6 traits of high achieving students

14 Dec 2022


Succeeding in the HSC doesn’t mean relying on natural talent. For those that do well, there are some common traits we can all learn from.

There’s more to academic success than natural talent. But what makes the best students stand out from the rest, and how can you follow their lead?

Let’s get one thing straight: being a high achiever isn’t the same as being ‘gifted’. Sure, there’s crossover, and plenty of the best-performing students in the HSC can count themselves lucky to have natural talent. When you really get down to it, though, you’ll find that there are some common qualities that help the best students succeed, and they’re effective tools for everyone. If you or your student wants to follow in the footsteps of those bringing home the top HSC results, there are a few traits to focus on: 

It’s great to have a goal of academic success, but what separates the best students from the rest is how they get there.”
Nav Phokela

Taking responsibility for learning

The best students – the ones with high grades, great attendance, good behaviour – are the ones that take personal responsibility for their own academic success. This is the opinion of psychologist Carl Beuke Ph.D, who categorises students as either ‘achievement motivated’ or ‘failure-avoiding’, and it’s the former that should be the aspiration of all students. “Achievement motivated individuals tend to believe that initiative, effort, and persistence are key determinants of success at demanding tasks,” writes Beuke in Psychology Today.

To make success achievable, students first need to understand that ideas like natural talent and ‘giftedness’ should be avoided and choose instead to take the path of self-determination. Ultimately, academic achievement can only be driven by a student themselves, so it’s important to develop a mindset which says ‘I am in control of my own destiny’. Some great ways to achieve this include HSC tutoring to increase study skills and reaffirm classroom lessons, as well as setting aside regular study time every day with a schedule.

Focus on always improving  

The best students aren’t the ones that start at the top – they’re the ones that focus on getting there. The HSC and the years that lead up to it are long and offer students the chance to slowly compile knowledge. Rather than thinking ‘why aren’t I the best in the class?’ high achieving students wonder ‘am I getting better?’ Improvement is better when it’s slow and linear rather than a sudden spike. 

Whether you’re working with a live tutor, classroom teacher or on your own, there are some good ways to keep improving:

  • Deliberate practice: Think critically about what you need to improve – the specific areas rather than broad topics – and set aside time for these. Incremental improvement needs to come from targeted study and practice.
  • Seek feedback: Practice counts for little if you don’t know whether you’re on the right track or not. Ask highschool tutors or HSC teachers for their insight into what you’re doing well and what you can improve on.


Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth talks about success stemming from a concept called ‘grit’. Duckworth compares grit to self-control or willpower, but over a longer timeframe. The idea is that, if you have a goal, grit is required to stick to the plan until you get there – setting a goal and achieving it. Grit is like perseverance, and it’s a very important factor in making a success of a long term endeavour like the HSC. 

Duckworth points out three traits that are needed to be gritty:

  • Positivity: Duckworth uses the term ‘self-efficacy’, but it means that same thing: if you have a positive mindset regarding your goal – the belief that your goal is within reach – you’ll have a much better chance of sticking to the plan.
  • Passion: This is all about how much you value the goal and its outcome. There’s not much to be gained by slogging away at something that makes you miserable, because it’ll never go to plan. Work with passion and the strong desire to actually achieve those academic goals.
  • Cost: Duckworth is here referring to both financial and ‘opportunity’ costs. The value you place on achieving your goal should make it okay to spend money on tutoring services or miss out on social events, for example. It shouldn’t tip into poverty or isolation but if you value the goal, you’ll be okay with the costs associated.


It’s great to have a goal of academic success, but what separates the best students from the rest is how they get there. The answer is strategy. Consider two students with different approaches to the same goal of getting a high ATAR score: the first student listens in class, writes down their notes and completes their homework. The second student devises a strategy which is specific to them, using colour-coded notes, practice exams, tutor or teacher feedback, and sticking to a regular schedule. The difference between the two examples is that the first student approaches their goal generally, following the direction of the teacher and doing the work they’re given. The second student uses self-reflection to see their opportunities and weaknesses, uses a technique to take and recall notes, and is always being checked on their progress.

There isn’t, of course, just one strategy, but the point is to find one and use it. Work with a highschool tutor or teacher and come up with a plan that works. 


You could consider this an element of strategy or its own point, but regardless, successful students are generally the most well-organised. Of all the habits of high achievers, this one might be the easiest for others to adopt. Some high-quality organisational ideas include: 

  • Keeping a diary or schedule of assignment due dates
  • Creating a planner with consistent study times
  • Noting the required texts and materials for each class
  • Keeping separate notebooks for each subject, with colour-coding or other visual markers

One trait of well-organised students is that they use time effectively. Sometimes it can feel as if the best students have more time – like Hermione with the time turner in Harry Potter – but it really just comes down to smart planning and strict time management.


This point is one that you might not think of, but it really helps to keep all the others on track. If you can’t enjoy the work you’re doing, it becomes much more difficult to put in the effort required. It’s worth remembering at this point that high achieving students don’t necessarily find the work easy, but they nonetheless succeed.

Enjoyment doesn’t mean rolling up to class as if it’s your best friend’s birthday party, but it does mean finding some satisfaction and pleasure from the work you do. You may not love taking notes or writing exams, but you can find enjoyment in the results of your hard work. Here are a few ways to find enjoyment in the HSC: 

  • Celebrate your successes: Next time you watch basketball or football or any team sport, watch the players interacting. Every time they score, when a player finds a teammate or does something well, they congratulate each other. You don’t need to save feeling good for results day – cherish the little moments.
  • Gamification: This is a modern concept that you’ll have come across a lot without realising it. If you’ve ever tried to learn a language with Duolingo or spent money at a shop with a points-based rewards card, you’ll have experienced gamification. The idea is to treat aspects of a larger process like a game, with rewards and celebrations marking each achievement. 

Want to learn more about how tutoring can help students find success? Get in touch with our friendly team today.