Want Better Grades? Find Smarter Friends, Study Suggests

MOSCOW — Friends can have a hefty influence in how children develop during their adolescent years. Our closest pals help sculpt our tastes, interests, and even personality. Now, a new study finds that a student’s friends also help determine their academic performance and grades.

Researchers from the National Research University Higher School of Economics say that students usually perform better academically if their friends are good students as well. Why? Iron sharpens iron, as they say. Hanging out with straight-A students tends to motivate others to step up their academic game.

Traditionally, educational scientists agree that four main factors determine a student’s success or failure in the classroom. The first is a student’s family’s socioeconomic status. Next is actual time spent learning, studying, and preparing for class. The third is time spent on hobbies or a job. Lastly, the over classroom and school learning environment plays a significant role.

However, recent research continues to suggest that a student’s social interactions and circles impact one’s academic fate. Yet even the projects that supposedly investigate the influence of one’s social network on their grades may have mistakes. For example, these studies may just assume that a random assortment of classmates are a student’s “social circle.” Of course, a person’s friends aren’t chosen randomly, and for that matter, many friendships don’t even last all that long. In college and high school, a student’s social group can change quite a bit over the course of four years.

Grades aren’t a draw in finding friends

To try and get a more accurate sense of this dynamic, this study’s authors examined a collection of data gathered in 2013-2014 regarding the social networks of 117 first-year students at a Russian university. More specifically, they looked to see if students considered classmates’ grades at all when initially choosing friends. And then subsequently, do those friends influence the students’ grades?

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After an in-depth investigation, the authors conclude that students don’t really consider grades when picking friends. Yet interestingly, by about halfway through the academic year, groups of friends’ grades were often very similar.

“With the use of data on the dynamics of friendship, assistance and academic performance networks, we monitor essential differences in the functionality of these connections. We have proven that asking for help with studies does not lead to growth in performance. However, friendship with those who get good grades does,” says Sofia Dokuka, a Research Fellow at the HSE Institute of Education.

Be smart in friendship

So, students who spent their time with high-achievers usually end up doing well for themselves academically. Conversely, though, if a student spends all day with slackers, their grades usually suffer.

For what it’s worth, the study also noted that students with good grades tend to become more popular over time, perhaps because they end up helping more and more of their classmates with studying, homework, etc.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

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