Education researchers and practitioners are rapidly bringing forth powerful new ideas to help students perform better in school and on tests.

For example, the latest academic reserach suggests that we should:

  • Adopt (or encourage your child to adopt) a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset
  • Study via frequent “mini tests” vs. focusing on reading chapters and taking notes
  • Organize to-do lists around medium term objectives (like projects, etc.), not a list of daily tasks

However, the pure volume of books, web-sites, and suggestions can be difficult to navigate. We’ve tried to cut through the clutter to highlight what we view as the most important books to read and ideas to implement.

To do this, we've developed a framework called the "academic performance pyramid" to help students and parents think about how to perform better in school and on standardized tests. We hope this framework is simple way to organize information about academic performance such that it's easier to digest new insights, easier to identify linkages across topics, and easier to identify where you might want to start to make changes.

We've placed our book recommendations within the framework of this pyramid.

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1. The Foundation: Mental and physical health and wellness

The scientific community and the general public seem to be slowly coming around to the notion that how well a person performs in school, at work, in sports, or in interactions with friends and loved ones is influenced significantly by their general level of health. Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and limited exercise can result in poor memory, slower cognition, irritability, and inability to focus. If you are trying to understand how to improve academic performance, you should start with overall physical and mental health. It's the foundation upon and the context within which all relevant academic skills are developed.

Relevant reading:

2. Mindset, Attitude, and Character

One of the most important ways students can begin to transform their academic lives is to realize that intelligence is not static and can grow over time. Genetics matters, but not as much as most people probably think it does. With the right mindset and focused-practice, most students can earn As in daunting subjects, like calculus or physics. Truly accepting the premise that you are in full control of your academic life and can build your intelligence steadily over time is a foundational step in improving performance in school. Character traits such as "grit' and persistence are far more important than you probably think (e.g., they are on average more important in earning high grades than performance on IQ tests).

Relevant reading:

3. The importance of strategy and choices 

While having the right mindset and being persistent and gritty is important, the difference between more successful vs. less successful students and young professionals can often be explained by the use of clear strategies to reach specific goals. Successful students go about their academic life strategically.

4. Applying the latest in “learning science” to study more effectively

Once the belief that academic success is in the control of the student is fully adopted, goals are set, and strategies are adopted, there are specific approaches to studying and best-practices in learning new things that have been scientifically validated. Books in this section explore these ideas.

5. Organizing yourself to reduce stress, eliminate mistakes, and be more productive

Finally, once you believe you have control over your academic life, you’ve developed a strategy for a specific class, and you have the latest tools in “learning science” at your disposal, it’s time to execute.