Why are Grades so Important?


I’ve always struggled with talking about my grades, and it’s not because they’re low. In the humblest voice you could hear, I’m actually really happy about most of the grades I get. Yet, why is there constantly so much pressure on students to do well in school? Why are we all defined by numbers? Most importantly, why are students put against each other?


One day last year, my friends were talking about their GPAs, and I felt really uncomfortable saying mine when I was asked. I got responses like ‘you don’t need to worry about grades’ or slightly judgmental looks from then on when I mentioned my grades. The worst experience is getting a test grade back. Why do students have to ask, ‘what did you get on that test?’ It forces students into a competition with each other.


Since I began student teaching, I’ve had to look at different videos and articles about how to properly motivate students. This is how I came across extrinsic motivation. I’ve always known outside forces push students to get the best grades, but I never knew there is a real word for it. Extrinsic motivation is based on the expectations of parents, educators or anyone who places an emphasis on grades and the basic course of study.


My need for high grades stemmed from teachers in the classroom, students who wanted to beat one another and the stress of student New York state exams that measured you based on numbers. My parents never pushed me to get the best grades. In fact, my first semester in college, my dad said he was glad I didn’t get a 4.0 because then I wouldn’t be running myself into the ground trying to keep it. While my mom wasn’t as blunt as my father, she was still proud of the grades that I had gotten and encouraged me to just keep trying my best.


Almost all of society can be classified under the extrinsic motivational type. As seen from some of my examples above, I definitely had outside influences whispering in my ear to get that 100.  Some of the effects of these high expectations are the importance of rewards, high competition levels, a fear of failure and a lack of desire to learn the material. Now, doesn’t that sound familiar? While I actively try to learn as much as possible in my major classes, I still face that fear of failure and desire for perfect grades. 


Why do I struggle so much talking about my grades? I don’t want to promote that competition that’s forced upon students at a young age. If someone asks what grade I got, I try to tell them basic emotions like “I’m happy” or “I’m okay.” It might make my friends curious, but I don’t want to make myself or others feel bad because of a number that doesn’t even matter for future employers. It’s more about who you know and what you know, so why can’t professors focus on learning instead?


Learning is what intrinsic motivation is all about. The emphasis is placed on a desire to learn and promotes positive feelings in the classroom. This is so important, especially in college, because a student is choosing a major that they will have to put all their focus in. It has to be something that the student is interested in, not just good at.


Is all my stress relating to grades unjustified? Some of it probably is. I know that getting an A- will not kill me, but it’s not my fault students have literally been trained to think that way. If society keeps pushing students to do well, then all students will struggle with their grades even if they’re doing really well, students will feel reluctant to share because it makes others feel horrible. 


There’s not going to be some big shift overnight that throws the grading system out the window; however, students can still encourage and support each other to relay the message that grades are not the only answer. Hopefully, if students make this effort, we could relieve the pressure of numbers and make students happier.