Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about giftedness

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Underachievement: What does this mean?

Students who show only moderate or poor school performance over a long period of time despite having a very high achievement potential and above-average intelligence are referred to as gifted underachievers. This is sometimes referred to as underperformance contrary to expectations. Some children demonstrate evidence of underachievement in their classroom behavior, and the observant teacher might notice a discrepancy between a child’s quick grasp of new material and inconsistent performance. Yet this is not always the case—often underachievement is hard to detect without the assistance of psychological assessment, and a child’s performance is misinterpreted as an expression of his or her low abilities.

Underachievement comes in different forms. If the discrepancy between potential and school achievement is present in only one area of ability, for example, in the language arts, despite strong linguistic aptitude, this is referred to as subject-specific underachievement. Sometimes, however, contrary to expectations, a student’s overall academic achievement is low. This can lead to serious consequences, such as repeating the same grade, changing schools, or even refusing to go to school altogether.

Underachievement often involves more than just academic performance: Particularly in severe cases, this can be accompanied by difficulties experienced by the student in terms of social functioning or well-being and motivation, as well as conflicts within the family and at school. Underachievement may be perceived as a heavy burden in these cases.

Although underachievement can first appear in elementary school, it is often not apparent until secondary school. Overall, boys are more likely to be underachievers than girls.

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