One Simple Reason Your Child May Be Failing Exams

In the ’80s, two researchers from North Carolina State University concluded studies on various learning styles. Felder and Soloman identified a number of key factors determining academic success – but one of the most important of these was also the most subtle: the difference between global and sequential learners. Often, the structure of education systems rewards one and fails the other.

Classic Learning

One Simple Difference: Global Versus Sequential

Sequential learners gain understanding in linear steps. These are the students who:

  • Proceed from page one to the last page, understanding each preceding chapter before moving on the next

  • Tend to remember names and dates well

  • Organise their notes and plan ahead

As you can tell, these are the kind of “model students” that schools tend to prefer. There are drawbacks to sequential learners though – many find it difficult to correlate subjects, or to flexibly apply what they’ve learned.

For example, they may be able to solve trigonometry problems, but be unable to see how to apply it when designing car parks, or determining safe times to swim in certain areas.

Global learners, on the other hand, work with the “big picture”. They make can make correct connections between things, but without a clear understanding of the steps involved. A global learner might:

  • Skip ahead when reading books. If reading a literary book, many want to know the ending and the overall plot before the actual reading.
  • Arrive at the correct answer without knowing how. For example, solving mathematical problems with “mental maths”, thus being unable to show the workings.
  • Seem disorganised, and appear to be asking irrelevant questions (in their own minds, global learners can see the connection, but the listener may not)

Global learners often describe the learning process as a series of “light bulb” moments – solutions that unexpectedly leap out of all the confusion.

In short, global learners possess all the traits that most academic systems detest. To inexperienced teachers, the global learner can appear distracted, slow, or even a bit of a smart aleck (due to their speculative questions).

If your children happen to be global learners, chances are they fare much worse in exams. That’s because…


Most Academic Systems Cater to Sequential Learners

As you already know, it’s possible to pass an exam even without the slightest clue on how to apply the subject. All that’s needed is a logical, systematic answer – and that’s where sequential learners have a strong edge.

Global learners, who struggle to recall exact steps, numbers, names, etc. often don’t answer exam questions well. If it’s a language exam, they will “get” the meaning of reading passages, but fail to point out the exact parts of the passage that prove their arguments.

If it’s a science exam, they may understand the overall rain cycle or process of photosynthesis, but still be unable to label specific points in the diagram.

This gives teachers the impression that they “don’t pay attention”, or that their correct answers are the product of “guesswork”. And unfortunately, the area in which global learners least excel (written tests and exams) are the favoured yardsticks of accomplishment in schools.



How Do I Fix the Problem?

This is where it gets difficult. If your children are global learners, the teaching environment must be changed to suit them, and not the other way around. You can’t “fix” someone being a global learner, any more than you could “fix” left-handedness.

Since you probably can’t change the school’s methodologies, your best recourse is to use a customised teaching solution at home. Over the next few months, we’ll be explaining different methods you can use. Some of these include:

  • Reading summaries or skimming before reading
  • Working on something in long “bursts”, instead of a little bit at a time
  • Studying anecdotes in place of theories

For more such study methods, like us on Facebook, and you’ll get an update when the article is released.

If you do get a tutors, consider getting private home tuition instead of going to a centre. There’s no point moving your child from one sequential learning environment to another – it just means more frustration.

Get a private tutor who understands your child’s learning patterns, and is able to adapt to it. If you need help, contact us and we’ll put you in touch with someone qualified.

Is your child a global learner? Comment and let us know what the toughest struggles are, and how you deal with them!

Image Credits:

Alan Levine, Pete, Denise Krebs