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Why Smart Students Struggle in School

   Gifted, intelligent students have the world at their feet. They have the ability to breeze through classes, earn impressive grades, and build a successful life for themselves. But raw intelligence is only part of the equation for student success. Every year, parents and educators are stunned by the number of highly capable students that perform below their potential. So, why does this happen? Why do brilliant students struggle to perform under their academic demands? And what can we do as parents and educators to get them back on track?

    Study after study reveals that raw IQ has little to no correlation with academic success. In fact, according the Harvard Center for the Developing Child, IQ pales in comparison to the power of executive functioning skills on student success. Organization, time management, learning skills, social competencies, and other ‘soft skills’ are a much better determinant of success than natural ability. Self-management is the key to helping capable students be successful. And that’s our goal here at SAOTG because at the end of the day, we know that even the most brilliant student can struggle with today’s academic demands if he or she does not have the tools and strategies necessary to not only cope with the multi-faceted responsibilities of being a students, but thrive and prosper.

    Of course, every student is unique in their own way. However, there are some tell-tale signs of a smart student who lacks the executive functioning skills to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom. Learn to identify the following signals and guide your student in the right direction.

1) “I don’t need to write it down. I’ll remember.”

Smart students often tell me how pointless using a planner is. They don’t need it. It’s a waste of time. They shouldn’t have to write things down. This is the way they have always done it. My response to this often hinges on consistency. Ask your student if there non-existent planning system works 100% of the time. These students often don’t realize that they are making their jobs harder. Try using the Netflix analogy with them. If you had ten tabs open on your computer, then you opened one more to watch Netflix, what will happen? Netflix runs really slowly. Your brain works the same way. The less your brain has to remember, the more operating power it has for other functions. 

2) “I can’t stand that teacher/ that subject!” 

Brilliant students without adequate self-management skills often concentrate on what they cannot control rather than what they can control. If they don’t like a teacher, they become stubborn and their class performance shows it. Parents can step in here and make a comparison to life outside the classroom. We all have to work with people we don’t like sometimes, but our perfo4mance and our results should not be dictated by those people. Ask your student this simple question: “By not doing your best in the class, are you hurting yourself or the teacher?” Sometimes a bit of awareness solves the problem.

3) “I don’t need to take notes. That class is easy”.

Students pick up bad habits when their schoolwork is too easy. Note taking is often the first skill to go, but this is a dangerous proposition. If students don’t learn how to take helpful notes in middle school or high school, the next stage of their education will be much more difficult. Instead of using blunt force, try helping your student understand the different purposes of taking notes. Yes, notes are used for studying, but they also help keep you engaged in the class, they show your teacher that you care about your success, and they serve as a record of what was covered in class that day. Taking notes is one of the most powerful impression management tools at a student’s disposal.

4) “I’ve got plenty of time to do homework. It’s only 8:45.”  

Time management is crucial for these students. When students lack the ability to estimate how long takes will take, break larger tasks into manageable steps, or see the procrastination pitfalls all around them, their performance suffers. Time management is also the best way to manage stress. These students often put themselves under and immense amount of pressure by assuming they have enough time. Encourage your student spend five minutes each day when they get home making an action plan. We like to use the “3 D’s”: due date, difficulty, and desire. Ask your student to prioritize their assignments according to the 3 D’s and estimate how much time they will need for each task.

How many of these statements sound familiar to you? If you count one or more, your child may have some challenges with executive functioning skills. As with any skill, they can be learned through expert instruction and practice. Don’t worry! We are here to help. Check out our services page to learn more about our what we can offer.

Evan Weinberger


Staying Ahead of the Game offers unique academic coaching & tutoring services to help good students achieve greatness.

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