Why is this student underachieving?* Or overachieving?

May 21, 2013

I’ll let you in on a little secret… IQ is not, I repeat NOT the best predictor of student success.  If you work in a school you probably already know this but many students, parents, governments and other members of the community do not and it’s time to share this with them.

Last week I watched Angela Duckworth’s TED talk ‘The key to success? Grit’. Duckworth is a schoolteacher (amongst other things) turned psychologist who has been researching what predicts success both academically and professionally. When she was teaching she wondered why some of her students achieved more than their peers of similar intelligence, and why some students with less intellect were achieving better grades than those with a higher IQ.

hands up croppedWhile IQ is predictive of a student’s performance on a single standardised achievement test, it is not the most predictive factor of a student’s academic performance over the whole year (grade point average). Duckworth and Seligman’s research shows that most predictive factor of academic performance over the year is self-discipline.[1] Duckworth, A.L. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2005). ‘Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents.’ Psychological … Continue reading  This finding indicated to the researchers that the major reason students underachieve is their lack of academic self-discipline.

The idea of old fashioned hard work and effort to achieve is not a new idea, and now there is the research to support it. Teaching students (and their parents) that this is the most predictive factor for academic success can be beneficial particularly for those students who think they are not very smart, and give up easily.

We need to send the message to students that if they are committed to the goals they set for themselves, and put in the hard work to meet these goals are more likely to be successful than the students who don’t. Sure it can be tedious and downright boring to study for an exam or grasp a new concept, but persevering and putting in the hard work leads to good outcomes. Duckworth and Seligman’s research concludes that students who underachieve may have difficulties in choosing to delay short-term pleasure, such as playing video games, or spending time with friends, for long term gain.[2] Op cit Parents and school communities can to use this research to help teach children to delay instant gratification for long-term outcomes, and subsequent success in a desired area.

Associate Professor Duckworth’s most recent research[ref]Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Mathews, M.D., Kelly, D.R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007, Vol. 92, No. 6, 1087–1101.[/ref] shows that the same goes for success in life. She took her research a step further to examine why some people achieve great success in life and others do not. She found that success is not typically linked to talent or IQ but to ‘grit’. Grit is described as a combination of perseverance, passion, hard work and the drive to improve.

* There are a number of causes to student underachievement. This is just one area that must be considered along with attitude, motivation, poor teaching, gaps in learning and learning difficulties or disorders.

Zoe Ganim
Psych4Schools Psychologist