The importance of preparing for school early has been emphasized time and again throughout the years. Kids need an early start on learning, such as reading and math, in order to succeed in school, especially if they’re from a lower socioeconomic background. But parents shouldn’t only be focusing on a child’s intelligence, a new review finds. They should also be nurturing their kids personalities.

Dr. Arthur Poropat, from Griffith University’s School of Applied Psychology, found that personality might be a greater predictor of academic success than intelligence alone. “With respect to learning, personality is more useful than intelligence for guiding both students and teachers,” he said in a press release.

That’s not to downplay the importance of intelligence in academic success. But when you have a child who’s reserved, introverted, and sometimes antisocial — but smart — it’s obviously going to be harder to get them out of that shell, and proactively engaging in their education. Kids with higher scores on the five fundamental personality factors, specifically openness and conscientiousness, are more likely to engage in their education, whether it’s through talking with teachers, helping other kids out, or just plain working hard all the time.  

“In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart,” Poropat said. “And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard.” Some research has shown that students who believe they’re smart enough don’t continuously put that effort in, which ultimately causes them to lag behind.

It’s in the five personality factors, which also include agreeableness, extraversion, and emotional stability, that strategies for active learning emerge, Poropat found. But it makes sense why conscientiousness and openness were the most predictive. After all, it’s hard work and curiosity (both are other words for the personality factors, respectively) that help us achieve most things, regardless of how smart we are. Poropat also found that students’ ratings of their own personalities were able to predict university success just as much as intelligence scores. But when he asked people who knew the students well to rate their personalities, their predictions were four times more accurate at predicting grades.

Other studies have found that these personality benefits carry over into adulthood. In one study from 2012, people who were considered most popular among a group of high school alumni earned an average of two percent more 35 years after graduating than their not-so-popular counterparts. The reason for this, simply, boils down to the fact these participants cultivated the parts of their personalities that would help them connect with people later on, thus encountering more opportunities.

The good news to take away from Poropat’s research is that personality is ever-changing — at least until about 30 years old. That gives us plenty of time to work on ourselves, and to stoke qualities of openness and conscientiousness into our own being. Poropat says educators have already trained these qualities into some students. “By contrast, there is little evidence that intelligence can be ‘taught,’ despite the popularity of brain-training apps.” In other words, if you fall short on the intelligence spectrum, start working on your personality.

Source: Poropat A. Other-rated personality and academic performance: Evidence and implications. Learning and Individual Differences. 2014.