Research Paper: Development of Grit and Its Importance for High School Students

Development of Grit and Its Importance for High School Students

Jasmine Ta

University of California, Davis

Word Count: 2,060


Numerous studies have been conducted to discover the ability to develop grit, and the importance it has on students. The topic of grit (the motivation towards long-term goals) has been a significant issue regarding the overall success rates of student lives. This research paper focuses on the impact grit can have on students attending high schools in the Alhambra School District, and the outcomes of intellectual talent compared to motivational work has on a student’s overall attitude. The main focus is towards freshmen to senior students attending high schools that may lack grit, or have not yet developed perseverance. The research being conducted will evaluate the differences between intelligence and grit, explain the importance in the acceptance of failure to develop a gritty lifestyle, and the benefits grit can have on an individual’s life. Student success and achievements over difficult challenges lead to focused determination over a long period of time. This paper examines Duckworth’s (2007) and Credé’s (2008) research revolving positive grit and strong study habits, and the outcomes of each.

Keywords: grit, intelligence, failure



Development of Grit and its Importance for High School Students

Michael was the best in all his math classes. In sixth grade, he tackled every mathematical question and word problem he could lay his eyes on. By eighth grade, White was given the opportunity to take geometry at the nearest high school, and he took it. Once he entered Mark Keppel High School as an incoming freshman, his mathematical standing was at senior level. As a sophomore, he was already taking college level math classes. His grandfather once asked him how he was able to get so far in such a short span of time, and White replied, “I practice it. And then I got good at it.” (M. White, personal communication, November 26, 2014)

Although White was considered a “mathematical genius” to his friends and peers, he could not play golf. Most of his friends were on the golf team, and they would take White out to the driving range with them. At that moment, he was embarrassed that his friends and the golfers around him were able to hit the golf ball. After multiple swings and misses, White sat on the side and gave up. However, each time his friends would bring him back to the range, he kept practicing to become better. He swung and missed the golf ball again and again, but each time he would adjust his stance and posture so that the next swing would be flawless. Now as a senior attending high school, White is the captain of the golf team. He loves the sport as much as he loves solving math equations. (M. White, personal communication, November 26, 2014)

The lives of high school students may seem very strenuous and stressful. In the Alhambra School District, the high schools (Alhambra, Century, Independence, Mark Keppel, and San Gabriel High School) in that area require students to wake up and attend class at 7:30 AM. They must sit through each class period for fifty minutes, and the time limit to walk from class to class is ten minutes. Lunch breaks are once a day and last only a little over half an hour. Teachers provide homework and tests every week to students to help them develop valuable study habits that will help benefit each individual. Each student, who attends a high school in the Alhambra School District, displays some form of persistence and practice throughout each school day. Michael White, who is constantly driven and motivated, pushes himself to do well with his responsibilities. This demonstrates an act that is also known as “grit.” According to Angela Duckworth (2007), assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she describes grit as “…the perseverance and passion for long term goals. Grit entails working strenuously towards challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress…” (p. 1087-1088) To be a gritty student, one must have the determination and dedication to finish tasks and pursue numerous goals. Understanding the differences between intelligence and grit can help high school students develop higher GPAs and test scores. In doing so, these hardworking students can accomplish higher levels of academic achievement and long-term success.

Intelligence Vs. Grit

High school students who demonstrate intelligence in their classes are usually praised for their knowledge and brilliance. However, the level of intelligence a student displays does not measure the potential success he can achieve in the future. In the article, How Important is Grit in Student Achievement, author Emily Hanford (2012) exclaims, “There are smart people who aren’t high achievers, and there are people who achieve a lot without having the highest test scores… The grittiest students –not the smartest ones –have the highest GPA.” Students who are considered smart have a tendency lack motivation skills and work ethics because they are doing well in their classes. Therefore, these high school students do not develop determination and perseverance to aim for higher goals. However, the students who can develop a motivational drive can set their minds to reach greater achievements. With this being said, high school students are still able to accomplish a lot without having to be the smartest pupil in the class. Students managed to obtain success and multiple achievements through the act of being gritty and hardworking. The perspective of intelligence may be perceived as the determiner for success, but it merely reveals how much information someone knows. Hanford (2012) continues by introducing Angela Duckworth’s study on grit, and discovers that “smarter students actually had less grit than their peers who scored lower on an intelligence test. This finding suggests that… people who are not as bright as their peers ‘compensate by working harder and with more determination.’” (Hanford, 2012) Intelligence does not guarantee that students will succeed. Most high school students who work hard and aim for their goals receive greater satisfaction with their academic outcomes and results. Having the trait of being persistent allows room for improvement of future performances. Although many people believe intelligence is the road to success, developing a gritty lifestyle produces greater results. Students have a better opportunity to overcome rigorous and challenging obstacles.

Is it Okay to Fail?

The ability to bounce back from failure is one of the most significant life lessons high school students can learn about the way to achieve grit. Accepting failure and giving time to feel the negative emotions provides students a perspective where failing can lead to improvement. Having a better understanding of what the weaknesses are can help students turn those flaws into their strongest characteristics. In the article, What if the Secret to Success is Failure?, Riverdale Country School’s headmaster Dominic Randolph (2011, September 14) states, “People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great…as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure.” Students who never had to face a difficult moment never had the chance leave room for improvement. They never had the opportunity to experience adversity, and to grow from that incident. Those individuals who are determined to work hard to achieve their goals develop grit. Similar to Michael White’ s golfing experience, Angelo Shimada also had to face failure and had the opportunity to overcome it. Shimada is driven young man with a headstrong mindset. He is currently the Junior Class President at Mark Keppel High School, and the vice president of the National Honors Society. Although Shimada is considered one of the most popular students with a high academic standing in his high school, he was not always a role model to his friends and peers. In freshman year, he received a grade point average of 1.0, and did not talk to many of his fellow classmates. On November 28, 2014, Shimada and I had a one-on-one conversation. We discussed his development of grit, and how he grew from being a “failure” to a well-rounded individual. His response was:

 “[Failure] can really suck… I actually thought I was a failure… Freshman year was probably the lowest point in my life…Every time I went to class, I couldn’t pay attention. When I tried to finish my homework, my mind just wasn’t there…I finally decided to change the way I was acting… My entire attitude changed and I was able to work towards my goals. I wanted to be involved with school, and go to a good college…I was so determined to change myself for the better… I guess I would consider myself ‘gritty’ because I am so determined to do well… I’m aiming towards becoming next year’s valedictorian. I know I only got a 1.0 my freshman year, so the chances are slim. But at least I can try.” (A. Shimada, personal communication, November 28, 2014)

 Getting through life obstacles and pushing through the challenges gives the mentality to of build grit and improve self-control. Jumping back from failure can lead to the determination to never give up. (Fink, 2014) By doing so, students can achieve greater academic success and long-term goals.

Benefits of Being Gritty

By developing a strong sense of grit, it produces results that will help benefit high school students in the long run. It helps individuals flourish in the ways they can study, and provides them with the motivation that is needed to create healthy studious environments. Research shows that “Study motivation and study skills exhibits the strongest relationships with both grade point average and grades in individual classes… study habit and skill measures improve prediction of academic performance…” (Credé, 2008, p. 425) Developing a healthy and advantageous study environment can help push high school students to work harder and become not so easily distracted. They are able to focus on the subject and finish the task at hand. Therefore, it leads to a correlation between the grit in students, and their overall outcomes. Students with grittier lifestyles were associated with higher GPAs, and outperformed their less gritty peers. (Duckworth, 2007) High school students depend on their academic standing, their extracurricular activities, and their overall attitude to attend a college or university. To achieve a higher GPA and better school involvement requires a gritty student to be dedicated and determined. Colleges keep an eye out for students who have a challenging high school curriculum, and quality involvement in activities. Constantly being persistent and showing dedication can result to higher achievements for every high school student. Developing grit at an early stage in life can result to a better and brighter future.


Most students believe that their high school years mean to have fun and enjoy their time. The girls want to date the quarterback, and the boys want to date the head cheerleader. However, if the students can push those ideas aside and reconstruct their mentality, they could establish a sense of passion and perseverance. The intelligence and talent a student possesses does not guarantee his potential future outcomes and achievements. Taking risks and accepting failure is a significant way that allows students to learn and improve on themselves. Creating a gritty lifestyle can lead to long-term accomplishments, as well as having a higher possibility of a more promising future. Grit not only means having motivation, but having it for years to pass. It means creating perseverance and working really hard to make that positive future a reality. (Duckworth, 2007, p. 1096)

Because Michael White developed such a gritty lifestyle, he was able to obtain a lot of satisfaction with his success and achievements. Instead of being the smart student who views math as an easy subject, White demonstrates the form of practice and grit to achieve all of his mathematical success. He is currently taking three AP classes, one of them being Calculus B/C AP and Statistics AP, as a senior in high school. Not only was he able to develop an amazing study habit with phenomenal study skills, but he also managed to overcome his difficulties in mastering golf. He pushed himself through the boundaries that attempted to stop him from succeeding, and tackled most the obstacles in his way. By performing grit throughout most of the activities he face, White’s journey to the road to success seems very bright. Most of his friends call him Mr. Wonderful, or Mr. Perfect. But we all know that no one is perfect; however, practice can lead to a fraction of perfection.




Credé, M. (2008). Study Habits, Skills, and Attitudes: The Third Pillar

Supporting Collegiate Academic Performance.Perspectives on Psychological Science. 3.6, 425-453

Duckworth, A. L. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 92.6, 1087-1101

Fink, J. (2014). The Power of Defeat: How to Raise a Kid with Grit

Retrieved from

Hanford, E. (2012, October 2). How Important is Grit in Student Achievement?

Retrieved from

Tough, P. (2011, September 14). What if the Secret to Success is Failure?

Retrieved from




Interviewee 1 Data

           Interview with Michael White in person on November 26, 2014.

What is your current standing in math right now as a senior?

I’m taking college level math at ELAC. We’re going over multivariable calculus right now.

  • Very smart. I wonder what makes him like math so much. Or maybe he doesn’t like math but is just good at it.

What is your history with math?

Oh, don’t get me started. My parents took me to go take math-tutoring classes when I was six. Even the tutor said I was too young to be taught math. But that’s when it all started. In the beginning I started counting with just my fingers, then everything became a mental thing.

  • Smart parents. Taught their child when he was young. This response shows he started to develop some grit in him.

How do you study for your next math test?

I sit down, read the book if I have to, and practice the problems. That’s how I do so well in my classes. I just practice all the word problems and the derivatives. I find problems online and tackle those too. My grandpa used to always ask me how I was so good at what I do. When I told him I just practice everything, he gave me a smirk like he knew exactly what I was doing before I did it. So yeah, I practice it. And then I got good at it. That’s how I do so well.

  • Practice is another form of grit. It seems that he is demonstrating it because he continues to practice until he understands the material
  • Like grit, Michael is showing a lot of determination to understand the material

Is there anything that you are not good at?

Golf. I sucked at golf. So this one time, my friends took me to the driving range to hit some balls. I never played before, but I thought it was going to be easy. Like, how hard is it to high a small ass ball right? But the first time I tried and I sucked. It was so annoying. But I got over how much I sucked at it and went to practice. Just like how I practice math. (Chuckles) So now I’m the captain of the golf team because of practice. After that day, I knew I could get anything I wanted if I really worked hard for it. But the one thing I really suck at is basketball. I can’t change my height so I ain’t going to try mastering basketball.

  • Surprised when he said golf. I heard from my brother that he was the captain of the golf team.
  • He was able to bounce back from failure by being determined to learn the sport. Shows grit in the process.


Interviewee 2 Data

         Interview with Angelo Shimada in person on November 28, 2014.

How do you feel about failure?

How do I feel about failure? I mean, everyone has to experience failure. It’s normal and there’s nothing wrong with it, but at the time, it can really suck…(long pause). You can learn from your failures by accepting it and dealing with it. By failing, you’re allowing yourself to absorb all the lessons that you got from it so you can prepare yourself the next time it happens.

  • Seemed to struggle with what he had to say. He’s fidgeting more than a normal person would. Maybe he’s just nervous.
  • What he said was very true: every one does experience failure. Very clever way to say how failure is a life-learning lesson that everyone should go through.
  • Probably going to use this in my second paragraph about how failure is okay.

Do you believe you failed in anything in your life so far? Please elaborate on an experience you faced.

Sure, I failed in a lot of things in my life. But I never really felt bad until my freshman year. I felt so horrible. Even though I said I failed a lot before, that was the first time I actually thought I was a failure. It’s embarrassing to talk about… Freshman year was probably the lowest point in my life, but luckily, I grew out of it.

  • What happened freshman year for him? He seems to have really failed in something to make him have such a sad expression on his face.
  • This answer was too brief. Needed to ask another question to get personal information from him.

What happened during and after your freshman year?

(Very long pause) Every time I went to class, I couldn’t pay attention. When I tried to finish my homework, my mind just wasn’t there. I couldn’t focus and I felt really stupid because I thought I was never going to get over this phase. It’s cause I had a lot of family problems, and my family had financial problems. I let it affect me when I shouldn’t’ve… (Another very long pause. I had to remind him about the other part of the question) Oh yeah! And after freshman year ended, I finally decided to change the way I was acting. I was so sad and mad for so long, and it drained me. So I wanted to change.

  • Surprising, yet believable.
  • It’s an amazing thing how he wanted to change himself from rotting away his life to succeeding in everything he does now. Some students don’t have that kind of motivation.

What made you want to change yourself?

Well, because my family was dealing with so many financial problems, it made me realize that I never want to be in the same situation they were in. I pushed myself to get over my emotions that year and just dealt with it. My entire attitude changed and I was able to work towards my goals. I wanted to be involved in school, and go to a good college so I could have a better future. I was so determined to change myself for the better.

  • This was a good question that I asked. It gave me the details to what he was thinking and how he felt during the process.
  • His family must have been a source to his motivational drive. Should I include that in my research paper?

Do you know what grit is?

Isn’t it like little pieces of food mixed together? Kind of like oatmeal?

  • Had to explain the meaning of grit after .
  • I’m definitely not putting this in the paper.

After explaining the meaning of grit, would you think you portrayed the act of being gritty?

Hmm, I guess I would consider myself “gritty” because I am so determined to do well. I was able to face a very difficult time in my life, and overcome it. And instead of being sad and having all of the negative energy, I improved myself because I knew what I could potentially do. I want a good future.

  • I believe what he is doing it gritty. He was able to face something that was very difficult in his life, and focus on doing better.
  • Demonstrates a form a grit through his motivation from failing his classes and believing he is a failure.
  • Definitely adding this to my essay.

What are your goals now?

Just going to a good college. I mean, university. I want to go to a well-known university, and eventually become an optometrist. But for now, I’m aiming towards becoming next year’s valedictorian. I know I only got a 1.0 my freshman year, so the chances are slim. But at least I can try.

  • Wow, he displays so much determination and motivation.
  • If you failed your freshman year, of course you don’t have the same opportunity to become valedictorian as the smartest student in your grade. But, Angelo is determined to make that fact change.
  • Demonstrates and enormous amount of perseverance and grit.

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