Improving Academic Performance

Study More Effectively Using Deliberate Practice - PART 2

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Jun 06, 2014 @ 02:15 PM

In a previous blog post on deliberate practice, we learned that it takes focus, motivation, feedback, and a desire to uncover the underlying elements of the big concepts.  More importantly, we learned that it is the way to build new skills, be they academic, athletic, musical, or anything else.   Let's now look at a few different examples of the concept in action, as well as explore what deliberate practice, in an academic context, involves in a bit more detail.describe the image

Deliberate Practice in a Low Performing Charter School

There is a charter school system called Knowledge is Power that is located in low-achieving, urban areas 

Students were tested in math proficiency before the beginning of the KIP program, and only 17% scored proficient.  After changing to a curriculum based on the ideals of deliberate practice, 84% achieved proficiency.

When a student enters the program, called KIPP, he or she must sign a contract that promises to persevere and follow through when the going gets tough.  All students attend school from 7:30am to 5:00pm, and even have to be in attendance on some Saturdays and a few weeks throughout the summer.

This is a big commitment. But the leaders of the program say that it is not just about putting in extra time.  It is placing motivation, passion, and focus at the forefront of education and making sure that the teachers are instilling these ideals into the students at all points in the educational process.  The staff creates a culture of discipline.  The students learn, through training, a dedication to hard work and perseverance.  And, they learn how to study the right way, with intense focus, effort, and a passion for improvement.

So far, this method of teaching by deliberate practice has seen positive results in low achieving schools.  These studies (and others) demonstrate to us that focus, determination, and motivation go a very long way in achieving academic success.

How Important is Deliberate Practice?

The term ‘deliberate practice’ was created by a man named Anders Eriksson, who studied people that had acquired expert performance in a subject and had excelled.  He found that the main thing separating these geniuses from ‘normal’ people was the amount of time spent doing deliberate practice.

Yes, of course natural ability helps a person excel, but Anderson found that practicing more and differently, more deliberately, than others was much more important than natural ability in the development of skill.

Geoff Colvin, a past editor for Fortune Magazine, wrote about the properties of deliberate practice.

They are as follows:


  • Deliberate Practice is designed to improve performance.  This means that the right type of practice is not, for example, just going out on a golf course and hitting as many balls as possible every day for 10 hours a day to become a professional golfer.  It involves careful study and review of your shots, tweaking your form, and repeating.
  • The practice needs to be repeated frequently.  Your talent, skill, sport, academic subject, etc. needs to be treated as a priority when it comes to daily time management.
  • A feedback loop, some sort of assessment based on whether or not you did things correctly and how you should adjust your technique and practice style based on the results, needs to exist.  A popular quote outlines the reason beside the necessity for a feedback loop quite nicely: “The definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”
  • Time spent in practice needs to be mentally demanding.  The brain should be fully engaged in order for deliberate practice to have its full effect.  It should be very difficult to sustain this type of focused practice for more than a few hours.
  • The tasks that are being practiced need to be difficult.  If you are not constantly testing yourself and trying harder problems or skills, just coasting through the material, you will not reach your full potential.  Finding things that are particularly challenging and working through them gives room for growth and allows progress to be made towards reaching ‘expert’ status.


When you start to do things that push you out of your comfort zone, that is when you will truly excel and get better – that’s how skill is built in the brain.  You might see how these properties of deliberate practice can be applied to improving your ACT or SAT score or getting better grades in school, but it can be helpful to use these rules in any area of life where you’d like to improve your performance and build your skills.

As we’ve said a few times in this article, if you’re willing to put in the time, the focus, the motivation, and practice in the right ways, you can be well on your way to becoming an expert.  Even if you aren’t looking to be the next Einstein, deliberate practice can get you that A in Calculus, or that higher standardized exam score, or better scores on tests in general. 

Deliberate practice gives you the tools you need to drastically improve your academic (and other types of) performance.