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  • Writer's pictureMatt Garris

Crucial Moments for Student Success

The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.

Crucial Moments for Student Success

A fellow student wrote of his personal experiences with undergraduate students. He observed that what separated the students who passed a course from those who failed typically happened within the first two weeks of a new class. This was interesting to me as I used to teach high school and observed a similar phenomenon there. I used to advise rising freshmen to do whatever they could to end the first semester with all A’s. This advice was based on my observations that students who started with a good GPA tended to keep it, but those who had a rough start were never quite able to catch back up with them. Perhaps it was where I taught, but I personally never found students who fell off the wagon. They occasionally improved, but usually remained steady and finished how they began. This reminds me of Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV) which states, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Interestingly, Allensworth and Clark found that high school GPA and “other school effects” are more accurate predictors of student success than standardized test scores. In other words, the high school experience is a better indicator of what the college experience will be like than a single standardized test. Grenny et al. suggested noticing the obvious and identifying crucial moments as strategies for identifying vital behaviors. Applying their methods, student effort seems to be the “obvious” vital behavior here. Students who try hard typically succeed in high school and those students who succeed in high school tend to succeed in college. In this regard, “do whatever you can to get all A’s” is sound advice.

I think my colleague’s observation about undergraduates failing in the first two weeks and my observation about the importance of the first semester indicate a crucial moment for student success. I would be curious to know how often students reverse the trends of these crucial moments. Do the first two weeks determine a student’s final grade in 90% of cases, 50%, 10%? Clearly, those with an average grade of 100 start with it and those with an average grade of 0 consistently turned in nothing. However, I am interested about all of the students in the middle and may investigate this more in the future.


Allensworth, E. M., & Clark, K. (2020). High school GPAs and ACT scores as predictors of college completion: Examining assumptions about consistency across high schools. Educational Researcher, 49(3), 198–211.

Grenny, J., Patterson, L., Maxfield, D., McMillian, R., & Switzler, A. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change. McGraw-Hill Education.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.


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