The 3rd of Three Key Components for Exam Success – Natural Academic Ability

Natural academic ability

While it is true that, in any selected group of successful people, one will find very bright and naturally talented individuals, it is also the case that, if you look carefully, you will find that there are also people who do not necessarily have the highest IQ in the same group. I have numerous stories to tell, based on my experience of teaching and interacting with very bright people. Through my association and interaction, including as a Physics teacher in highly academic grammar schools and in meeting colleagues in my professional life, what I have discovered is that there are many people who are of average or just above average intelligence, but who have achieved a great deal in life. Let me tell you a short story about when the A* grade was being introduced at A-level, just over a decade or so ago. My impression was that it was going to be only the very brightest students who would achieve the A*. The perception that I had was proved wrong as I saw young people of just above average ability achieving the A*. At the same time, I also saw very talented young people who just drifted around – with no real focus or hard work – achieving just a pass grade of a B or C and, in some cases, a lot worse.

Is success all about hardwork?

It is important for us as parents to create a success-oriented environment for our children, and that includes a place at home where they can study effectively, encouraging them to work hard, to be well organised and to make sure they do what they need to do to achieve the success of which they are capable. It is vital to also look at how they are spending their time and, more importantly, how effective they are working.

I discovered a quote by someone called Seth and it goes like this:

“A woodpecker can tap twenty times on a thousand trees and get nowhere, but stay busy. Or he can tap twenty-thousand times on one tree and get dinner.”

Our role as parents is to make sure that our sons and daughters not only work hard, but that they work in a way that is effective. It is really all about behaviour and habits and helping to ensure we guide our children so that they are not like the woodpecker who taps on 20,000 trees and gets nowhere, but more like the one who taps 20,000 times on one tree and gets dinner.

Every individual child has their own strength – be it academic or in other areas, such as music, sports or vocational subjects and other activities. Our duty as parents is to do all we can to help nurture the natural talent of a particular child. It would be a shame for a child who is academically gifted not to maximise their potential. This usually includes achieving high exam grades and gaining admission to a top university, unless that is not what the child and the parent consider to be the best way forward for that particular child.

There is an element of subjectivity in the notion of ‘success’ as the word means slightly different thing to different people. For the vast majority of people, it is defined alongside financial and academic achievements, but it is not always the case. One thing that does not make much sense to me is when people say “I just want my child to be happy.” It only begins to make sense when we define what happiness means for you or that particular child, as happiness as an abstract concept is meaningless. Different things make different people happy, but what I’ve observed is that people who have more choices as to how they spend their time and what they do with their lives seem to be happier on the whole.

Academic success or material success often create more choice and there is no evidence to suggest that the poorer people or the less qualified people are happier in life than the more affluent or those with more qualifications. Please note that I am making a distinction between being highly qualified and being educated, as the two are not necessarily the same. I’m not going to go into too much detail on the difference between having qualifications and being educated, but I have seen people who are very intelligent and well-read, but do not necessarily have many academic qualifications. For a young person, I would recommend that they are well qualified, but also encourage them to indulge in reading and learning for the sake of learning. They enjoy the learning process a lot more that way.

I’ve written extensively about issues relating to nature and nurture – including a whole series of blogs about this rather intriguing notion. I also devote a chapter of my upcoming book to this important notion. You can read more on nature and nurture and the effect on young people by visiting the webpage at the bottom of this blog.

To conclude this part of the blog series I would once again reiterate that achieving academic success has more to do with nurture than with nature and that each young person should do all they can to develop any talent they may have. If they do not maximise their potential, they will come to regret it later in life 

The next article contains a set of tips written by one of my colleagues – Dr. Gordon Esler – and is all about how to maximise marks in the exam. Gordon is a highly experienced teacher, who has taught for many years in all types of schools and revision courses. Gordon is well-versed with the assessment and examination system and he offers some excellent suggestions, so look out for that next week.