Academic success is not limited to those with a high IQ

2019-01-28 14:12

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You see them in every class. The pupils who seem to breeze through; calmly acing one test after another.

How do they do it?

Is it something anyone can master?

What can parents do to help their children excel?

According to the experts, hard work and parental involvement are key.

Nqobile Nzimande, who bagged seven distinctions in the 2018 matric results, said her secret for achieving success included also making a concerted effort not to stress during her schooling career.

“I never put in the long hours; I just made sure I understood everything I went over. I believe it’s not the quantity, but the quality of studying that’s ultimately important.

“I also took short breaks in-between and hung out with friends to take my mind off everything,” she explained.

The 16-year-old future actuarial scientist said attending extra lessons on weekends had long-term benefits.

“Your independent spirit is commendable. But when you’re really stuck, push out to talk to your teacher or classmates. Don’t struggle by yourself indefinitely,” advised Nqobile.

“I also treated every test like it was the final.

“I made sure I focused on my studies. It doesn’t help to play at the beginning of the year and then expect miracles for your year-end results,” she said.

Curro and Via Afrika have partnered to link pupils

Last year’s National Senior Certificate high achievers, Nqobile Buthelezi (left) and Rachael Job. 

Nqobile said she worked steadily and did reviews periodically. And although she acknowledged that she has a high IQ compared to her peers, to get the desired results, she went the extra mile.

“Being academically gifted will get you mediocre marks but putting in extra effort gives you outstanding marks,” she said, adding that the support she got from her family and teachers was vital for her academic success.

“Getting that encouragement was fundamental. It made me always want to strive for the best,” she said.

Nqobile added that it was her father, Mshushusi, who had instilled the love for learning in her.

“My father is a teacher and he used to teach me English and maths even before I started school.

“He started buying me books at a young age and always encouraged me to read. I spoke fluent English before I went to school,” she said.

In its 2016 study, Elevate Education; a global provider of study skills programmes in Australia, the UK, South Africa and the U.S.; said although 50 to 90% of students say IQ has the biggest impact on their ability to get good grades, it found 13 other variables more important than IQ in predicting academic achievement, including things like self-discipline and self-motivation.

“The other reason students often give for not succeeding at the level they want is that they aren’t working hard enough,” said the study, which goes onto quibble with that assessment, saying it’s not just about working hard, but rather about working hard in the right ways.

“Few of the top students don’t work hard, but many students who work just as hard as the top students don’t perform well. The reason is that they are working hard at the wrong things.

“Poor study skills zealously applied won’t lead to better results but are likely to lead to disengagement,” read the study.

Curro and Via Afrika have partnered to link pupils

Elevate Educate said that one of the biggest differences between top students and everyone else was that when they study, they take practice tests.

“Only 11% of students do this, but they perform better because they are studying in a way that goes beyond memorising material.

“On the flip side, most students report studying by making notes, re-reading notes, writing out notes or cramming. All these ways of studying emphasise rote memory.”

Lastly, the study said when the best students make studying schedules for themselves they first include things they like to do on their schedule and then work study-time in after.

“This method naturally ensures that students are doing things they like to do every day in addition to studying, so they don’t burn out. These balanced schedules are easier to follow.

“In contrast, most students cram their schedules full of study times, intent on doing better, but quickly abandon the plan when they’re unhappy with how little free time they have.”

Rachel Pieterse, another academically gifted student who is doing her first-year of masters at Stellenbosch University, said students wanting to achieve better academic results should change their mindset towards studying.

“Keeping a positive mindset helps to deter distractions and frustration with studying.

“Keep reminding yourself what your goal is and what you are ultimately working to achieve,” advised Pieterse­.

She agreed that asking for help was one of the best things to do.

“Even if you understand the work, speaking to lecturers or teachers may provide insights into the work.

“Each person is different so finding a study strategy that works to your benefit is important. For example, I am a visual learner, and so make use of lots of colours, diagrams and drawings when I study,” she said.

“Student success is definitely not only possible to those who are academically gifted. If you can identify methods that work best for you, hard work and persistence is the driving force behind success. It is sometimes common for hard workers to outperform the academically gifted, as they do not take the work for granted.

“I feel that this also instills important values in the lives of these students that consistently work harder every day to achieve success,” added Pieterse.

Another top student, former Pietermaritzburg Girls High School pupil Rachael Job, who achieved eight distinctions in the 2018 in National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination, agreed that there was no substitute for hard work.

“Working hard can get you very far. I worked hard with what we had in class,” she said.

The eldest of three girls, Rachael said what sets her apart is always doing the best she can to achieve her desired results.

Another high achiever, Amanda Kunene­, said her worst fear was failure.

“That pushes me to work 10 times better than everyone else,” she said.

Kunene said the encouragement and support she enjoys from her parents also­ plays a major role.

She said: “The better you get at learning new things, the more powerful you become. For each class you take, try to grasp the material as deeply as possible. Push yourself to learn new topics, even if they seem really tough at first.” 

 Consistency is key to excellence

Idran Pillay, principal of Raisethorpe Secondary School, said the key thing with top achievers is consistency.

“Most of the high achievers, throughout their schooling, set themselves high goals and work towards them,” said Pillay.

He said in all the cases, parental support for all the achievers was at 100%.

“They support the children in every way possible to make sure that they work consistently. You never find any one of the achievers deprived of anything, their parents are always there for them.”

Sanelisiwe Mvelase, a long-serving history teacher, said top achievers displayed “a hunger to learn”.

“They put in the hard work from the beginning of their schooling careers and they are always optimistic and having a mind-set focused on where they want to be,” said Mvelase.

She said high achievers are always well-prepared for lessons and disciplined.

“They complete homework on time and don’t procrastinate because they know that all the work they put in matters.”

Kobus Maree, professor of education at the University of Pretoria, says high achievers always have a sense of purpose.

“They always search for what will help them to live purposeful lives. Secondly, the very basic thing, the biggest single thing is, either you work hard in a dedicated manner and you achieve, or you don’t apply yourself appropriately and you do not achieve,” he said.

Success, he says, is the result of working consistently, planning ahead and using smart study methods.

“Success does not come from starting to work in the last quarter of Grade 12. It starts at birth. You must work harder and harder every day. The ability to postpone short-term gratification in the interest of longer-term needs is very important.”

Maree says high achievers have the ability to prevent sorrow, sadness, pain and heartache from interfering with their thought processes at a given point in time.

“That is a skill that every pupil should acquire somewhere during their lifetime,” he said.

To help their children reach that level of academic successful, he advises parents to offer emotional support.

“Parents should avoid negative talk all the time. We need to break that devastating destructive discourse — be positive.

“Bombarding them with negative messages will not do the trick, they don’t deserve to be subjected to that,” he said.

Parents play a vital role

According to a list of guidelines from the Basic Education Department, a parent is the most important partner in a child’s education.

“Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers, they influence and shape their children’s behaviour, discipline and habits. Children need to feel supported both at home and at school, and to have learning environments where they can grow and develop to their full potential,” reads one of the guidelines.

It said that parents, regardless of the level of education, or income, race, ethnicity or religion, have the responsibility to be involved in their children’s education.

“If parents are actively involved in their children’s education, teaching and learning at school can be optimised,” it said.

It said that research has shown that “when parents become more involved in a child’s school, the child’s learning improves”.

“By showing interest in the child’s education, parents influence their children to see education as a priority. Children need their parents’ support and supervision, regardless of whether their parents are educated or not.”

The guidelines say that if for whatever reason a parent is unable to provide support to his or her child, it is their responsibility to find the support the child needs from relatives, neighbours or other community members.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  high achievers

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