Competition plays an important role in academic achievement because it often spurs students to pursue excellence. College acceptance is competitive, so students who have worked hard to be at the top of their high school classes receive the reward of college admission. Academic competition has its downfalls if it leads to high stress and anxiety, especially in younger students who aren't equipped to handle the pressure.
Motivation is the Key
Academic competition is advantageous when it challenges students to work harder on their studies and helps them get excited about academic content. They might retain more as they prepare for science quiz bowls, math club competitions, spelling bees and standardized tests. Teachers often use team-based competitions to make academic material more interesting and engaging. According to education professors Thomas Good and Jere Brophy in their book "Looking in Classrooms," team-centered competitive activities often benefit students as long as they all have a chance to win.
Ability to Handle Loss
In academic competitions, not everyone wins or receives a trophy. When an academic competition is managed fairly, and winners and losers are treated with kindness and respect, both can feel good about the experience as a whole. Those who didn't win can learn to be gracious losers without allowing the loss to damage their self-esteem or hinder their willingness to participate in future competitions. Small disappointments help children become more resilient, according to child psychologist Tamar Chansky in her book "Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking." Students might also gain an appreciation for classmates who are striving to do their best, viewing academic competitions as a way to showcase similar talents.
Meeting the Mark
Academic competitions can be disadvantageous for students when they lead to fear, anxiety and disappointment. Students might worry that they won't measure up or will disappoint their teachers or parents. To help reduce anxiety, teachers often promote friendly, age-appropriate games, grade-level-specific exams and academic competitions that encourage students to beat their own previous individual scores. By focusing on personal academic goals and individualized progress reports, parents and teachers encourage students to do their personal best, rather than competing against peers.
Some students feel so much pressure to succeed at academic competitions that they put everything else on hold. They might give up extracurricular activities, sports, musical interests, drama or community events to focus solely on academic challenges. Some schools make matters worse by limiting social activities and reducing programs in the arts to make more room for competitive academic courses. Competition can be negative when it leads to unbalanced living or forces students to give up their other interests. Parents and teachers can encourage students to have a balanced approach to preparing and executing academic challenges, without sacrificing their other passions.
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.