BY MRUNAL DEORE '24
Have you ever studied diligently for a test and were still gravely disappointed at your score? Started questioning your whole future because of that one B you received in a math class? I have and I bet you have too. Grades are supposed to measure a student’s comprehension of a topic and reflect the quality of their work, but are they really conducive to learning? More often, achieving good grades is like digging a hole with a spoon: you’re working constantly for them yet obtain a meager result. Other than betraying your hard work, grades reinforce test-taking anxiety, ineffective learning strategies, and stereotypes around race and academic achievement. The normalization of academic validation reinforces perfectionism in education, ultimately resulting in unnecessarily high expectations and unhealthy mindsets.
Students’ self-worth has become increasingly tied to their achievements and not hard work, which plays into the fixed mindset that teachers have discouraged since kindergarten. Academic validation puts unnecessary pressure on students and forces them to rely on their grades as a measure of their self-worth. According to a 2002 psychology study, 80 percent of college freshmen based their self-worth on their grades rather than other things such as family or appearance. So how does the anxiety around grades detract from the importance of learning itself? Don’t you have to learn in order to get good grades? No matter how assiduous you are, though, it’s difficult to succeed if test-taking anxiety always accompanies you. There is a colossal amount of stigma around grades because they are connected to fear; you have to do well on the next test because if you fail to meet your self-set “norms,” your future feels jeopardized. However, this mentality detracts from other equally important aspects of life like social life and self care and reinforces the belief that hard work doesn’t pay off. That evolves into a fixed mindset: forgetting about the topic once you get a certain grade hinders long-term information retention.
Further, the norm of certain races being associated with good grades harms minority students. For so long, there have been stereotypes associated with race and grades, mainly surrounding Asians. While comments like “All Asians are good at math” seem like compliments, they invalidate the stress Asian students carry and can make them feel ashamed if they fail to meet these norms. As an Asian, I can easily disprove these stereotypes. Where is my talented math genius gene? When are my Ravi (from Jessie) powers going to start activating? Asians are hit the hardest by stereotypes because these falsehoods are normalized to the point that most people don’t see them as harmful; Asian students constantly feel like they have to meet an unhealthy standard or face an impending wave of self doubt.
Grades are a big part of society today, but they can also harm students’ mental health. They question your ability to do things, make you believe that hard work isn’t worth it, and take focus away from other important aspects of life like social skills. Instead of letting grades define us, maybe it’s time to take another approach: after all, if we can create these methods of measuring competence, we can also break through these unhealthy expectations.