For Educators

Why Having a Growth Mindset Can Help AP® Students Succeed

You’ve probably heard the term growth mindset by now, and for many, it is a belief system rather than just a buzzword. The truth is, this concept has been around for years, but there are still misconceptions about what it means and how to apply it in classrooms. So, what exactly is a growth mindset? And how can it improve teaching and learning in Advanced Placement® (AP®) classrooms?

According to Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, “individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies, and input from others) have a growth mindset.” Such individuals “tend to achieve more than those with a more fixed mindset (those who believe their talents are innate gifts).”

Students with a growth mindset are committed to life-long learning; ie, they acknowledge that their innate talents will only take them so far, are open to learning, and, as the term implies, growing. Such students are more likely to seek challenging work, learn from their mistakes, seek help when they need it, learn from others’ experiences, and, ultimately, improve themselves. 

Dweck cautions against the common misconceptions of a growth mindset, eg, “A growth mindset is just about praising and rewarding effort.” On the contrary, learning outcomes matter as much as the effort put in. When students engage in learning that rewards not just their effort but their progress, they are more likely to grow as they learn. When students encounter new or complex material and concepts, teachers could emphasize the value of setting goals and persistence. This is where the embracing of productive struggle comes into play. 

Productive struggle develops grit and creative thinking skills by challenging students to engage in effortful learning. As a teacher, allowing students to engage in productive struggle means knowing when to step in and offer support and when to stand back to allow them to work through their challenges. 

For students, that process of approaching a new or complex problem, encountering a roadblock, and trying new strategies to get to the correct answer is what encourages learning, growth, and eventually, mastery. Students already enrolled in rigorous courses such as AP classes have a tremendous opportunity to participate in productive struggle and embrace a growth mindset that will improve outcomes. 

Here are a few ways to promote a growth mindset among your AP students:

1. Explain the Role of Failure

It may sound counterintuitive at first, but encouraging students to embrace failure as part of the learning process will help them develop a growth mindset. Unfortunately, many students enter school thinking that their intelligence is fixed or set to plateau at some finite level. So, by helping students see failure as an opportunity to learn valuable lessons toward performing better the next time they take on a challenge, educators can change their outlook on learning. 

By showing students that failure can play a beneficial role in their academic progress in identifying potential weaknesses and errors, educators can help them overcome any notion that failure is permanent. Such a mental shift in how they view failure will enable students to learn from their mistakes and try harder to succeed the next time since they will believe that they can achieve desired results through perseverance. This paradigm shift will help develop, grow, and evolve their intelligence and confidence.

2. Reward the Struggle

Educators can champion a growth mindset by supporting the learning process instead and intentionally facilitating productive struggle constructively and positively in their classroom. Having high expectations of students, differentiating instruction to challenge individual students based on their unique areas of growth, allowing students to grapple with difficult content before stepping in, scaffolding concepts, and offering valuable feedback to students throughout the learning process all play a significant role in building a strong growth mindset. 

3. Encourage Unique Learning Styles

Understanding and responding to students’ unique learning methods and level of understanding promotes engagement and encourages independence and confidence in learners. Sharing how students may differ in approaching problems can also help open other students’ minds to a different way of thinking. For example, a teacher could start a class discussion about how students took different pathways to correct or incorrect answers. 

Openly discussing different problem-solving methods will improve students’ confidence in their learning and reduce fears about their abilities. Instead of rewarding students for their time spent on a problem or project, educators could reward them for persistence and creativity. 

Educators could also make it a habit of celebrating the student who spent a significant amount of time trying to solve a problem using a particular strategy, realized that it wasn’t the correct route, and took a different approach without getting discouraged.

4. Build Perseverance With Education Technology

Education technology (EdTech) tools that enhance learning can play a crucial role in promoting a growth mindset. There’s only so much a student can effectively learn from a textbook or video lecture. Sooner or later, they’re going to have to practice the skill—and with practice comes struggle.

Online tools such as UWorld’s Learning Tools for AP® Courses are designed to help students succeed in their rigorous AP courses and offer a user experience built around purposeful practice to comprehend complex subjects fully.

Quality EdTech tools that eliminate gimmicks and clutter help foster a growth mindset. Far from distracting students from the task at hand, they can reinforce the educational value of productive struggle and help students build grit to succeed on challenging pursuits such as AP exams.

To become better learners, AP students should strive to avoid the complacency of intelligence; ie, they must come to realize that being gifted will only take them so far, and their efforts and ability to continue learning will bring them the rest of the way. 

Ultimately, for advanced students taking rigorous AP classes, a growth mindset can make all the difference. Instead of thinking they will never be capable of meeting the challenge of a difficult AP course (fixed mindset), they will be willing to embrace the challenge and endure the productive struggle to succeed (growth mindset).


AP success is within reach of every student. That’s why we created our Learning Tools for AP® Courses and exams that empower students with the knowledge and confidence to succeed. Learn more about our tools today.