High Achiever Vs. Gifted Student

Although the terms are often confused, there are distinct differences between a gifted learner and high achiever. A gifted learner may or may not be a high achiever. Likewise, a high achiever may or may not be gifted. High achievers are those students that perform well in school, while gifted students are those that have high intelligence and a propensity for learning. When trying to determine whether a student is gifted and/or high achieving, there are a number of traits and behaviors to consider.

1.     High Achievers

High achievers are students that have a strong motivation to perform well and succeed in school. These types of students usually enjoy school, get A's, memorize information easily, give complete and accurate answers, have advanced knowledge and are at the top of their class. They tend to be satisfied with their knowledge and skills, but they will receive new information with willingness and interest when required. High achievers are usually emotionally and socially on track, and they relate well to peers of their own age.

2.     Gifted Learners

Gifted learners are students that have a strong motivation to learn and expand their intellectual capacity. They prefer self-directed learning, may or may not be motivated by grades, are excellent at making inferences and connections, pose complex questions, generate abstract concepts and are beyond their class. They are not satisfied with a straightforward answer, preferring to examine a problem's intricacies and underlying implications. They tend to be self-critical and are constantly seeking to expand their knowledge. Gifted learners may be emotionally and socially behind, on track or advanced. Most tend to connect with peers on the basis of shared intellectual interest rather than similarity in age.

3.     Gifted and High Achieving

Although high-achieving and gifted are two separate descriptors, this does not mean that they cannot occur together. Some students are both high-achieving and gifted learners. These students tend to do very well in school, receiving high grades and performing well on homework and exams. At the same time, they approach problems with innovation and complex reflection. Although their primary motivation is to learn, this desire tends to lend itself naturally toward strong performance and high achievement.

4.     Gifted But Not High Achieving

Some students are gifted, but not necessarily high achieving. In these instances, the student is usually unable to perform well because he is not stimulated by the simplicity of the lesson or too distracted by his own abstract thoughts to demonstrate competency in tests or homework. Totally unmotivated by grades, this type of student thrives on intellectual challenge. Advanced courses, less structured (but more difficult) homework assignments and essay style exams often improve their academic performance.

5.        High Achieving But Not Gifted

Students that are high achieving but not necessarily gifted excel in almost any classroom setting. Since they are motivated strongly by grades, they benefit from strict grading standards that force them to expand their abilities. They learn well by memorizing and prefer straightforward problems and answers. They will become frustrated if given a problem that is too vague or abstract with no solid answer.

 In 1989, Janice Szabos published a comparison of the bright child and the gifted learner. Her comparison helps to delineate differences between the two groups and provides a useful format for discussions. However, some of the items listed in the comparison are questionable. For example, the gifted learner is credited with having wild, silly ideas. In reality, it is creative thinkers who exhibit the ideas often called wild or silly; not all gifted learners demonstrate that aspect of the creative process. Responding to those concerns, a three-way comparison of a high achiever, a gifted learner, and a creative thinker is proposed for you to consider and ponder. No column is intended to be mutually exclusive. For example, a high achiever might also be a creative thinker, and a gifted learner might also be a creative thinker; a creative thinker might also be a high achiever, and a gifted learner might also be a high achiever.

A High Achiever...                       A Gifted Learner...               A Creative Thinker...

Remembers the answers.

Poses unforeseen questions.

Sees exceptions.

Is interested.

Is curious.


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.

Works hard to achieve.

Knows without working hard.

Plays with ideas and concepts.

Answer the questions in detail.

Ponders with depth and multiple perspectives.

Injects new possibilities.

Performs at the top of the group.

Is beyond the group.

Is in own group.

Responds with interest and opinions.

Exhibits feelings and opinions from multiple perspectives.

Shares bizarre, sometimes conflicting opinions.

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.

Comprehends at a high level.

Comprehends in-depth, complex ideas.

Overflows with ideas--many of which will never be developed.

Enjoys the company of age peers.

Prefers the company of intellectual peers.

Prefers the company of creative peers but often works alone.

Understands complex, abstract humor.

Creates complex, abstract humor.

Relishes wild, off-the-wall humor.

Grasps the meaning.

Infers and connects concepts.

Makes mental leaps: Aha!

Completes assignments on time.

Initiates projects and extensions of assignments.

Initiates more projects that will ever be completed.

Is receptive.

Is intense.

Is independent and unconventional.

Is accurate and complete.

Is original and continually developing.

Is original and continually developing.

Enjoys school often.

Enjoys self-directed learning.

Enjoys creating.

Absorbs information.

Manipulates information.


Is a technician with expertise in a field.

Is an expert who abstracts beyond the field.

Is an inventor and idea generator.

Memorizes well.

Guesses and infers well.

Creates and brainstorms well.

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.

Is able.

Is intellectual.

Is idiosyncratic.



1.      http://www.ehow.com/info_8747594_high-achiever-vs-gifted-student.html

2.      Szabos, J. (1989). Bright child, gifted learner. Challenge, 34. Good Apple.