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Underachievement in Gifted Students

IT CAN BE difficult to identify underachieving gifted students because they often perform at their grade level. To teachers they may seem to be uninterested, lazy or rebellious. Their school reports often have the comment "could do much better if…."

Identification can be made by examining discrepancies between students’ level of cognitive reasoning ability and their school performance or by looking for differences between high levels of performance on topics of interest compared to low motivation on schoolwork.


Characteristics of underachieving gifted students include:

  •  lack of self-confidence
  •  fear of failure
  •  fear of success
  •  academic skill deficits
  •  inability to persevere
  •  lack of goals
  •  poor self-concept
  •  excessive need for attention
  •  avoidance of responsibility
  •  thoughts of worthlessness
  •  avoidance of competition
  •  negative thought patterns eg believe themselves unintelligent despite test results

Responding to Underachievement

The primary factor for chronic underachievement in gifted students appears to be a lack of recognition and support for intellectual potential during the early school years. In order to achieve, gifted students need to be challenged sufficiently to match their potential level of ability.

When highly intelligent children are not challenged academically at an early age, they find the work too easy, become bored, develop poor work habits and often have negative feelings towards school.

Underachievement is an appropriate response to what they perceive as unrewarding work and the same students who are not motivated at school often demonstrate high levels of intrinsic motivation in their extracurricular interest areas.


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