In the rat race-like competition that surrounds grades, it is understandable that they become all-consuming. This type of environment pushes students toward test-taking tips and tricks rather than methods to gain a solid foundation for the material at hand. Because even if you forget everything after taking the test, as long as you knew what you needed for it, why does it matter?
Unfortunately, in the long run, it does. You might feel it when you’re in a class that’s just one in a series, or when you start seeing a concept repeat throughout your academic career. And it’s worst if it catches up to you when you’re sent off to the real world and have to face a problem your textbooks have not taught you yet. And trust me, I wish it wasn’t that way. It doesn’t make sense that our schooling system’s entire foundation seems to be impractical at times.
Grades were developed to measure academic performance. At their core, they are supposed to work hand-in-hand with learning and accurately reflect what a student knows, even though it might not feel like it at times. I know prioritizing learning can seem to be a pain, especially when studying solely for grades is incentivized, but approaching your studying in a different way is simpler than you may think.
Memorization and regurgitation are great for one midterm, but in classes with series or where you need a reliable foundation, memorization is bound to crumble. This is especially true for classes where connections and seeing relationships between concepts are key. Changing your approach or mindset in this way might make studying a little bit more rewarding and less frustrating if concepts don’t seem to meld within your mind as easily.
An example of focusing on learning during times like these is drawing diagrams, models or anything that can help you visualize what you’re doing. Maybe then you could see the information from the textbook in a new way! Similarly, in math, if you try to piece together where formulas come from, you will probably have fewer instances during exams when your brain is too stressed to recall whether the formula had a square root or not.
Now, I understand some classes like history, for example, are famous for being plain memorization. I’m not saying that when you prioritize learning, you should avoid trying to memorize altogether, but you should add something to the memorization. You will thank yourself for it! Maybe after you read a fact you need to memorize, you ask yourself “why?” or try to wrap your mind around it in a different way using cause and effect.
You may be thinking, “Of course, I’d do it in an ideal world where I don’t have assignments and tests every other day, but prioritizing learning is not practical for me right now.” And that is a valid point because it seems like the system does not care either way. But, I’m not saying to make a drastic change right now, I’m just showing you the potential benefits you could have even in small implementations.
Until the academic system drastically changes to center on student growth, the growth will have to come from ourselves. So, although at times it feels as if focusing on learning and focusing on grades are mutually exclusive, making an effort to prioritize learning can actually show you that the two work quite well hand-in-hand.