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What’s the Difference Between Gifted and Advanced?

Gifted and advanced are terms frequently used together in the same sentence to describe a student who is ahead academically, but should they be? Do they have explicit definitions or are they terms that can be used synonymously?

What’s the difference between gifted and advanced? The difference between gifted and advanced is driven by IQ. A gifted child must have an IQ of at least 130 in most states, which places them in about the top 2% of IQ scores. Advanced students are usually in the top 20% and may not demonstrate other characteristics associated with gifted children.

Gifted is a specialized classification for students with special needs resulting from their increased cognitive ability and sensory experiences.

Children classified as gifted should work hard to understand and channel their giftedness at home and in school.

Students classified as advanced are smart but do not have the special needs that gifted students do. They are also referred to as bright.

They may be placed in an advanced class because they are ready for a greater challenge and are willing to work hard, but they do not go through the rigorous identification process that gifted children do.

Gifted Children

Children who are gifted are different from their peers. They understand the world better because they are more sensitive to the stimulus around them.

Brain scans reveal that their brains are significantly more active.

This often translates to greater intellectual, emotional, and physical sensitivity because they are acutely aware of the implications of actions and events around them and in the world.

They have very high ceilings for potential but need to be taught how to manage their giftedness to ensure they figure out how to use their gifts to benefit the world and create a good life for themselves.

Their needs have both positive and negative elements and are heavily dependent on how the individual child utilizes their gifts.

Gifted children experience asynchronous development that can skew the perception of their overall personal growth.

For example, although a child is intellectually gifted they may not be as developed physically and are unable to build some of the products of their imagination.

Their uneven development can be frustrating for them and can lead them, or the adults in their lives, to think that their weaknesses are a sign that they are not really gifted at all, making gifted testing that much more important.

Further compounding the impact of uneven development is the high-level expectations that the gifted have for themselves.

They typically seek to achieve beyond reasonable expectations. For those who come from homes where the parent(s) are also promoting achievement and success, the pressure to succeed can seem unbearable.

In schools where standardized test scores are paramount, the gifted child can lose sight of their great gifts in pursuit of high test scores or other pressures that don’t allow them to explore their unique abilities.

They may also simply reject the system because they don’t see it benefitting their needs.


Gifted kids are typically open to new ideas and are considerate of the many possible outcomes that could result from the available decisions in a scenario.

They are the daydreamers who question each of the seemingly infinite possibilities of a question.

They are not always people-pleasers or teacher pleasers, preferring instead to take the intellectually challenging route with the potential for greater reward or positive impact.

As a result, they can appear defiant.

Sometimes this can be a challenge for parents to manage and they struggle to guide their child down a path that facilitates their intellectual growth while setting in place age-appropriate boundaries.

I wrote an article to help parents who are working with their gifted child to get them to do a better job listening and following directions.

It lays out some powerful ideas for working through some of the special needs of gifted kids. 

They can think in complex abstract terms and are logical and insightful in their analysis of topics.

They are incredibly curious and use their sense of wonder to find interest in seemingly mundane topics and pursue that interest voraciously.

They have a longer attention span and are better able to concentrate intensely on a topic about which they are passionate.

For example, a gifted 7-year-old may consistently demonstrate a willingness to spend hours playing with their Lego’s, which is not common for children who are not gifted.

Conversely, if they are not interested in a topic, they may see pursuing it as a waste of time, even if it is for school.

As they work through topics in school they may veer off into an interesting subtopic and work on that instead, even though it’s not on the curriculum map.

They are natural learners and may seek to fulfill their natural thirst for knowledge before seeking to please their teacher.

Children who fit this profile are frequently frustrated that they can’t discover new things for themselves in school because the focus is too often on preparing for the test.

They also tend to demonstrate perfectionist tendencies. While this is not always negative, it is definitely something that needs to be kept in check.

Although perfectionism can push the child to do their very best, it can also drive children to think they are failing even when they are succeeding.

Gifted children tend to be very hard on themselves and can exhibit a punitive attitude towards themselves and their work if they don’t live up to their own expectations.

Just like any other kid, it takes time for them to gauge what appropriate and fair expectations are. The process of figuring out how to be kind and graceful to yourself can be difficult for the gifted.


Gifted children are often emotionally sensitive and process information on a deep level.

They take time to think about the nuances of meaning that are often overlooked by others.

Their care and sensitivity is driven by their understanding of the impact decisions may have on others.

Those who are gifted recognize the value in taking the time to think things through before acting and seek to optimize the social and emotional consequences of their decisions.

Because of this deep sensitivity, the way in which gifted children perceive normal events may intensify how they react to them.

The emotional needs of the gifted could be the factor in need of the most attention to ensure healthy growth and personal development.

They are more likely to perceive they are experiencing rejection even when they are not.

Their heightened sense of awareness makes them prone to think about possibilities that are not on the minds of others.

Like all other gifted traits, this can be both positive and negative.

Gifted individuals are more likely to predict what’s coming next and “see around the corner” at upcoming events and possibilities that others might not be paying attention to.

They also may spend time worrying about an unlikely possibility that no one else is concerned about.


The more gifted a child is the more risk they face of struggling socially.

Gifted kids typically prefer the company of older kids or adults and seek to engage in conversations in which those their age are not interested.

Because their natural tendency is toward more advanced topics it may be helpful to give them time to practice the social skills necessary to make friends.

It’s not that they can’t learn them, it’s just that they probably haven’t thought too much about practicing.

It may take time, but with practice by adulthood, they could be adjusted well. Some strategies parents can use to help them include:

  • Introductions – practice what to say with them when they meet people. Have a few different ones rehearsed so they feel they have options.
  • Volume – Gifted children are intense, which includes their voice levels. Work with them on toning it down so they don’t seem too excited.
  • Social Cues – Take some time to observe your child in school or in social settings. See what social cues they may be struggling with and work with them slowly to make progress in a way that is comfortable for them.

Perception of Society

The gifted are keenly socially aware and have a deep sense of justice. From an early age, they seek fairness for others and expect to receive it themselves.

As a parent, you will need to be very careful about this. If you make a promise or say you will do something and don’t, a gifted child takes that very seriously and finds it unfair.

Teaching them how to be flexible and that they can’t always get their way will be imperative, especially while making friends and understanding what is socially acceptable behavior.

They internalize the beliefs they are taught from the adults in their lives and take seriously the responsibility of living them out with integrity.

They see the injustice in the world and can react cynically to the seemingly hypocritical nature of world events and power structures if they are not guided in how to view the world around them.

Advanced/Bright Children

Advanced students, or bright students, are those who have learned the basics of a topic and are ready to go deeper and move on to more challenging work.

They may exhibit a few of the above traits but are not likely to demonstrate most of them the way a gifted child does. They tend to be the high-achieving teacher and parent pleasers who work hard to get straight A’s.

The advanced student doesn’t tend to have the “special needs” that a gifted student does.

They can be recommended for the advanced program by their guidance counselor, teacher, or administrator.

Parents can also advocate for placement in advanced classes.

Bright students thrive off of setting and then achieving goals for themselves.

They are less worried about pursuing their own interests in learning than gifted students are, and are more likely to listen to a teacher, even if they have not earned their trust.

This can make their in-school experience an easier one. They can comprehend information at a high level and grasp the meaning of concepts well.

Advanced students often need to be challenged and thrive best in a rigorous environment.

They want to go deeper and appreciate complexity and precision. They respond positively to participation in extra-curricular activities and could see sports or music as motivation to perform better in school.

They have the self-discipline to be successful and will push themselves to meet or exceed expectations.

Similarities Between Gifted and Advanced Children

It’s important to emphasize that gifted and advanced kids have more in common than not.

It is perhaps most important to remember that happy kids are more likely to be successful and well-rounded adults.

Whether your child is gifted, bright, or neither they need time to develop and pursue their own interests to learn more about who they are and what makes them happy.

Many of the strategies designed to facilitate happiness, motivation, and personal development in children work on all of them.

They all need to learn responsibility, work hard, develop their strengths, care for others, and pursue what makes them happy.

What’s the Difference Between Gifted and Talented and Advanced Placement?

Gifted is a classification for children with an IQ of 130 or higher.

They benefit from advanced cognitive ability, but also experience intensified sensory reactions to the world around them.

In schools gifted and talented programs typically start in the 2nd or 3rd grade and are designed to support these students.

Advanced placement is a rigorous course track that starts in the 9th grade for all students who are motivated to do the work and meet the academic standards for entry.

What’s the Difference Between Gifted Classes and Advanced Classes?

Gifted classes typically start in the 2nd or 3rd grade and can be either a pull out program (about once a week) or a permanent placement, depending on the school and state.

During these classes, students are provided projects, essays and other rigorous assignments that allow them to explore topics deeply in an open way that is more aligned with their interests.

Advanced classes typically start in middle school and offer more challenging coursework to students who are dedicated and usually better behaved than in those in the regular education classroom setting.