A gifted student learns differently from a high achiever.
A gifted student learns differently from a high achiever.

High achieving and gifted learners have different motivations, abilities and focuses. While the two share many characteristics, gifted does not necessarily mean high achieving, and a high achiever may not be gifted. High-achieving students, knowing what it takes to succeed, are willing to put in the time and effort necessary to be successful. A gifted student, on the other hand, might demonstrate innate, advanced aptitude that may or may not translate into academic achievement. These are generalizations used by educators to identify students who learn and respond in different ways.

Focus and Understanding

High-achieving students are often focused on the end product, while gifted students tend to be focused more on the journey. High achievers readily grasp meaning and understand ideas, but gifted students tend to draw additional inferences and are more likely to construct abstractions. The high achiever absorbs information, while the gifted learner is more likely to manipulate the information.

Motivation and Performance

High achievers often enjoy school, while gifted students may not enjoy school, but they typically love learning. Where the high achiever knows the answers to the questions, the gifted learner might pose questions far beyond the scope of the material. High achievers work hard to perform well. A gifted student, on the other hand, may work hard if interested and engaged; however, he is also likely to perform well without significant effort. In fact, some gifted students are poor academic performers because they aren't engaged enough in the material to put in any effort. High achievers will work to get top grades. Not motivated by grades, gifted students might question the purpose of the assignment.


Gifted students have their own ideas of how things should be done, while high achievers typically prefer to have an authority figure in charge. High achievers prefer things to be straightforward and sequential, while gifted students tend to thrive on complexity. High achievers often love rules, but gifted students often want only basic guidelines.


While the high achiever is among the top of his group, the gifted student is often beyond the group. Gifted learners master ability after one or two repetitions, while the same ability may come to high achievers after six to eight repetitions. A high achiever is good at memorizing. A gifted learner is insightful, making connections with ease. In general terms, a high-achieving student puts forth more effort than the gifted learner. The gifted learner may need less time to excel.

Self-Image and Peer Group

High achievers are generally pleased with their progress, whereas gifted students are often self-critical. High achievers typically enjoy the company of their peers, but gifted students tend to seek out their intellectual peers -- often older children or adults. The high achiever is receptive, while the gifted learner can be perceived as intense.