Grades are, to most people, a big deal. People obsess about grades. Grades stress people out. People think grades are the end goal of school. People give up sleep to boost their grades. Although these ideas are quite common, be careful not to stifle your learning or emotional health.
In both high school and college there seems to exist a mindset that you always need to worry about getting the best grades possible. This pressure can come from all around: parents, teachers, oneself, college applications, friends, and social institutions all can contribute to this in some way. But just because this feeling of pressure is pervasive doesn’t mean that it’s good or right. Here are some ways to re-imagine how to think about grades and change your learning approach in college:
- Grades are just one measure of academic performance. Right now you might be thinking, “no duh.” What I mean is that it’s crucial to not get caught up in the flawed concept that “grades are the ultimate measure of a person’s self-worth.” Grades are designed to assess students on their academic progress and give them an understanding of how they are doing in class. Getting an “A” doesn’t mean you’re smart and getting a “C” doesn’t mean you’re dumb; all those letters show you is how your teacher thinks you’re doing in one specific class at one specific point in time. Academic performance is important, but make sure you don’t think the grade you get as the definitive statement on your intelligence and future prospects.
- Learning is an end in itself. Many students treat grades as the goal of school, and learning merely as the means of achieving that goal. This makes learning a lot less important than it should be. Much of the magnificent progress in the world has come from people who are dedicated to learning and understanding for its own sake. People like Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin didn’t do their great work so that someone could give them a grade for it; rather, they did it with the understanding that knowledge, in itself, has the power to make the world a better place.
- Focus on the thrill of discovery. If you focus on the thrill of discovery and develop a love for learning, school will be a lot less stressful and more enjoyable. You’ll also find yourself free from the stress that comes from worrying about what grade your teachers will assign you, and instead you will have the time and energy to do good work that you like and find meaning in. Incidentally, this works out really well for your grades; the more you enjoy the work you do, the better it will likely be. The better the work is, the higher the grade you’ll receive! It sounds paradoxical, but the less you focus on grades and the more you focus on learning, the better your grades will end up being.
- Set your own standards of success. Keep in mind that a grade is an individual measure. Never use a grade to compare yourself to others, whether positively or negatively. Keep your grades to yourself and use them just as one factor in motivating yourself to change your study habits, and you’ll find that you are a lot less worried about the grades you get. A big part of human anxiety comes when we judge ourselves relative to other people; when it comes to grades, it’s healthier and more beneficial to avoid that problem entirely. Although grades do act as a sort of standard, it’s vital that you don’t hold yourself to an unrealistic standard of perfection, especially one that you don’t have direct control over. Pushing yourself to be your best is an important part of life, but it is even more important that how you ultimately see yourself originates from inside of you, not from some letter a teacher decides to put on your report card.
To sum up – enjoy how much you’re learning, keep happiness one of your central goals, and remember that the better you are as a self-motivated learner, the more fun you’ll have succeeding in school!