The title might surprise you. What? I shouldn’t care about grades? But those things influence how my life will be! If I have bad grades then I won’t be accepted into the school I want, or I won’t get the job I want. I believe that is thinking about education in a wrong way. Obviously, if you’re in school or university, you should try to get good grades. But what I am saying is that you shouldn’t care about those grades. Or rather, they shouldn’t influence why you do the things you do.
Grades are a tool for schools and universities to measure how well you know a certain type of knowledge. If you get a math test, your grade will show you how much you control the knowledge that you have on math. Though flawed, this is a decent method of trying to figure out how much you control something. At least, at that moment. And that’s where the problem lies.
Here is a situation I have found myself in a bit too often (and maybe you have too). There is a test due to next week. Rather than prepare for the test every single day, I play videogames. Until the day before the test. Where I go on a study spree and try to cram in as much as I can in order to pass that test. I do the test. I live in agony for the couple of weeks it takes to correct the test. Meanwhile I have lost all my knowledge of the subject matter so now I believe I’ll most definitely fail. I get my test, and pass with just enough points. Phew. Tragedy averted. Until I have a test again next week. And so, the circle goes round again.
This situation shows an underlying problem. I didn’t care about learning something new. I cared about getting points while using the least amount of energy. Instead of expanding my knowledge (either from fear or apathy towards learning), I did something that would make me feel comfortable. Points show how much your worth. If you get a 0/10 than that means you’re a 0/10 in that particular moment. Nobody wants to be that. It’s the source of much stress and anxiety. That was the case for me at least.
So here is the counterintuitive approach. Don’t care about your grades. Don’t let grades influence the value you have about yourself. Rather, use grades as a way to measure where you are in a particular subject. If you study something, hopefully it’s something that you want to study. For whatever reason that might be. If you study something you don’t want to, I suggest quitting that study and changing. Maybe even taking a break from school altogether and find out what you want to study (or more importantly maybe, finding out what you definitely don’t want to study). Otherwise, you’ll have to work more to get the same grades as someone who actually enjoys doing that study.
By not caring about your grades, you free your mind of the stress that accompanies them. Now, not caring about your grades should not mean that you don’t care about studying or that you don’t study for tests. Rather, it is that you study for something else than your grades. If you study for your grades, you’ll be happy for one minute if you have a bad grade and be down for a whole week at least of you have a bad one. If, however you study with a particular meaningful goal in mind, for example achieving greater wisdom, or contributing to improve the world, then you’ll always be happy with the fact that you learned something valuable and new. While maybe being down for one minute when you get a bad grade, you’ll use that bad grade as a reminder that you aren’t where you want to be yet and thus have to do a bit better. Instead of dreadful stress and doom, your grade becomes a reality check and hopeful message that you can and still need to become better.
This is a whole different mindset. From leaving the aim of result, you go to the aim of journey and work. Failing is not a bad thing, if you use that failure to improve and learn from it. Only then is failure true and utter failure. Only then is failure bad. Every hero in a story fails. But the story becomes good because he learns from his mistakes and grows.
The whole point of university (and school in general for that matter) is that it helps you to grow into a full-fledged human being. Not someone who can reproduce, but someone who can use. Not someone who has knowledge but someone who has wisdom. This is my biggest concern with university, it focuses too much on results and not on progress. Obviously, you need to acquire certain capacities. But what is also needed is the ability to become who you are. You need to be able to progress. You need to actually self-actualize yourself and not become another product ready to be shipped off into the job market.
Grades aren’t everything. They are just a small part of academic life. Don’t feel bad if you have a bad grade. See it as an opportunity to learn. Learn where you made mistakes and how you can correct them. What did you miss? What could be improved. Failure is where creativity arises. Use it to your advantage. Better yet, use it to become formidable. Because grades, just like money, are just some number assigned to something. It doesn’t define what or who you are. Only you can do that.