The 80/20 Rule is at work in almost everything you do, and it is the unbalanced key to efficient teaching. Once you learn what it is, you’ll start to see it at work in your teaching. More important, understanding the 80/20 Rule will help you stop wasting your time and effort—because the 80/20 Rule is about results!

80/20: The Unbalanced Key to Efficient TeachingThe 80/20 Rule says that 80% of effects come from only 20% of causes. People also call this the “Pareto Principle” (after the economist who described it) or the “Law of the Vital Few.” You’ve seen it at work already, even if you didn’t know what it was.

• If you’ve worked in an office, you’ve seen that the top 20% of the employees get 80% of the work done. If you’ve managed an office, you’ve noticed that the bottom 20% of your employees take up 80% of your time!

• In the classroom it works the same way. Your students don’t all need equal attention. You devote 80% of your time as a teacher to 20% of your students.

• In the economy, 20% of the population owns 80% of the wealth.

• In your closet, you wear the same 20% of your clothes 80% of the time. The rest of your clothes just take up space until special occasions.

• In life, 20% of the strategies you use solve 80% of your problems. A little bit goes a long way with the right strategy, while the wrong one… doesn’t go very far at all.

The 80/20 Rule isn’t an exact mathematical formula. Sometimes 30% of causes create 70% of effects. Sometimes only 10% of causes create 90% of effects. There’s almost always an imbalance, though.

Usually it’s pretty big.


Now that you understand the 80/20 Rule, how can you use it to get through to your students and cut down on your stress? There are three main ways.

First, find the most important 20% of the content you teach. Odds are that a small selection of the facts, ideas, or strategies in your curriculum account for the vast majority of your students’ success—on tests and in remembering your subject for the rest of their lives.

Put your energy and passion into that vital 20%. Your students will then have a solid foundation for the remaining 80% you have to cover. You already know that all the content you have to cover is not of equal value. Who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content you’re supposed to teach in one year? Finding that “key” 20% of content will cut down on your stress dramatically.

Second, recognize that 20% of your students are always going to create 80% of your work as a teacher. It’s natural for a small minority of your students to take up the large majority of your time and resources. Just understanding this can take a huge load off your shoulders: it’s not realistic to give each of your students “equal time.” In fact, that’s not what your students need! If you can recognize the fraction of students who need the most help, you can make things easier for everyone.80/20: The Unbalanced Key to Efficient Teaching

When you tailor strategies specifically to helping your most troublesome 20% along, you’ll reap dramatic rewards. Just think: if you found a strategy that helped students get by with only half as much attention from you, where would it do the most good? If you gave it to the 20% of your students who need the most help, you’d be cutting the 80% of your time that they need in half. That would mean a huge 40% drop in what was required from you! Reducing the needs of 80% of your students sounds like it should be more efficient, but it would only reduce what the whole class needs from you by only 10%!

Third, appreciate the 80% of your students that you can reach without too much trouble. It’s easy to look back on a school day and only remember the problems that drained 80% of your energy that day. Don’t let that get you down—it’s a small fraction of the impact you have each day! When you find yourself feeling like a failure because of the handful of students you couldn’t reach, remember the other 80% of your students who succeeded quietly.

As teachers, of course, we don’t want to give up on any student. You certainly don’t want to teach only the “good” students and then call it a day. But it’s important to remember that all of your students matter, not just the ones who demand the most attention. All of their successes matter!


The 80/20 Rule is a natural principle that shows up everywhere. Use it to find where your efforts will do the most good. You should also keep the 80/20 Rule in mind when it seems like the smallest things take up all of your time and energy—that’s not your fault! Watching out for these imbalances will help you see where a little effort will have big results, and where it’s okay to relax a little.

80/20: The Unbalanced Key to Efficient TeachingSusan Kruger, M.Ed. is the founder of, best-selling author of SOAR® Study Skills: A Simple & Efficient System for Getting Better Grades in Less Time. She has helped thousands of students across the country learn how to learn…efficiently and with great success!  Her study skills program is used by thousands of schools and families nation-wide.

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80/20: The Unbalanced Key to Efficient Teaching