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Difficulties faced by talented students PDF Print E-mail

It is often assumed that talented students can "look after themselves." However, there is much evidence of wastage through "dropping out" and other failures to meet expectations. We examine here some of the difficulties experienced by able students, and how to overcome them.

Group Pressure
The potential high-performer will often come under peer-group pressure not to excel. Such a student's peers may label him/her as a "geek" or a "dweeb." Merciless pressures often drive the talented person "back into the pack." The message to the student should be "If you are talented, you are lucky. Don't abuse your good fortune. Use your talents constructively and supportively, and don't flout them before the less fortunate around you.

Expect to be less popular than you would be if you were less able."

Inefficiency in Study
The academically gifted student is not necessarily efficient in study methods or in examination techniques. Inefficiency becomes an increasing burden as the tertiary level of education is approached.

One of my students, who had clear potential to obtain a first class degree was able to write exceptionally quickly (a tremendous advantage) but his handwriting was appallingly difficult to read. In the case of one paper the External Examiner admitted that he could barely read the student's writing but suggested to me that the student's overall performance was probably worth an upper or lower second.

As I was the student's tutor and had experience of his handwriting, I suggested that I should read each paper to the External Examiner. The Examiner agreed. I spent several hours reading the papers to him. The student was deservedly awarded an ambiguous first class degree! The student made much progress thereafter, and now dictates at a rapid pace to his subordinates in a major international institution! 

Many talented students are actually ahead of their teachers, and aware of it. Unfortunately, such students have seldom developed the motivation and/or social skills necessary for the feigning of polite interest! Teachers' defenses vary from hostility to withdrawal, and the students will often tend to under-perform. Perhaps contrary to expectations, the talented student may often need as much special attention as academically challenged under-performers.

Academic Burn-Out
Academic "burn-out" can occur at any stage, and it is a very disturbing phenomenon, difficult to reverse. When this happens, parents should hide their quite natural feelings of panic. Hope for spontaneous recovery, but don't try to instigate it. Try to engage the student in enjoyable activities, and choke back your worries. Recovery could happen at any time, but not by your command!

Vocational Misplacement
The student who has the potential to well in most of the school subjects is sometimes a target for schools wishing to increase achievements in certain subject areas, or for parents anxious to direct the student into high prestige and/or high earning careers. The student, possibly interested in many subject areas can become very confused about the choice of an optimal career path. For many, the logistics of the availability and costs of tertiary educational study, and pressures to begin earning quickly, are factors which must be taken into account. Thus vocational guidance for the able can often be an unexpectedly complex process.

Some Tips for Boosting the Talented Student
Reduce the risk of academic "burn-out" by encouraging a reasonable level of leisure activity.

Create a "game orientation." One can often help an anxious student by comparing exam writing to a "game" situation for which practice of the needed skills, development of special techniques, and knowledge of the "rules" is necessary. The student is thus encouraged to develop a systematic, practical approach to study which, without trivializing examinations, is often less stressful than previously held ambiguous fears.

Train for increases in handwriting speed, stamina and clarity. Exams measure what you get onto paper, not what's in your head! Given two students of the same ability and preparation, the one who writes quickly will get the most marks.  And the slow-writing examinee of high ability will get fewer marks than a quick-writing classmate of lower knowledge/ability. It's not fair, but that's how it is for the moment!

I estimate that handwriting training can raise marks for handwritten exams by an average of 30%.

Improve Reading Techniques
Many able students can double their reading speeds by working through the exercises of a text on speed-reading.

Some research findings

  • Incubation - the brain "incubates" (ie carries on thinking even when we are not consciously studying). So it makes sense to study a little each day rather most of it, in a panic, at the end!
  • Reading Speed - improves if one avoids "subvocalizing," because we have the potential to read faster than we speak.
  • Handwriting - a neglected skill! Most adults are handicapped by handwriting styles, postures and habits which they acquired when they first learned to write. At least 80% of students could learn to adopt a more relaxed grip of the pen, and to improve body posture, thereby to achieve greater handwriting speed and clarity for examinations.
  • Time Management - efficient time management is essential for competent study and exam performance. A UK researcher recently showed average student "wastage" of study time at 29%!
  • Memory - "active" learning leads to much better retention than passive recall by ensuring entry of information into the long-term memory store. Memory training leads not only to improved techniques, but to actual growth of the relevant areas of the brain.

Educational & careers advice
Several readers have contacted me seeking inexpensive advice on study problems, and educational and career choices. I strongly recommend The Rotary Careers & Self-Development Handbook 2010, (recently updated) written and published by a group of professional persons (including a Vocational Psychologist) of the Rotary Club of Highlands.

This can be downloaded for a nominal (non-profit) fee of $2-00, payable to the Rotary Club of Highlands. This book contains study examination and job-seeking advice, writing the CV, letters of application, setting up a business and much more. It draws from international research, but focuses on local problems.

David E. Harrison is a consulting Industrial & Vocational Psychologist. Website: Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   Tel: 04-700867

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