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What Do Top Students do Differently | Douglas Barton | TEDx Youth@Tallinn

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

I wanted to highlight this great TEDx talk about what top students do differently because not only do I believe it to be informative and spot on, I can attest to its success. Part of my experience with my kids supports this theory and process, and part takes it to a totally new level.

No two children are the same. The same IQ produces completely different talents.

Kids who do lots of practice tests do better. In my house, I think two of my kids took the SAT and ACT at least 7 times - each! And it was the ACT that they ended up going with. And guess what, the improvements were minimal upticks each time. Minimal. But they reached the level they needed to in order to get into the top schools they wanted to.

As a mom, it was painful to watch unfold. We ended up hiring a personal tutor because the classroom, book or online strategy just wasn't focused enough on each of their individual strengths and challenges.

Did I say the process was painful? More for them, but just as much for me as their mom. Why? Because a mom always wants the best for their children. Always.

And then when it came to testing for my delayed son, that was a nightmare too because he didn't even make it onto the scale. I finally opted out of his testing all together and it was the best thing for him.

So test practicing can help, but I'm not sure that much based on experience in my home.

Working hard is good, but working smart is better.

I think the best points made in this talk are self motivation or self-discipline.

Winston Churchill said it best in my opinion.

If you're going through hell, keep going. - Winston Churchill


Never give up. Never, never give up. - Winston Churchill

Self discipline is doing what you need to do when you need to do it, even if you don't want to.

Self discipline is doing the worst first and then it's all downhill from there.

My kids dealt with that all the time.

When my youngest started Tae Kwon Do at just under 4 years old, he went from 3 to 6 days a week, entered tournaments and became a black belt at age 9. And a national champion. It was painful to keep on going but fun when he achieved. So keep on keeping on. When it comes to learning a new skill, getting better at a craft or asking for help to improve.

And when it comes to schooling, another secret to success is having the humility to ask your teachers for help. Don't be too cool for school. Always ask.

And finally, happiness leads to confidence which leads to success. Aim to do what you love (even if you only do a little of it during the demands of your day). When you do what you love, your mood improves and you are more apt to gain confidence and self-discipline.

Just don't play video games until 2am on a school night because you love it. Schedule it as a reward and set the timer!

My kids ended up in the following schools:

Eldest: USC and Harvard Business School

Middle; Community College completion (he is cognitively more than 1/2 his life behind)

Youngest: Top liberal arts school in the Midwest. Tennis champion.

The road was long and we took many less travelled paths. But with discipline, persistence and positivity, we got there. And you can too.

Enjoy the TEDx talk by Douglas Barton. I sure did!

What Do Top Students do Differently | Douglas Barton | TEDx Youth@Tallinn


Question number one put up your hands if you would like to see your marks at all your grades at school improve at the


moment who would like to see their marks or grades go up most the students brilliant now my next question is what


do you think is going to be most important in getting these marks to go up so I get a show of hands who would


say IQ is going to be the most important thing to get your marks to go up not many people like yeah that's good


we spoke to the students for an hour yesterday we covered this so you're all fast learners that's good who would say


hard work is going to be most important getting those marks to go up hey got about a third of the room


forty percent maybe fantastic now these are the types of questions that might emanate elevate education have you spent


the last 13 years researching we started our journey to find out what the top students do to get the top results


because I think people have always had a range of explanations for why this happens some people say that the top


students get the top results because they've got higher IQs that is they're just smarter than anyone else some


people say the top students get the top results because they work harder and the explanations go on and on and so what we


wanted to do is basically work out fact from fiction what was true and what wasn't to do this we've spent the last


13 years benchmarking the habits techniques and practices of literally tens of thousands of students across


Australia South Africa the United Kingdom in the US and what we've learnt in this time is basically three key


things first of all the top students don't necessarily get the top results because they've got higher IQs or


because they're smarter than anyone else finding number two we found that there's a small set of skills that are


statistically significant in explaining why the top students get the top marks in other words there's a small set of


things that the top students do that no one else does that explains why they get their results and what's interesting is


that these are common across countries so there is relevant for student in Sydney Australia where I'm from as they


are for a student in London Cape Town New York or talent for that matter the third thing and this is probably the


most important finding in the context of today's presentation is that these skills can be both taught to


and used by students to improve their results and that's what we do as a company today elevate works with quarter


of a million students across 1200 countries are 1200 1200 school sorry in four different countries in order to


move up students results and what I found across this time is there's basically three things that any student


needs to know if they're looking to move up their marks right now the first one of these things is that you don't need


to worry about IQ it's been my experience far too many students worry about am i smart enough or do I have a


high enough IQ to do well as you said not many hands went up to that question today however normally it's about fifty


to ninety percent of students will see IQ as being the biggest driver of their results a great example of this three


years ago in Australia we interviewed 3000 students before their final high school exams and we asked these guys


what is going to be most important in impacting your results in your final exams an overwhelming majority and when


I say overwhelming I mean 90% of students came back and said IQ would be the number one factor now the good news


is is that these students in the vast majority of students drastically overestimate how important IQ is going


to be indeed in our research we're found that IQ is not the number one predictor of how well a student will perform in


fact we found 13 variables that were more effective in terms of predicting academic performance than simply IQ one


of these factors in particular we found to be multiple times more effective to predict academic performance and that


was practice exams we found the top students do more practice exams than anyone else we found


you can almost perfectly estimate a student's results by looking at the number of practice exams they've done


and we also found that we could almost perfectly rank a class from first all the way down to last just given the


amount of practice exams they would do across a year now the great thing about practice exams is that you don't have to


be like you don't have to be a genius to do a practice exam it's completely within your control as are the other 12


variables now let's take it a step further though let's think about if a students going to work successfully


across a year and do well what do they need to do well the first thing is they're going to need to be able to self


motivate because they're going to have to sit down they're going to need to work consistently across


the year they're also going to need to be self-disciplined because they're gonna have to cut out distractions like


Facebook or watching six and a half hours of cat videos on YouTube they're gonna have to sit down and cut out all


these distractions the third thing is they're also going to need to be resilient because the reality is is that


every students going to lose marks across the year and when this happens you've got to be able to pick yourself


up and dust yourself self off now it doesn't matter how high a student's IQ is if you can't do these three things


you're always going to be at a disadvantage indeed research by two professors at the University of


Pennsylvania Martin Seligman and Angela Duckworth whom many people know from their TED Talks


they found in a range of areas self-discipline Trump's IQ they found in terms of the classroom they found self


discipline was two times more effective in predicting academic results than IQ by itself the second lesson is don't aim


to just work hard and I'm going to emphasize the word just there because normally when I say this I look around


this students whose eyes just open up and because what they hear is don't work hard and missing I'm glad I came today


so that's it's not the message the messages don't aim to just work hard and the the reason for that is in our


research we found that hard work was a necessary condition but it wasn't a sufficient condition to doing well and


I'll explain what I mean by that in our research we found very few students who did well but didn't work hard the


reality is if you want to do well you've got to work hard the problem is they we found students who worked equally as


hard as the top students and got worse results we found students we even worked harder than the top students and get and


end up getting poor results and if we think about it it's actually the number one of the number one reasons for


student underperformance at school it's because they simply aim to work on so all the time we find students who turn


up for the new school year and they say something along these lines they say this year is going to be different they


say this year I'm gonna do better I'm gonna do some work I'm gonna hand my homework in on time I'm gonna get my


assignments in on time I mean me I do more study for my exams the problem is though is that then they go back out


they keep doing the same thing they were doing before they just do more of it and it was Michael Jordan who said it best


that if you shoot 10 thousand balls and you've got bad technique all you're gonna do is you're


gonna get really good at shooting really badly and that's the problem for these students they go out they take in


advocates study skills and they simply use them more often and then they expect a different result at the end of it the


problem is all of a sudden they then go and do an exam they get their results back it's the same result as last time


and at this point the cycle of disengagement begins because these students say look I've done everything


now I've even worked hard I've done every single thing there is I simply can't do it and I give up so the thing


is we don't want to just aim to work hard we want to work hard doing the right things now the obvious question


then is well what are the right things in our research we found 13 factors or skills or habits or techniques that


differentiated the top students from middle and lower performing students I want to touch upon two of these the two


I want to touch upon are they're probably two of the most important skills but then secondly there are also


great case studies in terms of illustrating what the top students do differently to the vast majority of


students now the first skill I want to talk about is one I've already touched upon today which is practice exams now


as I said before we found that practice exams were the number one predictor of how well a student would do at school


now to understand why let's take a step back and let's think about what students are doing before exams now on the screen


at the moment I've got a group of year 11 students in the United Kingdom and let's actually work through and let's


have a look at what the majority of these students are doing now up the top we've got 15% of these students who are


making their notes in other words these are the guys who've left it right to the last minute they're sitting down just


trying to get the notes finished before the exams we've got five percent of students who are rewriting their notes


so these are the guys who are now trying to basically wrote learn them simply by writing them out over and over and over


again we've got the overwhelming majority here it's about 56% of students are reading over their notes so in other


ways they're sitting there just reading the notes over and over and over again until it's in their memory so in other


words we've got 76% of students who are spending the majority of their time simply memorizing their notes either


writing them out rewriting them or reading them over over and over again now why do students do this


reason the vast majority of students will do this is very intuitive because if everyone in this room thinks back to


what their number one fear was last exam generally the number one fear is what if I forget something what if I forget a


date a quota facts what's going to happen and as a result these students go and they spend all of their time on


memory based activities now our top students on the other hand our top students are in the minority


they're in this small group of 11% of students who are doing practice exams at the moment now why do the top students


do practice exams they do it because they realize something that the vast majority of students don't realize they


realize that an exam is not a test of memory an exam does not test you how much you can remember it tells you how


you use what you remember so the top students can basically go one step further than the vast majority of


students whereas the majority of students can simply remember information the top students can analyze that they


can evaluate it they can develop arguments but they can give the examiner what the examiner wants when they get


into the exam room which is one of the large reasons they get the results they do now the second skill or before we get


to the second skill I might just - in order to show you how similar these are across countries I'll put up a group of


year 11 students in Australia and what you got to notice is it is almost identical to our UK students in fact the


percentage of students again that gold bar there the percentage of students who are doing practice exams is actually


exactly the same as our our case study in Australia we've got 11 percent of students in Australia who is doing


practice exams but again it's within this minority where we find our top students now let's look at the the


second skill and this skill also this relates back to something I've also touched upon today which is the concept


of self-discipline and the research by selling men and Duckworth now a student's number one - when it comes to


self-discipline is a study timetable the big problem is the vast majority of students will create a study timetable


and then the vast majority of them will throw it out within the next week or so and go get a show of hands most of


students who's done that before who has created a timetable only to throw it out very quickly okay again a lot of


students and the good news is is that you're not in the minority if we this is a group of year 11 students in


the United Kingdom over 50% of these students have thrown out their timetable within a week a quarter of them have


thrown it out within a couple of days and then the other quarter have thrown it out or more than a quarter of thrown


it out within the week now again to understand why this is the case let's have a look because we do have a small


group of students who stick to it for longer than a month who stick to it for months on end all the way up to a year


and again these are our top students are but to understand why let's look at what the majority of students do differently


to the top students now on this slide I've got a group of year 11 students and we're having a look at what students put


into their timetable first so what we find the vast majority of students will do is they'll go out they'll get a piece


of paper and they'll rule this thing up Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday all the way through to Sunday and then the


very first thing they put into their study timetable is when they're going to study which is again is fairly intuitive


right it's called a study timetable so you think you put the study in first so we've got it's about 22 percent of


students will put in their homework or when they're going to do quite a quote study in other words they're putting in


their work load for that week we've got again our overwhelming majority at 63% of students in this case who are putting


in specific subjects so the very first thing they might do is on a Monday afternoon they'll put in an hour of


French homework and presumably that's because they had French that day and they've got to do homework and study for


it so again we've got about 85 percent of students who put study in as the very first thing into their timetable now the


problem with that is that these guys have the highest likelihood of throwing out the timetable as we've already seen


within a matter of days or within a week and the reason for it is is because they go absolutely gung-ho they just put in


study all over the place and they forget about the things they love doing so three days into it or three weeks into


it or however long these guys are sitting down going I'm not doing anything I love doing I'm bored I hate


this and as a result they throw the timetable out now again our top students are in the minority on this graph as


well these are the guys who when they sit down to create a timetable they do what every other student does in terms


of they get their piece of paper and they rule Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday all


the way through to Sunday but instead of putting in study first these guys do something very different they put in as


you can see there they put in when they're not going to study so the first thing to go into these timetables are


things like socializing hobbies sports if someone's got a job they might put in the job as well and it's only once


they've got these activities in do they then come back and they begin to feel the study around it the big thing for


the top students though is all of a sudden because they've got all of these activities in their timetables it means


every day they're doing something that they love to do as a result they're happy and because they're happy they're


balanced and it's that sense of being balanced that then lays the foundation to be productive for the rest of the


year so for any student in the room right now who's looking to move up their marks there's three things you all need


to consider number one as we already said don't overestimate the importance of I cured just don't worry about it


it's out of your control number two don't aim to just work hard but instead work hard doing the right things aim to


model what the top students are doing because the thing is if you get the process right then the marks or the grades or results will take care of themselves.

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