What Explains Academic Success?

The science is clear.  

Practice, more specifically - deliberate practice - is important.

It is more important than your genes, your natural ability, your "intelligence," or the environment you were raised in.  Practicing in a specific way creates new connections in your brain that builds skill over time.

It is not natural talent or raw intelligence, then, that explains how people perform at high levels and become experts.  It is how well and how much they practice, and the mindset and attitude they adopt that drives them to practice effectively.  In other words, talent is very ovverrated.

The books, web-sites, and ideas featured on this page played an important role in helping us write our new book about improving performance on standardized tests.  They provide a new way of thinking about performance in school, on standardized tests, and even in music, athletics, and interpersonal communications. 

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What is talent - and can science spot what we will be best at? - Scott Barry Kaufman

This Guardian article provides a great introduction to the complex nature of talent and intelligence, describing how genes, passion, and practice are all relevant.  It does, however, support the notion that traditional conceptions of genes' impact and the nature of talent are far from accurate, and that inspiration, passion, and practice are more important than most realize.

The Genius Of Raising Brilliant Kids: A Conversation With Jack Andraka's Parents - John Nosta

This article in Forbes provides a suite of theoretical and practical points about raising kids to be intellgent. The article talks about empowering children to learn by encouraging indepedence, engaging with them whenever they have questions, and valuing problem solving and critical thinking at all times.

Critical Thinking and Our Children's Need for Deep Practice - Robert Sun

This article in the Huffington Post argues that performance in math can be profoundly impacted by implementing deep practice principles that provide immediate feedback and build core skills.

A necessary struggle: Deep practice and skill mastery - Kevin D. Washburn

This article discuss how to implement the three key rules of deep practice (i.e., be mindful of the right techniques, struggle, and repeat) in an academic context.

Jerry Seinfeld’s Three Rules of Life - a blog article written by Darren Poke

While certainly not what you'd typically think of as "research on academic performance," this is an entertaining review of Jerry's Seinfeld's three rules of life, which summarize what Jerry believes made him such a success in his field.  Why is this relevant here?  Because Jerry has almost certainly spent >10,000 hours deliberately practicing the art of comedy, and you can see how the three rules enable this deep practice.


Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin

The key idea here is that people place far too much importance on innate talent, and not enough importance on the power of practicing the right way.  The book describes the “right way” to practice as something called “deliberate practice,” in which you are fully focused, engaged, and open to feedback and learning.

The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill by Daniel Coyle 

Covering much of the ground that “Talent is Overrated” addresses, Coyle offers a three step formula that explains how and why talent is created.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential, by Carol S. Dweck, PhD 

After years of research, Carol Dweck uncovered what may lead some folks down the path of deliberate practice and excellent performance – having a “growth” vs. a “fixed” mindset.  People with a fixed mindset believe their skills are more or less determined at birth, while those with a growth mindset place far more importance on experience, practice, and learning.

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better 

Covering ground that is familiar to readers of The Talent Code or Talent is Overrated, this book is more practical, offering specific tips and strategies that can be used to improve performance in many walks of life.

Any of Cal Newport's books for students  

Cal Newport's books all share a common theme - by stepping back, thinking about the outcome you desire, and preparing strategically, you can get the grades, test scores, and success you want.

Train Your Brain For Success: A Teenagers Guide to Executive Functions

Executive functions are a set of thinking, problem-solving, and self-control skills that tell the brain what to do, and this book demonstrates the ways kids use executive functions in school, at home, and in their other activities and shows how these skills can be improved through sustained effort. 


The Talent Code Blog 

Daniel Coyle’s blog, covering and expanding on the ideas in his best-selling book, is full of interesting stories, tips, and strategies for improving performance in academics, sports, and life.  

Cal Newport's Study Hacks Blog

Cal Newport's blog is a great source of information, inspiration, and advice about education, academic performance and career choice.  is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, and the author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a book which debunks the long-held belief that “follow your passion” is good advice. He has also written three books of unconventional advice for students. His ideas and writing are frequently featured in major publications and on TV and radio

Mindset Online

This is Dr. Carol Dweck's web-site.  It explains the concepts of the fixed vs. growth mindset and introduces many of the ideas found in her book.  But, it also has links to many articles, interviews, and additional information, making it a nice resource by itself.


The author of Talent is Overrated explains why it isn't hard work or inborn talent that creates performance - it's deliberate practice, which is very different from traditionally understood "hard work."


This is short video about the power of mindsets in influencing a child's ability to complete a difficult puzzle.  It explores the powerful concepts of having a "fixed" vs. "growth" mindset.

Another video discussing the power of the growth mindset in influencing performance. 

A short video featuring Daniel Coyle's Talent Code principles as applied to young music students.


This is an excellent video about the power of "deep practice" in building a skill like memory, which most people may consider something you are born with or without.

This is a "quick start guide" covering how to practice deeply or deliberately to build skill in an academic context.

In this video, Bill Gates explains how and what he thinks about the notion that to become great at something, you need to invest 10,000 hours in doing it.