Is There a Secret Behind Academic Success?

Published by Citation Machine, 5/16/18

Do you ever wonder why one student fails, while another succeeds? It’s generally believed that for students to succeed academically, they must “study hard.” Of course, there’s plenty of research showing that the duration and quality of one’s studying affects the grades they receive. Still, everyone knows that success isn’t solely a matter of studying often or well.

If this is the case, what is it that successful students have in common? With this question in mind, our team at Citation Machine set aside work on our plagiarism checker and set out to find factors that influence student success. Not surprisingly, our research reinforced both well-known and lesser-known ideas that explain how some students are able to set themselves apart from their peers.

In April 2018, we conducted a survey of 3,368 students that visited the Citation Machine website. The survey was conducted on the Survey Monkey platform and our team interpreted the results. Using seventeen survey questions our goal was to primarily learn three things:

  1. How do successful students spend their time?
  2. Do parents and guardians have a significant impact on how well a student performs academically?
  3. And finally, does a household’s financial situation influence whether a student is likely to succeed?

The answers to these three questions help parents and students better understand the factors and qualities that promote academic success. Here’s what our survey results suggest, and how it compares with other research on each topic.

The Importance of Weekly Routine and Academic Success

When’s the last time your student received one-on-one attention? Our survey shows that students who receive supplemental academic support—such as tutoring—are more likely to succeed. Of our survey participants, 51% strongly agreed that they were provided supplemental support such as tutoring and extra prep courses. From the students whose parents understood the importance of supplemental support, there were several interesting takeaways.

Some parents who offer their children additional academic support have high hopes for their children’s academic performance. 22% expect their children to receive an A or A+ grade average. Even with these expectations, the results show that most parents who offer supplemental support have their expectations met. Of students that received supplemental support, 52% obtained a GPA of 3.6 or higher, while 74% achieved a B+ grade average or better. The survey also suggests that this additional help pays off for these students. 66% attended their first choice in college and every single student that received supplemental support went on to complete college or university.

Do our findings differ from what educators know? Not at all. Just one hour of one-on-one tutoring a week can help a student improve their academic performance by one letter grade. Regional editor of The Good Scholars Guide, Susan Fieldman says it best, “Nothing beats one-to-one tuition for boosting a child’s performance.” The important part is to spread out supplemental support over the course of the year, instead of having students cram for an upcoming test or important exam.1

The link between supplemental support and academic performance might not be a surprise to anyone. However, there’s another predictor of student success that is easy to overlook. It turns out that the most successful students also do the most household chores. The results of our survey suggest that students whose parents give them weekly chores are more likely to achieve academic success than students who have none and are in full control of their activities.

How did we determine that chores could predict a student’s level of academic success? Our results show that only 1% of students who complete less than 1 hour of chores per week achieve a GPA of 4.1 or above. Conversely, 13% of students that did 15+ hours of chores per week achieve a GPA of 4.1 or greater. The difference between the two groups is enormous, so let’s look at what else might impact these results.

Is there a difference in parenting between those who give their children no chores versus those who give their students 15+ hours of chores? That could very well be the case. 15% of parents that give between 0 and 5 hours of chores per week expect their children to get a grade of A+. In contrast, 32% of parents who give their children 15+ hours of chores per week expect their children to earn an A+. When it comes to a student’s academic success, those who received the greatest number of chores were also more likely to have high academic expectations set by their parents or guardians.

statistic about student GPAs and chores

Furthermore, in our survey there was a significant difference between household incomes and how frequently successful students were given chores. Generally, the lower the household income the more likely a student would be to complete 15+ hours of chores per week. Students in households earning between $34,500 and $49,999 were given 15+ hours of chores 24% of the time. On the other hand, 3% of students in households with incomes of $200,000 or more were expected to complete 15+ hours of chores.

So, what do we already understand about the link between chores and academic success? Well, according to both Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University, and the Harvard Grant Study that she based her research on, becoming a successful adult begins with chores.During her TED Talks Live event, she spoke on the importance of children learning to contribute to success by doing chores and how it leads to not only a more successful life, but a happier one as well.3

The results from our question, “to what extent did you do household chores in high school?,” brings up two additional questions: the impact of parent or guardian expectations on success and whether household income influences performance.

How Parents Impact Their Child’s Success as a Student

Is there a connection between student success and whether a parent or guardian completed university or college? Based on the responses we received, there is. Of the students surveyed who had a mother that achieved a high level of education, 55% earned a GPA of 3.6 or higher. Additionally, 71% received a B+ average or greater in school.

There’s also evidence that college or university educated mothers motivate their children to participate in higher education. Of the students surveyed, 77% were expected to go to college, and the same amount was encouraged to succeed in school. Mothers in this category also took academic success into their own hands, with 20% personally tutoring their children, and 22% providing supplementary academic support.

What previous information suggests a link between student success and the academic success of their parents or guardians? There are two major studies that found a correlation between a parent’s education level and children’s academic success. The first, led by University of Michigan psychologist Sandra Tang, found that mothers who finished high school or college have a greater chance to raise children that do the same.4 The second study was conducted by Eric Dubow, a Bowling Green University psychologist. He found a relationship between a parent’s education level when a child is 8 years old and the child’s educational and occupational success 40 years later.5

The connection between a parent’s academic success and their child’s success is interesting, but there could also be more at play. Previously, you learned a statistic from our survey where 77% of high achieving parents encouraged their children to succeed in school. Could it be that student success is influenced not by what the parent achieved, but instead due to expectations? Here are some things that students who were expected to go to college by their parents or guardians have in common.

Looking at those surveyed, 96% of  students whose parents expected them to complete college or university did so. A majority of 53% obtained a GPA of 3.6 or higher, with 73% of students in this category achieving a B+ grade average or better. Slightly over one-third of the students who were expected to go to college achieved an A or A+ grade average. Additionally, 64% of students motivated to go to school by their parents got into the college that was their first choice.

Based on our survey, simply expecting your child to complete college or university is a strong indication that he or she will eventually graduate. This falls perfectly in line with a psychology finding known as the Pygmalion effect. Essentially, the Pygmalion effect suggests that what a parent expects of their child will come to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thus, if you set an expectation for your child to go to college and exceed, you’ll likely promote positive educational habits.6

Whether a child receives encouragement to succeed by his or her parents is another factor that impacts whether a student is successful. It turns out that the academic results of students who are expected to go to college isn’t much different from those who are encouraged to succeed. However, there are a few surprising differences between students that fall within either category.

First, students that are encouraged to succeed in school graduate less often than those who are expected to complete school. 67% of students who are encouraged to succeed in school will graduate from college or university, compared to 96% who are expected to complete college. Second, of those who are given encouragement, 54% will obtain a GPA of 3.6 or higher. Compare that with 53% of students that obtain a GPA of 3.6 or higher in the expected to complete college or university group.

In fact, the other statistics are incredibly close as well, with 74% of those encouraged to succeed in school achieving a B+ grade or higher (compared to 73% of those expected to complete school). 66% of those encouraged to succeed were accepted to and attended their first choice of school (compared to 64% of those expected to complete school). Perhaps these results are so similar because of the students who were encouraged to succeed academically, 83% were also expected to complete college or university.

statistics about successful students

Finally, there’s another significant difference between students who are encouraged to succeed in school and those expected to complete school. Of those expected to complete college, over two-thirds spend one to five hours a week doing household chores. Those who were encouraged to succeed however were more likely to work a part time job and complete between one to ten hours of work per week.

With findings like this, it’s no surprise that parental encouragement and aspirations have a significant impact on student success. A national study completed by professor Neal Halfon at the University of California at Los Angeles found that parental interactions in kindergarten, among other factors, impact student attainment. Children who are encouraged by their parents to succeed and one day attend college often do better on standardized tests. In contrast, parents with fewer expectations more often have children who underperform.7

Following the Money: The Connection Between Incentives, Household Income, and Student Performance

Sometimes, parents get rather creative when it comes to encouraging their children to succeed. For example, 45% of students who were encouraged by their parents to succeed in school were offered incentives all the time, or sometimes. The group that was encouraged to succeed was more likely to be incentivized by their parents than your average student. But, did these incentives motivate the students any more than providing supplemental support? Here’s what our data suggests.

Overall, 16% of the students that took our survey were offered incentives all the time by their parents. Of this group, 63% got into their preferred college and 57% achieved a GPA of 3.6 or higher. In addition, 32% of students offered incentives achieved an A or better grade average. These results are right in line with what other groups of students achieved. The numbers are similar between students that are offered incentives and those who are encouraged to succeed, as well as with those who are expected to go to college. It turns out that the numbers are so similar to the other groups of students, that’s it’s difficult to tell whether incentives make a significant impact.

When it comes to published data about whether incentives drive results, educators have mixed feelings. A study by the University of Chicago showed that students improve performance when offered incentives before standardized tests.8 Their research also shows that the right reward improves student achievement by six months beyond what their teachers expect. However, not everyone is thrilled about offering incentives to children. Divine Charura, senior lecturer in counseling and psychotherapy at Leeds Met explained to the Telegraph, “You have to ask yourself what happens if a student doesn’t then deliver on his or her results? What happens if the incentive is no longer given, and at what point does the incentive stop?”9

Others, like Edward Deci, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester believe that once you begin paying people to learn, their motivation only lasts if they’re continually given incentives. Mr. Deki stated in an interview with the New York Times, “There is no evidence that paying people helps them learn – and a lot of evidence that it doesn’t.” Explaining why educators and governments would give incentives to people when there’s no evidence that incentives work, he stated, “Because it’s easy. It’s much harder to work with people to get them motivated from the inside.”10

The final question uncovered in our successful student survey is whether household income is a predictor of academic performance. Our results found that there is a significant gap between the performance of students from higher household incomes above $200,000 and those at the lower end of the scale. This occurs with groups of students who earn a 4.1 GPA and with those who earn a GPA between 3.6 – 4.0.

Overall, 9% of the students surveyed with a household income above $200,000 achieved a 4.1 GPA or above. Alternatively, half as many students (3%) had a 4.1 GPA if their household income was between $34,500 and $49,999. Students from higher earning households also received a 3.6 to 4.0 GPA 57% of the time, whereas students from lower earning households maintained the same GPA 46% of the time. Yet, this gap between high and low-income families is nothing new. In fact, research going back 50 years has shown that there has always been a divide.

statistics about college GPA

This fact supports some interesting information. Research by Stanford University shows that the income achievement gap now exceeds the racial achievement gap in academia.11 There’s also a correlation between high SAT scores and high household income, in addition to a larger link between income and education.12 According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, this divide between high performing and low performing students in math and reading is only widening across states and has a strong connection between child poverty rates.13 In fact, this might be the strongest relationship that shows why some groups of students are able to succeed more than others.

What Can I Do to Help My Child Succeed Academically?

When it comes to guaranteeing academic success for your child, there are a few takeaways from our survey. One of the most important insights is that parents must provide an environment that fosters learning. What this looks like is different for each family, but can include discussing the importance of attending college, motivating your child to succeed in school, or providing some one-on-one academic help.

Of course, we don’t know all the reasons why one student becomes successful. However, we do have a good idea that sometimes students should take a break from studying MLA format, APA format, and more styles of citing their work; and instead complete a few additional chores around the house. After all, even though they may fuss, it might just be the secret to their academic success. Whether you choose to incentivize this work however, is totally for your family to decide.


Endnotes

  1. Susannah Hickling,“Can a Tutor Help Your Child to Make the Grade?” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, March 30, 2008, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/can-a-tutor-help-your-child-to-make-the-grade-802467.html.
  2. Julie Lythcott-Haims, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,.” Amazon, June 9, 2015, https://www.amazon.com/How-Raise-Adult-Overparenting-Prepare/dp/1627791779/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446478664&sr=1-1&keywords=how+to+raise+an+adult&tag=biuksafetynet-21
  3. “TEDTalks Live,” https://www.ted.com/about/conferences/past-teds/ted-talks-live.
  4. Sandra Tang et al. “Adolescent Pregnancy’s Intergenerational Effects: Does an Adolescent Mother’s Education Have Consequences for Her Children’s Achievement?” Freshwater Biology,  10.1, November 7, 2014, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jora.12182/abstract.
  5. Eric F. Dubow et al. “Long-Term Effects of Parents’ Education on Children’s Educational and Occupational Success: Mediation by Family Interactions, Child Aggression, and Teenage Aspirations,” DigitalCommons@WayneState, Wayne State University Press, 2009, digitalcommons.wayne.edu/mpq/vol55/iss3/4/.
  6. Annie Murphy Paul. “What We Expect From Ourselves And Others Often Becomes Reality” Business Insider, March 23, 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/set-high-expectations-for-yourself-and-others-2013-3?IR=T.
  7. Larson, Kandyce et al. “Cognitive Ability at Kindergarten Entry and Socioeconomic Status.” Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics: February 1, 2015. pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/135/2/e440.
  8. William Harms, “Immediate Rewards for Good Scores Can Boost Student Performance,” UChicago News, May 17, 2016, news.uchicago.edu/article/2012/06/26/immediate-rewards-good-scores-can-boost-student-performance.
  9. Josie Gurney-Read, “Teenagers offered cars and holidays as exam incentives,” The Telegraph, August 11 2014, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11025841/Teenagers-offered-cars-and-holidays-as-exam-incentives.html.
  10. D.D. Guttenplan, “Motivating Students With Cash-for-Grades Incentive,” The New York Times, November 20 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/11/21/world/middleeast/21iht-educLede21.html.
  11. Sean Reardon, “The Widening Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations,” Stanford University, July 2011, https://cepa.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/reardon%20whither%20opportunity%20-%20chapter%205.pdf.
  12. Daniel H. Pink, “How to Predict a Student’s SAT Score: Look at the Parents’ Tax Return,” Daniel H. Pink, February 22, 2012, www.danpink.com/2012/02/how-to-predict-a-students-sat-score-look-at-the-parents-tax-return/.
  13. “National Assessment of Educational Progress,” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/topic/subject/national-assessment-of-educational-progress?inline=nyt-classifier

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