Differences Between Academic High Achievers and Gifted Students

There can be some overlap, but not all 'high achievers' are 'gifted'

Schoolgirl (10-12) using laptop computer, close-up

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The number one question asked by parents of advanced children is whether their child is gifted or "just" bright. They recognize that their child seems to be more advanced than other kids the same age. They may have first noticed that their child reached many developmental milestones early. Or they see that their child has taught himself to read at age three or is able to multiply double-digit numbers at age five.

What Is a High Achiever? 

In school, a high achiever would be a student who gets high marks and good grades. They do the work that is required and do it well. They tend to be well-organized, with good time-management skills, which is why they turn in neat and tidy work on time. They also tend to be well-behaved, adjusting well to the classroom environment and participating enthusiastically in classroom discussions.

Why High Achievers Aren't Always "Gifted"

High achievers are not necessarily gifted, although some high achievers are also gifted. High achievers are often externally motivated by the desire to get good grades or even high praise. They can also often be motivated by stickers with smiley faces.

However, high achievement is not a sign of giftedness. In fact, some gifted children are underachievers.

They may be internally motivated, so unless they are interested in the task or the material to be learned, they may not do well on assignments and may not even complete the assignments.

High achievers may need an educational environment beyond what is offered in the average classroom, but that is not necessarily the same environment required by gifted kids to be successful.

Confused yet? Don't be. Your child's school will be able to help you assess whether your child needs more motivation in class or whether he or she is performing at his or her potential. Don't be afraid to ask questions and have patience. It may take time to figure out the best place for your advanced learner.

Try not to bring too many of these terms into the conversation with your child, because you don't want to create unnecessary stress for them by applying labels they may not fully understand. Remember, this is about the child and their needs. 

Differences Between High Achievers, Gifted Learners, and Creative Thinkers

Here's a chart that helps explain the differences between high achievers, gifted learners, and creative thinkers.

A High Achiever... A Gifted Learner... A Creative Thinker...
Remembers the answers Poses unforeseen questions Sees exceptions
Is interested Is curious Wonders
Is attentive Is selectively mentally engaged Daydreams; may seem off task
Generates advanced ideas Generates complex, abstract ideas Overflows with ideas, many of which will never be developed
Performs at the top of the group Is beyond the group Is in own group
Learns with ease Already knows Questions: What if...
Needs 6 to 8 repetitions to master Needs 1 to 3 repetitions to master Questions the need for mastery
Enjoys the company of age peers Prefers the company of intellectual peers Prefers the company of creative peers but often works alone
Completes assignments on time Initiates projects and extensions of assignments Initiates more projects that will ever be completed
Enjoys school often Enjoys self-directed learning Enjoys creating
Is highly alert and observant Anticipates and relates observations Is intuitive
Is pleased with own learning Is self-critical Is never finished with possibilities
Gets A's May not be motivated by grades May not be motivated by grades

The Bottom Line

One important thing to understand is that a child can belong to more than one group. That is, it is possible for a high achiever to also be a gifted child. It's just that not every high achiever is gifted. In the same way, not every gifted learner is also a creative thinker, but it is unlikely that a creative thinker would not also be a gifted learner.

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  1. Wagner L, Ruch W. Good character at school: positive classroom behavior mediates the link between character strengths and school achievementFront Psychol. 2015;6:610. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00610