Ginns, 2014; Martin & Elliot, 2016).
  • Longitudinal research suggests that specific and proximal PB goals can bring about shifts in students’ implicit beliefs about their intelligence and play a role in creating a ‘growth’ mentality (Martin, 2015).

How do we measure it?

In the Tell Them From Me secondary school questionnaire, students respond to Likert questions about how much they try to set academic goals for themselves. The questions refer to statements such as ‘When I do my schoolwork, I try to do the best that I’ve ever done’, ‘I set challenges for myself in my schoolwork’, etc. The data are scaled on a 10-point scale, and students with a score greater than or equal to 6 are considered to have a ‘positive growth orientation. The results are reported as ‘the percentage of students with a positive growth orientation’.

This briefing note is for a DOE custom well-being measure, and has been prepared by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation.



Martin, A. J. (2006). Personal bests (PBs): A proposed multidimensional model and empirical analysis. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(4), 803-825.

Martin, A. J. (2015). Implicit theories about intelligence and growth (personal best) goals: Exploring reciprocal relationships. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2), 207-223.

Martin, A. J., & Elliot, A. J. (2016). The role of personal best (PB) goal setting in students' academic achievement gains. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 222-227.

Martin, A. J., & Liem, G. A. D. (2010). Academic personal bests (PBs), engagement, and achievement: A cross-lagged panel analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 20(3), 265-270.

Martin, A.J., Durksen, T., Williamson, D., Kiss, J., & Ginns, P. (2014). Personal best (PB) goal setting and students’ motivation in science: A study of science valuing and aspirations. Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 31, 85-96.

Mento, A., Locke, E., & Klein, H. (1992). Relationship of goal level to valence and instrumentality. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77, 395–405.

Wigfield, A., & Eccles, J. S. (1992). The development of achievement task values: A theoretical analysis. Developmental Review, 12, 265–310.