Underachievers (Part 1)


School boy sitting at desk in classroom sleeping over his workResearch estimates that fifty percent of high ability students do not “achieve well”. Most educators categorize gifted underachievement as a discrepancy between potential (predicted achievement) and actual achievement and/or as a failure to develop or use potential.

The typical difference between a low achiever and a gifted underachiever is the gifted student’s ability to score high on standardized achievement tests. Therefore, gifted underachievement relates more to everyday classroom performance. Underachievement can vary among situations and subjects. Students who achieve in one context may not perform as well in another. Parents and teachers must intervene in order to assist all students in meeting their full potential.


Environmental Influences:

  • Lessons and activities that are not stimulating or meaningful
  • An anti-intellectual school atmosphere that focuses more on athletics and social status
  • Unfavourable peer influences

Personal/Family Influences:

  • Unconscious belief that effort does not affect outcome
  • Early failure to develop self-management skills
  • Poor family relationships that include inconsistent expectations and pressures
  • A suppressed perfectionism

Lewis Terman described several characteristics of gifted underachievers in a longitudinal study of 1,500 gifted students.
His list included:

  • Low levels of self-confidence
  • An inability to persevere
  • A lack of goals
  • Feelings of inferiority

(Lewis Terman)

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