Grades vs. Learning… and Lots of Self-Inflicted Insults

A few hours ago, I opened my email and immediately wanted to cry.

I love to learn. I know, I’m a nerd, but I do. The power to attain knowledge and the ability to use it are privileges I am eternally grateful for. So why, then, did I feel this pain upon seeing a B+ as my Physics grade? Why do I care about something as insignificant as a letter grade, something that is not even indicative of what I’ve actually learned in class?

I never was very good at art.

To put it simply, it’s because I want to get into a good college. Just like a plethora of my sleep-deprived, academically-obsessed friends, I want an A. Sure, I’ve been raised by my family to strive for great grades, yet there’s also an intrinsic motivation inside of me that makes me obsessed with earning the highest mark. It’s like getting a job – for some, the salary is all that matters. Yet now I’m beginning to realize that that’s not all there is to it.

So many of my peers are smart and intelligent. I know some of the brightest people – not because they’re going to go to Ivy League colleges, but because I can tell that they truly think about things. These people may not necessarily be those on the straight-A honor roll (though there are plenty that are), yet they are individuals I enjoy spending time with regardless.

There are others, though, that do get straight-A’s – and may or may not be intelligent. I know people who have cheated just to get that A, who have plagiarized or committed some other violation of the honor code that would cause their teachers to shake their heads in shame.

What I’m getting at is this: grades are grades. Just like how gays are gays. That’s all there is to it. I can complain, whine, moan and fail to take advantage of all the resources I have around me, or I can keep my head high and do my best to learn.

Of course I’m not going to start skipping school to or doing anything crazy, because in a way, grades do matter. The current education system is shaped in a way that getting good grades is essential to getting into a good college, and getting into a good college is necessary (for most of the time) for those who want to really learn and achieve success. I know that my goals in life require a college degree. But grades are, well, grades, and not the only factor in an college application or in life.

I know, what a wonderful way to start the weekend – ranting on the internet. If only I had friends. But hey, at least I’ve learned (ha, get it? the post is about learning? I wish I was funny…) something through this. In fact, my English teacher told us that some people write to learn. Maybe one of those people is me. But then again, that would imply that I’m special… which I’m not.

I think I'll use Paint images more often from now on. Hm.

All jokes aside, what do you guys think of grades vs. learning? I know there are some of you out there who are GPA obsessed-freaks worrywarts like me. Now that I think about it, grades can help motivate students to learn, though that’s not always the case. Opinions please!

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20 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

20 responses to “Grades vs. Learning… and Lots of Self-Inflicted Insults

  1. Well… -sighs in preparation for long winded rant- Junior year has really opened my eyes to the pressures of life. While I’m still an honors/AP slacker, my grades have improved because what my mother has been pounding into my head for most of my life has sunk in: we’re poor, I need good grades in order to get into a good school and get a good job after having a good major. Isn’t it funny that as we age, our parents become smarter?

    Now that I’ve started to actually care about my grades, I see that there’s a bunch of stuff that I need to improve. Oh and also, be happy with that B+ in Physics, I had a B- for the first marking period. -crying face- I’m supposed to be good at math, too, I’m in AP Calc but… Ugh, Physics. xD I wish it would go colgate… Or whatever the proper Spanish term for “to hang itself” is.

    Anyway, back on topic. I’ve been looking at colleges recently, along with their requirements and such, and it’s probably just my own idealism speaking here, but they don’t seem hard to get into at all. What will make it difficult for me is my college essays (my English teacher doesn’t like my use of philosophical arguments as compared to concrete examples in my essays…) That and I’m hoping I’ll get over a 2000 on the SAT. I know I can do it, the question is WILL I.

    Funny story time. Well, not funny, kinda sad actually. Once upon a time, I took the PSAT (aka last year). Turns out I got an 1860. Even funnier? I could have had a 2000, the only thing is that I moved one row on the answer sheet one space down, so pretty much 8 of my answers were one space below where they were supposed to be. F my life.

    Back on topic AGAIN. Well, my physics teacher has been giving us life pep talks since the beginning of the year. She was apparently a child prodigy because she got into college at 16 and got a free ride because she was so smart. Every day she gives us lectures about how grades aren’t worth shit (pardon my francais) but unfortunately, in our system, they’re what we go by. We need education reform sometime around now. Oh and also our GPAs are superinflated, so my beautiful 4.64 out of 5 is not that great. -.- I’m starting to develop grade paranoia…

    Also, that reminds me of how in my philosophy class the other day, we watched this really interesting talk about education and how it was basically designed to mirror factory work but with learning, and this in turn makes us lose our IQ along with our divergent thinking abilities and creativity. It’s really very interesting, I’ll give you the link if I can find it.

    Anyway, what I was trying to get out with this pointless reply, is that in our world, of course grades are the only way to see who’s good at the standardized way of “learning”. It doesn’t matter what we learn, we’re just being taught how to function as mindless drones in society and just, you know, learn to work. That’s really all we learn in school. I have yet to find out how the real world works, as do most of us teenagers, so I’ll get back to you on that. But I really do prefer learning for learning’s sake, but that leads me to be in deep shit because I don’t like to study… Granted I do absorb a lot just by listening but that’s not even the point…

    -sighs again- Um, I apologize for bragging about myself and then complaining about random stuff on here. o_o My mind wanders, which is why I’d be terrible in any science-related job. I’m gonna go do my Chinese homework now… Have fun with your… school work. DO BETTER IN PHYSICS, I KNOW YOU’RE CAPABLE OF IT.

    Oh and by the way, your Paint drawings are beautiful. I think your computer handwriting is nicer than mine in real life. -.- And why do you always joke about not having friends, you dork. xD

    OK BYE.

    • So I kind of love your comments, they make me feel bad about myself yet strangely happy at the same time. Anyway.

      About your school related stuff – I’m a junior too! We must compare GPA’s/SAT scores/etc. some time, I got an 1850 on the PSAT last year but a 2080 on the actual SAT in May… hopefully I didn’t do too bad on the PSAT we just took in October. It’s funny that we’re discussing this because you know, the post was about how we’re being brought up to care so much about grades and test scores and… that’s what I’m perpetuating now. Moving on.

      I’d be very interested in that video you watched in Philosophy because the other day in AP US History my teacher was talking about how the society of the United States has basically transformed into one big factory. Instead of waking up naturally when the sun rises we wake to our alarm clocks, we don’t produce things for ourselves anymore but for other people, etc. Not entirely negative stuff but it is something to think about.

      Thank you for the compliment by the way, I was telling my friend that with my newly-discovered talent I could probably just go to Paris and paint for the rest of my life if school doesn’t work out. Yeah…

      Good luck on your Chinese and thanks for reading and commenting as always!

  2. Unfortunately, perfect grades in high school is one of the essential components for getting into tier 1 colleges. However, college is a different matter (assuming it’s a top private university). Grades are still important, especially if you’re planning to apply to medical school or other graduate programs, but they are not the only factor. Other things like community service, work experience, and leadership count a lot. There is an article on how some of the best companies prefer “B” students, assuming those students are involved in numerous activities and have bright personalities.

    In the long run, learning to learn will get you farther. Many colleges and employers look for people with passion. Too much attention to grades won’t give you that.

    Quick bio: I’m an upperclassman at an Ivy League school.

    Best of luck to you both.

    • I agree, thank you for your insight. I probably won’t go to a top private university, maybe a top public university (crossing my fingers… and knocking on wood) but I feel like what you’ve said still applies. I’ve looked into law schools a little bit and besides the LSAT GPA is an important factor in admissions, so, grades do matter. But, like you’ve said, learning to learn will get you farther. (:

      Thanks for taking time away from your studies to read and comment!

  3. Brittany Mok

    I admit I’m one of those lurkers who read and rarely comment, and I’ve been doing so since my friend Erika up there introduced me to your blog. Even though I consider myself a writer, I really admire your eloquent language in these posts (and it kind of makes me ashamed of myself, because I am horrible at holding conversations even in comments). Of course, I find whatever you write about to be interesting and innovative, too. 🙂

    One point of this that yes, grades are important but at the same time are not. Like money, I suppose. Money isn’t important because it can’t buy happiness and all of that, but it’s important because it’s extremely hard to live with out any. My physics teacher this year recently told the class how he always had A’s or B’s in high school and the only class he ever got a D in was ironically, physics. I despise physics, but surprisingly am not failing it? I cried my eyes out when I got a C on a lab report. xD

    I understand obsessing about grades; I do it too, a lot. I’m Chinese, one parent’s from HK and one’s first generation. For some reason my parents weren’t extremely strict when I was young, and even now they’re quite lax, but I suppose my mother’s been telling me stories about how she was so poor and how her mother escaped China during WWII, etc. that I ended up feeling the need to do better, too. I’ve always struggled with coming off as arrogant in school, though, because a “bad” grade to me is a decent grade to everyone else. I guess it’s not something to be too upset about. Even the SAT is not the end of the line, since an excellent essay or interview or whatever, can compensate for it. I think colleges are starting to realize that some people simply are not good test-takers.

    It’s nice to finally comment on your posts, and I hope you overcome whichever obstacles you face! :3

    • Aw, the kindness in this comment makes me smile. Thanks for finally revealing yourself, it’s nice to meet you!

      That’s a great analogy that I should have extended in my post, money and grades are similar in many respects. As for that C on a lab report… if that hasn’t caused you to fail, you must be doing pretty well on other assignments.! (:

      I know what you mean about coming off as arrogant. I always tell my friends that it’s just that our expectations our different, though that also comes off as cocky in a way… no wonder I have no friends. Just kidding. But my parents do the same thing – they tell me stories of the hardships they’ve faced either when they were younger or difficult things their parents had to overcome – it is motivating, and I also agree with you that a somewhat low GPA or a sub-par standardized test score won’t kill an application as long as the student has other things going for them.

      Once again thanks for reading and commenting Brittany, I hope to hear from you again! If not… that’s okay, I understand. ):

  4. Cara

    This is an exellent post Thomas! You seem to put up the best subjects to talk about, thanks for that:)
    I do think it’s important to push yourself and do well in school but I think we have become a society that has become too grade obsessed. It does get in the way of learning. There is a fine line between trying to be the best, but losing the joy of learning. Right now I am in my third year in college and the atmosphere is so different than it was in high school. Of course you are still GPA obsessed because it helps you get into programs and compete with other people getting a spot in your selected major, but I’d say they look at you as a whole person more. I’m afraid though that my GPA obsession has gotten worse over the years but it is something I’m trying to fix. I’ve gotten one B so far but I’m sure it won’t be my last, but man oh man does that B bother me sometimes. Then of course there are no “honor” classes that can bring up your GPA. No matter what kind of course you take an A does not cost more. I actually think they should take that out from high schools because I think it gives people a false sense that they can “make up” by doing well in honor classes. If you want to challenge yourself that’s great but there is no “boosting” up your GPA in college. The colleges see the courses you take as choices you made, so if you think you can handle the course you should be able to live with any grade you get. That was a tangent, sorry about that. It was something on my mind when I read about the GPA obsession, which I think is not helped by how the classes are weighted. I think it actually hurts people in the long run to be honest.
    All that mumbo jumob aside though, in the grand scheme of things are you going to be agonizing on your death bed about a B? Or even any grade for that matter? No. It’s that simple.
    Hey Thomas don’t feel bad about Physics, it’s a HARD course. I’m taking it this semester (I didn’t take it in high school), and it is one of the most interesting classes. I’d say I have learned and absorbed more information this semester alone, than I ever did in my whole four years in high school. College is stressful but AWESOME:D

    • Ah Cara, I empathize with you. As a junior in college with only one B that’s very impressive! I know what you’re referring to with the honors and AP courses, my guidance counselor told me that now colleges are looking at the actual grades students earned as opposed to their GPA’s, because so many schools are suffering from grade inflation and things like that. For example at my school a 4.0 isn’t in the top 10%, and a 3.5 places you in the bottom 50% (probably even lower… but I forget the exact percentage so I won’t assume). Though in college a 4.0 is Godly and a 3.5 isn’t even that bad – which exemplifies, like you’ve said, how different high school and college are.

      Your comments are really making me look forward to college regardless of its difficulty and what not, the fact that you can take a Physics course and enjoy it while it’s hard (or not easy) is splendid. I can’t wait.

      Thanks for reading and commenting Cara. (:

  5. Here in South Africa I had to learn hard and had to put my friends aside. Good grades are very essential, because it won’t be possible to get in a good university if you don’t have them. I’m in my senior year and is awaiting my final examintion marks. With no proper education there is no hope or future. Good grades assures a better and fulfilling life. 😀

    • From reading your blog Ethan I can tell that’s very true, and the dedication you’ve put in to attaining that proper education is inspiring. I hope you scored high on those exams, and regardless I’m sure you will have a fulfilling life due to the effort you’ve exerted. (:

  6. Having gone through the educational system and come out on the other side of it, I say that grades are important, but they are not the end of the story. For example, I’d highly recommend that you include a link to your blog and some of your posts when applying to college.

    I encourage my high-school aged daughter to have a life outside of school. I want her to learn and get good grades, but life is too short not to enjoy yourself, too. I don’t want her taking all AP classes because they don’t count as much as people think they do, and there’s no sense in burning out on learning in high school.

    • I agree with what you’ve stated, and it’s good that you’re guiding your daughter while she’s in high school.

      I’m not sure whether I should actually include my blog in my college application, hm… we’ll see.

  7. I do agree that learning is more important than the grades but isn’t it the grades that tells us how much we’ve learned?
    A person can be intelligent and not a straight A student who needs to get into a good collage but it’s going to be the grades that would be assessed and not the person…
    I’m a person who would stress and stress about my grades till up to the point I breakdown into tears and think to myself: I can’t do better so why should I even try? There’s the risk of disappointing my family and I suppose most importantly myself…if that makes any sense.
    Learning is more important but grades are still a pain to get right but I still cannot stop obsessing about them.
    What I’m trying to say sounds better in my head than when it’s written down.

    • No, I know what you’re saying. Like I wrote in my post I also wanted to cry upon seeing that B+ in Physics, and in a way your grades do reflect how much you learn. There’s an obvious distinction between someone who attains an A- and someone who scraps by with a C. But in the bigger picture, the difference between an A and an A-? It’s not negligible exactly, though one could argue that both students learned a lot and maybe even the student with an A- learned more than the student with an A.

      So I agree with you in that grades and learning are correlated, though like I’ve learned in Psychology, correlation does not imply causation – just because someone got an A in the course does not prove that they learned more than everyone else.

  8. Miranda P Vélez

    I’m studying psychology and I just finished my first semester, something really weird happened to me when I got my grades. I don’t normally care about them so I was really cool about the whole thing, but then I got a 3.8 in one of my assignatures, I’m really, really bad in group jobs because I don’t want to be like bossy or whatever but I have high expectations so it’s always a conflict which is way I got a bad grade… extremely bad grade in my group assignment which screwed up my final grade. I know it was my fault, I should have been more responsible but now my GPA is 4.6 and I know it would have been way better if I had cared a little more in that class. Usually I cared about learning, about finding out how thinks work but when I got those grades I was angry at myself so I guess I care about both in a weird way.. I care about learning which is why I study but I hope that what I learn is reflected in the grades I get.

    Miranda(17) from Colombia 🙂

    (*whispers* I kinda love ur blog)

    • Ah, the dreaded group assignment. I know how difficult it is to really want to take control of the whole thing to ensure a good grade, but I think you did the right thing by allowing everyone to work together. The question is: did you learn? I’m sure you did, even if you didn’t attain the highest grade in that class. I guess you’ve also learned how to approach group assignments in the future! (:

      Thanks for reading and commenting Miranda, and I’m glad you kind of love my blog… my new goal will be to make you love it 100%. 😀

  9. If I love a class, I work really hard and I expect an A. I get obsessed over that grade–I check my grade update frantically. If I don’t get an A, well … a lot of crying happens and sometimes I might even decide to quit school. I mean, if I can’t get an A on my favorite classes, how can I do well on the classes that I don’t like much? I believe in hard work, and when I work hard … good things happen. So grades are not just letters for me, they are an indication of my hard work. And like you said, good grades motivates me to do my best.

    A = hard work + an abundant knowledge.

    • I see your point. I also appreciate that you included how hard work plays a factor in attaining good grades, not just one’s intellect.

      But what if someone tries their hardest in a course they really enjoy and only end up with a B? I don’t think that’s a bad thing – I certainly don’t think someone should quit school over it. If someone exerts all the effort they can in a course and can only come up with a slightly above average or average grade, that’s okay, as long as they’re learning something and enjoying it.

      The same thing applies to jobs. If someone loves teaching for example, and puts in all of their time and effort but only manages to get an average salary, so what? They should love what they’re doing and know that educating the children of America plays a huge part in the future of our country. It’s not always the letter grade or the numerical value associated with performing a task, it’s what one achieves for themselves as well as for others by performing it.

  10. Sonia

    I am one of those who rarely comment either. But after reading your post, I feel like sharing my thoughts. And I hope I can cheer you up.

    I don’t know much about the education system at where you live. However, one thing in common would be GRADES DO MATTER. The government officials advocate that process is far more important than grades. However, the education system tells a different story. Sad yet true, grades are all that matter. It affects which university and faculty you get into, hence, your job and salary, and, more importantly, how people values you. It’s a fact of life, until changes are made in the education system. Thus, I understand how you feel.

    If there are no exams, students will surely be more willing to learn. At the same time, as you said, grades motivate you to learn. Who will memorize those vocabulary items, the structure of leaves and theories, if there are no exams? And it reveals how much you have learned. So, it’s a dilemma.

    Putting less pressure on yourself will be a way out. I used to compare my grades with my friends. It only made me feel more depressed. And I will be obsessive with the grades. This posed an undue pressure on me. In this year, I find that I value the grades less important, not not important, but less important. This will definitely help you feel happier and enjoy it. Receiving education is only a small part of life and grades are not the only thing that valued in our lives. Your physics is better than me. I have no idea about the force, tension… Anyway, you have to believe that you are unique. Changing the angle of seeing things do help.

    Let’s strive for excellence together. It’s not contradicting…. right? Anyway, I hope you feel better. 😀

    • Hm, I know what you mean. I think one shouldn’t remove the pressure being placed on them unless they’re suffering from it extremely (like I was a few weeks ago). You’re right that grades do matter a lot and they matter for a reason, but in the end it’s what you’ve learned that will benefit you in the future – not just in your job, but as a person. So there’s a balance here: one should care about their grades, but they should value what they’re actually learning as well… otherwise, grades are rather pointless.

      I agree, let’s strive to improve together. Thank you for reading and commenting, and you have made me feel better. (:

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