Recognizing the Signs of Academic Burnout and Addressing It Head-On

Have you noticed a gradual decrease in motivation from your student? Here’s how to recognize the signs of academic burnout and address it head-on!

What is academic burnout?

Contrary to popular belief, academic burnout can happen to all types of students – both extremely high achievers as well as those who are experiencing academic difficulties. Luckily, many of the signs of academic burnout are also consistent between both types of students. Here’s our Tutor Doctor breakdown:

Recognizing signs of academic burnout

  • Increased stress levels. If you notice an increase in school-related anxiety – especially prior to an exam – academic burnout may be setting in. The stress ultimately comes from the fact that, while the student has reached a point of wanting to “opt-out” from their academic responsibilities, this isn’t a viable option in reality and often leads to feelings of guilt, shame, or disappointment. As a result, academic burnout can begin to set in.
  • Consistently staying up later. Academic burnout in both types of students naturally leads to procrastination – avoiding looming responsibilities until the last minute.
  • Slipping grades. This can be a primary sign of academic burnout for many students, but it’s important to keep in mind that a decrease in grades is not always an indicator of burnout itself. Some students are highly motivated and enjoy school but are simply having trouble understanding the material. However, other students who have experienced repeated failures or setbacks often experience a decrease in overall motivation towards academic pursuits.
  • Obsessing over grades. We primarily see this sign in students who are extreme overachievers with high personal standards. Although it’s wonderful when a student strives to receive straight A’s, parents should make it clear that this is not a requirement. Many students become extremely stressed worrying that a single number, their GPA, will determine their entire future.
  • An increase in absences. We actually see this mostly in high achievers, especially students who are taking advanced classes. These students have often developed a high level of trust with their parents and “sick days” aren’t questioned. However, in many cases, these students are either overwhelmed or just plain exhausted. As an example, it’s surprisingly not uncommon for students to actually miss important exams simply from being sleep deprived – it’s for this very reason that the College Board even provides a second opportunity for testing.

Addressing the problem

It’s important to identify the root cause of academic burnout first because this will ultimately determine the best approach to the situation.

In most of the scenarios described above – slipping grades, unhealthy schedules, and increased stress levels – the situation can be greatly improved by working with a tutor. Tutors are able to identify the root causes of a student’s academic anxiety which, more often than not, reveal critical learning gaps in the student’s academic foundation. By working to correct these learning gaps, tutors can help restore motivation in students who have repeatedly experienced academic setbacks.

For students who are experiencing burnout because they are overexerting themselves, we recommend a different approach. Parents should let their child know that, when it really comes down to it, grades are not the most important thing in the world. It breaks our hearts when we see students who are kicking themselves for receiving a C in middle school algebra, as if one “mistake” will forever determine their future. 

This is an unhealthy way of thinking, and furthermore, it’s simply not realistic for most students. While we definitely recommend encouraging students to take on academic challenges, not everyone needs to be taking four AP courses during their senior year of high school. Shout out to the student who was devastated over their B in AP Calculus – despite the fact that AP courses are weighted at 5.0-grade points and the student would still be maintaining their 4.0+ GPA. There is absolutely no reason for students to be this hard on themselves!

Put simply, the level of standards some students manage to set for themselves has surprised even us, and the best advice we can give to parents is to communicate with your children. As silly as this sounds, it can help to let them know on a regular basis that you will always be proud of them and their accomplishments – regardless of their letter grades. Click here to learn more about how to evaluate students using more than just grades!

A tutor can help address many of the primary causes of academic burnout. Click here to find a tutor near you!