Toppers and Failures – or back-benchers – are familiar words in any household with children traditionally symbolizing “good” and “bad” academic performance.

There’s even an app called Toppr that says Better learning for better results and promises success in a number of entrance exams like JEE, NEET and so on.

Reality begs to differ – you often find engineers working bank jobs and MBBS graduates selling pharma products.

Being a topper in school – or college – does not guarantee success.

So what goes wrong?

Why do Toppers Fail in Life?

A researcher at Boston College tracked the career trajectory of 80+ high school toppers and found that 90% were professionals while 40% ended up in top ranking positions. None achieved life-changing or world-changing success and while they had a strong career, none of them appeared to be “headed to the top.” According to the researcher Karen Arnold, none of them, “cleared the jungle and crafted a fresh path.” On the other hand, big names like Bill Gates, Thomas Edison, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs were high school or college dropouts. Notably, Karen Arnold’s research showed that toppers usually followed a well-beaten and “safe” track – perhaps in an effort to retain their topper position – or fearing its loss. On the other hand, the dropouts chose unconventional means to achieve success if only because they were left with little choice.

Social status is arguably the #1 reason why toppers don’t always make it to the top.

Does this mean marks are not a measure of success?

Learning is spontaneous and grades do not really indicate IQ. Learning however, is not possible without structure.

When a 3 year old learns the alphabet and phonics, he is expected to be able to reproduce the sound when shown the alphabet. He should also be able to identify and write the alphabet and numbers. This can only be determined by a “test.” Mapping this to higher grades, the only way children can prove that they have learnt is through demonstration – or tests. Tests however, can be passed either by a full understanding of the concept or through rote learning.

Even when the concepts have been understood, good marks are achieved for answers that mirror the text, thus defeating the purpose of learning.

Marks obtained in the tests are debatably a measure of a child’s capability to memorize, and discipline himself sufficiently to be able to reproduce textual content. Not all students who pass have truly grasped the concepts.

Rank or grade is only a measure of the student’s capability vis-à-vis his classmates – a comparison if you will.

IQ on the other hand, is a measure of reasoning ability. It indicates how observant a child is, how well he or she can process information, analyse it, and use it to find answers and make estimations.

So who are the true toppers?

Traditionally toppers are described as those students who follow instructions and perform in well academics. Academic excellence though, is usually achieved through individual effort, self-discipline, and hard work. This has little to do with intelligence.

Intelligence is the ability to land on one’s feet in all situations. It is the individual’s capability to use information at hand to achieve self-determined – or prescribed – goals. A topper therefore may not necessarily be intelligent. Conversely, an intelligent student may not necessarily be self-disciplined or hard working enough to succeed academically. He may however be intelligent enough to be able to manage in various situations and circumstances – and even excel.

Individual capability is the #2 reason, why toppers fail, and failures top.

How do dropouts succeed in life?

Taking the above discussion further, a student who is unable to excel at academics may still be intelligent. The fact that he is unable to garner the marks required for passing or score a high rank has nothing to do with his intellectual capacity – or IQ.

Tests have shown that high rankers can have low IQ and vice versa.

The reason for this is simple – as we mentioned, marks and grades merely determine the capability for concentrated effort on the part of the student. IQ on the other hand determines the analytical and organizational skills of an individual. Two very different things right?

Back to Jobs, Gates, Edison et. al. – had they not recognized their true capabilities and chosen to pursue them, they would not have achieved the fame they did. So, true success is achieved when one not only recognizes ones capabilities but also develops them sufficiently to make a difference. Only then, can one conceive life changing and world changing ideas – and follow them through to fruition.

Success – or failure – in life depends upon individual capabilities, which must be channelized correctly.

So to answer our question – WHY TOPPERS FAIL AND FAILURES TOP, – let us just say that academic excellence – or failure – is not a determinant of success in life.

Learning in a structured environment that teaches self-discipline, hard work, and diligence is however, a necessary and important part of growing up. Life success depends upon individual intelligence and capabilities that are properly developed and channelized.

Parents and teachers must identify individual strengths and weaknesses and help the child channel them correctly.

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