At what cost does perfectionist students get higher grades

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Student performance matters. Students who perform well have better health, earn a larger income and contribute more to society than those who perform poorly.

As a consequence, psychologists, teachers and even parents have spent a great deal of time and effort trying to understand what makes or breaks success.

This may all sound like positive news, but perfectionists can pay a high price for their greater performance.

This is because perfectionists view anything short of perfect as unacceptable and when perfectionists make mistakes, fail exams or receive critical feedback, they experience significant psychological distress.

This includes stress, burnout and depression. It may also partly explain why students more generally experience much higher rates of depression than the general population.

What parents and teachers can do

So before parents and educators are tempted to promote perfectionism, they must be aware that its performance benefits will come at a much greater cost when things go wrong.

One thing that may be helpful in these situations is to better recognise perfectionist characteristics.

Perfectionism is a combination of excessively high standards: I demand nothing less than perfection of myself, and overly critical evaluations of performance: It makes me uneasy to see an error in my work.

Perfectionist students are also rigid in their need for success: I must always be successful at school.

Teachers should be aware of which students are prone to perfectionistic tendencies.

By being aware of these characteristics, parents and teachers can more easily identify and highlight the differences between reasonable, achievable standards and excessive, perfectionist standards.

And students can instead be taught to strive for more appropriate standards.

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