Learning for Yourself, Not for Your Test

With midterm grades coming back and finals coming up, our campus is buzzing with questions like “what did you get on that?,” “how did you do?,” “is there extra credit?,” etc. Society views GPA and grades like a definition of personal character and future success. As students, we constantly hear that the people who get the best grades in school will ultimately get the best job offers and be the most successful in life. We are forced into this system where answers to specific multiple choice questions determine what percentage of knowledge you actually retained. The ironic part of this is that retaining 75% of the material is considered poor. I mean think about, that’s only 25% away from 100, the student only missed 25% of the material and the odds are they know the material they just messed up or got confused. How can we be seen as inferior if we know 75% of the material?

Historically, grades actually don't originate with schooling, until around 1800 when a tutor at Cambridge University decided that instead of getting to know students he could determine their intelligence by a letter grade just like one would determine that the shoes made by a factory worker are “up to grade” the student would be determined if they are “up to grade.” With the implication of this system, many students actually became (for lack of a better word) dumber. Lots of students don’t thrive under this system because people with learning styles other than this newly embedded lecture-style teaching method. (Drum)

This situation, sadly, has not changed in the 200 plus years that the system has been around. Students who are very intelligent but have other learning styles then the traditional lecture style can easily slip through the cracks of our education system and be deemed as inferior to other students.

I have always stood by the fact that grades should not represent how smart someone is. I know so many smart people who put everything they have into school and still come out lower than they should. On the other hand, I know people who put in little work and easily get perfect scores. Both of these situations to me are unfair. Success in life should be defined by effort, not by a letter grade. Lots of teachers like to argue that their grading is based on effort. They say if a student puts in enough effort they will come out with a good grade. But, there really isn’t a way to accurately measure how much effort someone put into something.

Students have heard time and time again that we should be focusing on actually learning the knowledge rather than memorizing for a test and forgetting it two days later. I second that! I think everyone should take classes that interest them and take this knowledge to use later in life. But this is difficult when the other half of the world is defining you by a letter or percentage.

My dad has always told me that effort, ambition, and charisma will get you much farther in life than any grades will. Sometimes I forget this as I receive grades I wasn’t expecting while sitting with people who I feel didn’t put as much effort in and do the same as I do. I think sometimes people forget we are in school to learn; not only learn what's taught in the classroom but to learn from organizations on campus, to learn how to network, how to build a resume, and to learn life skills from mistakes we will inevitably make along the way.

We are the next generation of business owners, educators, managers, politicians, and more. We define the core values and expectations for our generation into the next. We can decide to redefine the meaning of grades and the purpose of schooling; not to just obtain a good job at the end of four years, but to learn important skills and educate ourselves on topics we are interested in. Like any other social issue, we can diverge from the path laid out for us and create a new one to perfectly pave the way for the future.

Sources: Durm, Mark W. “An A Is Not An A Is Not An A: History Of Grading.” Indiana Bloomington, 1993, www.indiana.edu/~educy520/sec6342/week_07/durm93.pdf.