I got an 'A' and I Didn't Even Study

06/01/2011 05:23 pm ET | Updated Aug 01, 2011
  • Alex Mallory Founder & President, Competitive Edge Tutoring LLC

Many students' biggest hindrance to academic success is their under-developed work ethic. This, of course, is a revelation few parents will find earth shattering, but the reason for this situation may come as a bit of a surprise. The most common explanation for a lack of effort and achievement is laziness. However, in most schools, particularly smaller independent institutions, there are unspoken social codes -- that may vary from grade to grade -- regarding acceptable levels of academic effort, which are frequently at the root of the problem.

Baring down and studying hard has never been cool, but confusion and lack of engagement in the classroom is not so glamorous either -- especially in schools where there is intense focus on admission to prestigious colleges. For most students, the image to cultivate is that of someone who doesn't care, who leaves everything to the last minute, and who miraculously pulls off "A" papers and top test scores. One or two of these honor-role rebels may exist in any given school.

Far more common, however, are students who achieve mediocre grades and lie about them, or students who achieve top grades and lie about how much time and effort they exert to earn them. Those who have chosen the latter route have little to be worried about. As they enter the professional world, organization, diligence, and being responsible will suddenly become desirable traits; transitioning from working hard in the shadows to working hard in the open is natural in the right environment. More troubling are the students who feel embarrassed to ask questions in class or fear having to miss social events because they need time to study and don't want to risk others finding out that they care. Being assessed and judged in any format is unpleasant enough without feeling that no one else but you has to study to perform well.

Parents should be cognizant of the "I-got-an-A-and-I-didn't-even-study" culture. It is well documented that teenagers are profoundly affected by social norms set by their peers. They must understand that high school coursework is challenging for everyone and putting in long hours of preparation is in no way an indication of below-average intelligence. To the contrary, that kind of discipline is an accurate predictor of future success.