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Failing Isn't Predetermined
Failing Isn't Predetermined
Better question: Is anyone destined to fail high school for that matter?

Some students will fail high school this year. Unfortunately that is certain. Others will simply scrape through, and some will get marks their teachers are envious of.

Back to the question at hand – is anyone destined to fail? Ah… no.

They’re not.

Whilst it may seem painfully obvious who the students that are going to fail are, they are NOT destined to do so. (Not unless their exams start tomorrow and they haven’t started studying yet…)

If failing’s not pre-destined, what does it depend on?

While it may seem a bit reductionist, we believe the category a student falls into (failing/scraping through/true scholar) relies solely on their drive to do well.

No drive = no study = failing.

I implore you to find a student who truly wants to succeed, who is willing to put in the effort, but fails. I’d argue that there isn’t one!

My Favourite Success Story

If it seems like your teen is destined to fail high school you should find the following tale interesting…

This is a story we like to tell the students we tutor who think that they “can’t do it” or that they “suck at school”.

There was a severely dyslexic boy who went to a large high school in Auckland. In his first year he was put into the ‘O stream’ class – meaning there were 14 classes of ‘smarter’ kids than him.

Going against everything he was told, this boy decided he wanted to be a doctor. I’m sure if he told his teachers, they would have had no choice but to diplomatically damper this dream. Here was a kid completely flunking school, whose severe learning disability prevented him from anything but the most basic reading and writing.

No-one would have thought twice if he had quickly abandoned this preposterous idea, dropped out of high school, and sought a manual labour job.

But he didn’t. He persevered, struggled, and worked his way up to the ‘A class’ by his last year. He got into university, then managed to beat hundreds of other students into the medical program.

This may sound like a Hollywood movie – he ‘beat his demons’ to become an amazing student without trying. But that is most definitely not the case.

His dyslexia was so severe that right through high school and medical school he was given twice the amount of time of his peers to complete his theory exams (meaning six hour exams instead of three!). And while he didn’t get the best marks in his theory exams, his clinical work was among the best in the class.

That’s the power of drive.

Sort out drive, problem solved.

When we see that a student lacks drive and lacks reasons why they think they should try hard at school, we sort this out first. Only then can we get onto the nuts and bolts of studying.

Students need to be able to develop drive and motivation for themselves before they can start to ace their exams. Your role is to help them do this.

No-one is predestined to fail high school.

It’s all in our heads.

It’s all about drive.


Last question: What’s going to drive your teen?

Please leave a comment and share with us what drives your teen…

Image Credit: JoeInSouthernCA on Flickr



  1. I argue that their is a chance some people are desstined to fail.
    Such as myself, I was a smart kid in till Sophmore year. That year I started forgeting words I had previously used in a book I was writting and the meaning of words and using them escape me almost completly. My motivtion is none exsistint and I haven’t any talents I’m good at.
    So is it all in my head? That I’m smart and still know all the knowlegde I use to. Doubtful since I’ve been trying to regain it but have yet to find any substantial ground to hold my position on.

  2. Hi Tim, I’m so sorry for the late reply! It sounds like you’ve been having a tough time with study, but I still don’t think this means you’re destined to fail anything. And I DEFINITELY don’t believe you don’t have any talent.

    We all go through bumps in the road sometimes. If you’re lacking motivation have you asked yourself why? Maybe what you’ve been studying isn’t actually for you?

    Without knowing you personally, I’d have to say it probably all is in your head, which is good because it means you can change things.

    All the best Tim 🙂

  3. Please help my daughter hates school is in the 11th grade and now just refuses to go. I don’t know how to help her and neither do her teachers.

  4. I need help for my daughter. She is finishing Middle School and is going to high school next year. She’s had a tough time in middle school especially this past year. She is in the Special Education program that allows for her extra time to complete work and turn in assignments. She does not have a learning disability just loses focus easily but does not have ADD/ADHD. She lacks drive/motivation to do the work and complete homework. If the subject or lesson is something of interest to her she does wonderful, if it’s not, then she just puts no effort towards the lesson or work. They have given her aptitude tests equivalent to IQ tests and she scores above average, therefore she has the intelligence to do the work, learn the lessons and pass but she just lacks drive and motivation. She has goals to go to college and even career goals, but her principal and other advisors believe if she continues down the same path into high school she will fail school and not graduate.

    What can I do to help her. She’s bright, happy and brilliantly creative but just shuts down when the lessons are not to liking.

    • Hi there (sorry I don’t know your name!)

      I tried emailing you but I think your inbox must be full as the email pinged straight back to me!

      I want to say from the outset that I am not a psychologist, so all I can offer is advice from my own perspective based on what I know about students who do well at school.

      It’s interesting that your daughter has goals of college and a career and yet is struggling with lessons she does not like. I say that because most unmotivated students don’t know what they want to do when they leave school and/or don’t see the ‘point’ in school. So with your daughter, I know this sounds incredibly obvious, but she if she is serious about wanting to go to college and have a good career in something, she will have to realise that any kind of work involves doing things we don’t necessarily enjoy, but we still have to do them. Once she realises that she won’t be able to do the things she DOES enjoy if she doesn’t spend a bit of time studying the things she doesn’t enjoy as much, this should fix her motivational problem. In saying that, I don’t know your daughter so it may not be this simple.

      Maybe she would benefit from structuring her study in a way that makes studying the topics she doesn’t enjoy as much less painful. For example she could study the topics she doesn’t find as interesting first to get them out of the way, and then she can work on the things she does enjoy.

      I’m sorry this advice is so generic, but this is a bit of a tricky problem, and it’s hard to give you a tangible solution. Ultimately I do believe she is just going to have to realise that we all have to do things we don’t enjoy as much, but that it is all worth it in the end because it means we also get to do the things we do enjoy.

      If you have any other questions, please let me know.

      I’ll look forward to hearing about your daughter’s progress.


      • yes hi there, I don’t have any problems with school, I actually consider myself pretty bright and a hard worker, however even though I have a great drive to become a dentist one day and a strong heart set on what I want to do I cant seem to grasp why I cannot achieve in the level I want to. Like I said, I have been struggling to get the marks required in order to get into a good college, but it always eludes me, I’m in my final year, and I was hoping things would look up, so I did what most self-motivated students would do, keep my head up and persevere. Although my objective was plainly clear to see, it feels like I cant reach it because I’m not good enough, I tell myself day in and day out, I will get there….but when the results come rolling in all those sleepless nights of hard study and revision end up becoming something I began to dread, as when I look at my mark I get unsatisfactory. ….this has completely made me feel vulnerable as I feel like no matter how hard I study, no matter how much I work, there is just that gap I cant fill….. this is my final year, and I’m still motivated to become a dentist, its my dream, and I am hoping I can get to college, even if the scholarship is for one year…… even with all my efforts…… my results still end up below average, I’m sooooo frustrated…. ..I know I shouldn’t be complaining, and it should be my fault, but I am trying so hard that it impacts me physically and mentally, putting a strain that causes a build up of stress….I want to get into college and make my family proud, all their hopes and dreams along with mine are riding on my shoulders…….but right now I don’t even feel like I’m going to make it, it feels as if, I was meant to fail….and if I did, where do I go from there ? 🙁

        • Hi David, I’m sorry you’re having trouble getting the grades it sounds you deserve. Sometimes we do study hard but don’t get the marks we thought we would, and this is really frustrating and can be demoralising. I think what you need to do is figure out where you’re going wrong more specifically. Exactly what subjects or topics are you not doing well in? Why is that? Are you not studying the right things? Are you not answering the question in the way the examiner wants you to? Are you not retaining information? There are many different reasons why you might not be getting the marks you deserve, so the only way you’re going to overcome this obstacle, is if you figure out what the problem is, and then work on that. It might feel overwhelming now, but it’s definitely not too late, so have a think about where it is you’re probably going wrong, and then try and improve on that. Remember that studying is a learnt skill, and one that we can all improve on. Best of luck, I’m sure you’ll get there soon 🙂

  5. Hi am Nathan I have been driven to pass school from day 1 I was always on time handed all my work in and had a 4 hour study routine from year 7 am now in year 10, and I know now 100% I can’t pass even with all the work I put in my average is around 18% no joke yes I have goten HD but I have also gotten -8% no joke my work was so bad I lost marks so my problem is not drive all my teachers say I got lots I just can not some to get the marks am gona keep trying this year but I mean kids who don’t even study a singlrday day and play on there phones get 68% and I work my butt off and I can only accumulated 37% so in my eyes I am pre detained to fail but its not year 12 yet so am gona keep working and if I pass I will tell you all here.

  6. Hi my name is ruben im a 15 year old sophomore in highschool i have terrible grades yet i know i can achieve better i dont know how to motivate myself in school or to do school work even , everyday seems like another pointless wasted amount of time i dont know how or what could drive me to be succesful and be an achiever , i do want to go to college but highschool seems depressing i dont know if i am depressed or not but i still only seem to have fun when im around family or friends PLEASE HELP

    • Hi Ruben. I’m sorry you’re finding school hard at the moment. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. The good news is high school isn’t forever. I would say just do your best, and one day you’ll figure out what you want to do. Don’t worry if you don’t figure it out at school though. Lots of people don’t figure it out until way after they finish school! Also, you might not feel like you’re getting much out of high school, but I’m sure you’re learning a lot without realising it. Try and keep working on the things that you do like, whatever they are, and just do your best at everything else. It will all work out in the end!

  7. Hey my name is Noah i don’t even know why I’m posting on this website but I’m a 11th grader and I have failed most of my 10th grade work and I honestly just want to give up I can’t deal with highschool its to much for me at this moment and I just don’t know if I should even try any more

    • Hey Noah. Don’t worry you’re not alone – high school can be really tough. You just have to do your best, and the everything else will work out. You don’t need to get top marks in school to be ‘successful’. You’ve got plenty of time to discover what your passion in life is. It takes most of us much longer than high school to figure out what that is. Hang in there 🙂

      • That wasn’t very practical advice given the pain and frustration he’s suffering. Your responses amounts to no advice. To just put up with it and maybe things will work out on their own… somehow. How on earth do you know this? If I were Noah I’d first look to see if there was anything I could change to improve the situation, am I putting forth reasonable effort, am I in a frame of mind able to focus or do I suffer from some attention deficit? Am I depressed or anxious? If so I’d be getting some professional help because nothing cripples the ability to learn more effectively than depression.
        I’d also push for change from the school side. Maybe his teachers are not good at making course material understood for some students… or they speak too fast… or the course he is taking is not suited to his aptitudes or maybe it’s just too difficult for his abilities. I don’t know what people in his life are doing to help but I’d be putting him in a school and courses of study suited to his abilities. And most of all Id be working on enhancing his areas of strength (not his weaknesses) since those are where his self-esteem and success in life are bound to come from.

        • Good on you! This entire article is asinine! There are kids who want to do well and simply can’t. They may dislike the subject matter, attend a crappy school, have learning disabilities or are depressed with the overwhelmingly complex subject matter. And saying the same thing to kids who are asking for help is just as asinine! What a dumb article.

          • Hi there both Joe and new commenter — appreciate your comments. We wrote this article some time ago now and agree that it’s pretty reductive… Agree entirely that what determines our ability to reach our academic potential depends on a lot of factors. Life can be very complex. However, we hope that the message this article was trying (perhaps not well!) to convey can be appreciated — that there are a lot of high school teens out there who are being held back by their lack of drive and motivation, and that if they were to get that ‘sorted’, they’d be in a much stronger position to be able to reach their academic potential.

  8. One completely obvious factor that determines grade success is… intelligence. Rarely if ever acknowledged and mostly downplayed, educators will instead tell you that it’s always something you are not doing, whether it’s inadequate study, improper prioritization or you are somehow not applying yourself. Bottom line their culture of blame always makes it your fault even if you cannot comprehend things beyond your intelligence level. Yet take these same educators and psychologists and ask them to learn advanced quantum physics, string theory or membrane physics and they’ll tell you they simply are incapable of comprehending it.

    But if you find calculus or business math too advanced for your ability to comprehend those folks never give you the same benefit of the doubt and instead hurl blame at you by the crap loads. They are oblivious to their own hypocrisy. The only rational solution is to set you up in courses appropriate for your level of ability, intelligence and aptitude. Focus on your strengths and spend the time building on them to the point where your weaknesses are not so important. Sounds simple doesn’t it. But it’s anathema to western education which prefers instead to waste enormous time, energy and resources trying to marginally improve your areas of weakness. While your strengths go mostly ignored.

    This single minded fixation on human weakness, free will and blame is pervasive in Christian culture even among the academics and education specialists who ought to know better. It brings to mind Roger water’s line in Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’…
    “When we grew up and went to school,
    There were certain teachers who would hurt the children in any way they could,
    By pouring their derision upon anything we did,
    And exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids”.
    We are left with a generation of angry, frustrated, demoralized, students with self esteem problems who’s abilities and greatest strengths were never realized because educators are spending too much time blaming, finding fault and wasting far too much time on students’s areas of lowest ability.

  9. I’m in my senior year of high school and my final exams are a week away. I don’t think i will be able to pass in mathematics and i don’t have enough time to practice enough to be able to solve hard questions. I can just do simple ones. Still for some reason I can’t study or concentrate. I waste time worrying even though I know it will do nothing. I’m just not able to. Maybe i don’t want to.

    • I think you’ve hit the nail on the head Kishita – I would focus on the easier questions so that you at least pass. Don’t even worry about the harder questions. I would try setting mini goals for yourself to help you concentrate. For example, tell yourself that in the next hour you’re going to complete 20 quadratic equations (or whatever applies to you). Then have a quick break, and set yourself a new target. A week is definitely long enough to get over the line – you can do it!!

  10. Hey, i have always been a passionate person I love music and go hard at it… but for school I try and try to get motivated at it really do ive done homework all of it but idk my “drive” dies down… like if there was no point in continuing mainly cause i’ve messed up academically so bad… and its my fault for being so lazy with school but I had a weird life realization that now motivates me to go at it… but im prob not even going to get past 3.0 gpa sadly maybe by redoing my classes on “Plato” i might be able to bring my gpa up and im really trying at it I hope everything goes well by the time graduation comes up.

  11. Hi! This week is last week I have before Christmas break, this week we have midterms/finals.. I have absolutely done terrible this year and it’s completely drained me, and I don’t know what to do other than turn in every piece of late work I have. You see, I want to go college and I know what career I’d like to pursue but it seems no matter how hard I try it seems I keep failing anyways.. Most of my classes are at low failing grades and I have to hope for a miracle at this point if I want full credit at the end of the second semester. The classes I am passing barely count for anything since I’m failing my main courses, (ie.. Algebra, Human History, Biology..), I’m doing pretty well in English but it seems like that’s the only main course I’m not struggling in and I don’t know what to do. And it’s not that I don’t know math or social studies, I very much excelled at it in 8th grade.. But I’ve always been terrible at math and I’m scared that I’m gonna fail my first semester. It seems like I am destined for failure at this point.

  12. Hi there umm…. I’m struggling in school with maths and my mum and dad are fighting over it and I go to a private school. So I got to resolve this problem and my mum thinks I should get home schooled but I’m afraid it won’t help me so please help.

  13. I am a high school student and yet i find myself wanting to pass and succeeded but i still fail. you make great points but teens do not always tell the truth. every time an adult talks to me about school i lie and say im doing good but really im not, i find myself ditching class and not caring. i stopped trying because i started failing. Schools have to many students and most students dont get help.

    • Hey Braxton, I’m really sorry to hear you’ve been having a tough time at school. School can be a really hard place and finding the motivation to do well can be an uphill battle. My general advice would be that it’s never too late to turn things around for yourself. It’s also not too late to speak up to your parents / teachers / friends and let them know that you’re struggling but that you want to do better. It sounds like you’re in a downward spiral that starting with you not doing as well as you wanted. There must be a reason why you started failing – if you can figure out why this happened (perhaps you started to struggle to understand what was happening in class? Maybe you weren’t putting in the effort you needed to?) – then you can address the problem. I’m not saying there’s a quick and easy solution, but it’s definitely not too late! If you’re struggling with the content at school, perhaps there is someone (a friend or someone in the years above you?) who could give you a bit of tutoring to catch up? Don’t give up! You can do it 🙂

  14. Hey there, my name is Blu. I’m a Sophomore in high school and I’m very worried about my 2.83 GPA and my grades. I try really hard to work on all subjects (even the ones I personally hate), but I can’t seem to reach average level. I know that I sometimes lack motivation for my Math and Chemistry class because I get discouraged when I work very hard and only get back a 68% test score. I’m honestly trying, though. I’m truly not sure what it is that I’m doing wrong, but I’m scared that it might just be a lack of motivation. How can I get myself motivated to do better in Math and Chemistry? How can make myself excited to work harder in those classes? I am fully aware that we all have to do things we don’t like in life, but it’s not that I don’t like the classes. In fact, I enjoy my Chemistry and Math class, but still don’t do a good job in either of them. What do you suggest that I do? Also, I’ve searched high and low for answers, but I can’t seem to find good ones. Is a 2.83 unweighted GPA good for a Sophomore? I just want to ask because my GPA has been really stressing me out lately. Thank you for you time.

    • Hi Blu, thanks so much for your comment – we hope we can help 🙂

      It sounds to me like you’re not quite sure where you’re going wrong with Math and Chemistry and I think you need to try to identify exactly where you’re going wrong. For instance, is it that you’re not paying attention in class? Or is it that you’re not doing enough study? Or is it that you’re not actually understanding what you’re studying? Maybe it’s a combination of these things?

      Ultimately I think you need to also identify what specific parts of those subjects you’re losing marks on (eg algebra? organic chemistry?), and make those your focus for improvement. Hopefully you get your tests back and can see where you’re going wrong. Also, if you identify that you’re not actually doing enough study despite your good intentions, I always recommend making some sort of timetable, because you’re much more likely to put in the hours you need to when you schedule study time in advance. When we’re feeling unmotivated, we study much less because it’s not very often we feel like studying. Whereas if you have a timetable, you’re more likely to study even when you don’t necessarily feel like it that much.

      With respect to your GPA, I think for a Sophomore you’re off to a really good start, and I think you still have time to improve it – which is a good thing! Lots of students don’t get amazing GPA’s straight away, and it’s normal for them to improve as you get better at studying. So I would definitely not despair! Even though I know it can be stressful, I would try to focus on identifying your ‘problem areas’ (like I’ve described above), and I’m sure you will see your GPA head in the right direction.

      If you can, I would also recommend having a chat with your teachers about your tests and see if they have any suggestions. They might be able to tell you really clearly what you needed to have written to get a better score, and then you can take that on board for next time. I often found that you can get great insights from teachers just from having a chat about what would make a good answer.

      Also, Math and Chemistry are two subjects that simply require a lot of repetition when you’re studying. The first step is to understand the steps required to solve a problem, and then you have to PRACTICE solving that type of problem over and over again until you find it easy. Doing one or two practice questions isn’t enough. Before your tests and exams, I would recommend trying to complete as many practice problems as you can, because the ones you get in the actual test or exam should be extremely similar.

      I’ll leave it there for now Blu, but let us know if you have any other questions 🙂

      I can tell from your question that you’re a good writer and a good student, so I’m sure things will start looking up for you. Hang in there!!

  15. I’m currently a freshman in high school who has his eyes set on professional and college sports, but I can’t even play in high school when I have the current grades I do. I don’t have the drive to do the work in anyway. My parents are now making it a requirement that I take notes in every single class no matter what whether the information pertains to the lesson or not. If I don’t do this I get punished and grounded. When I’m grounded I can’t talk to my friends and ask them questions about things pertaining to school as well. This is making me feel like my parents care more about the notes than actually learning the materiel. I also feel like that now a days kids including myself are more focused on passing rather than learning the materiel. School also isn’t teaching me about things I’ll need to know when I’m an adult. I also have trouble focusing and my parents get mad at me for that and that’s something I can’t control.

    • Hi Jackson, thanks so much your comment. I’m really sorry that you’re in that position, but it’s incredibly helpful for other students to hear about the types of challenges so many students are facing. I share your view that the way your parents are approaching your school work is probably counterproductive, to your learning, your grades and to your feelings about school in general. There’s a lot to dissent in your comment, but I will just say that in my view, I think your task over the next four years of high school is to figure out how YOU study best. We all study most effectively in our own unique way, so it’s up to you to figure out what study techniques and habits are going to help YOU study in an effective and productive way that get the results you’re capable of. If you’re a freshman you’re at the beginning of your high school journey, so please don’t feel like you have to be an expert in studying right away. It is completely normal for it to take some time to develop your study skills. After all, you won’t have been in this situation before, so of course learning how to study at high school level is a skill you have yet to acquire, but you CAN acquire it. I will also add that I think it’s great that you have your eyes set on professional and college sports – because this means you have goals and goals can be incredibly powerful motivators. Studying is making an investment in your future. It’s not always fun; it’s something you have to do even when you don’t feel like it (particularly when you have exams!), and having goals can help you through those low-motivation times. I can tell just from your writing that you’re switched on and write well, so I have no doubt that if you apply yourself consistently throughout high school you’ll get to where you want to be. Try not to stress too much. No one is perfect; no one has to get straight A’s. Consistency is a much better approach. You’ve got this. Feel free to get in touch anytime if you have any questions or want to bounce any ideas about studying off us. Best wishes, Clare & Chris 🙂

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