It’s the week after exams. Tests, presentation grades and papers are being handed back covered in the black, blue, and red marks of a teacher’s pen. It’s in that moment when each and every student, religious or not, prays they got a good grade. In a world where self-worth is defined by numbers and letters, that extra 0.1% can make all the difference. But many students are breaking under the pressure of the grading system at school. An A, an accomplishment that is by definition outstanding, is constantly diminished by its harder-to-reach A+ counterpart.
There’s no more glory in a 90%, which has been now assigned an A- in some schools,nor is there triumph in percentage grades that are only a hair-length below the next grade. What right does a grading system have to create such stress and anxiety of the student body? Of course there needs to be a way to measure a student’s progress and success in school, but do we really need to contend for that extra 0.1% and try to convince ourselves that it makes all the difference?
We need to first define what the purpose of going to school actually is. Is it to go and take tests on what you have “learned” (but only remember because you crammed everything right before), or is it to truly be educated?The answer is clearly the latter. But how much learning is really going on in school?How many of us only memorize facts for tests and presentations, and then forget everything once class is over? The grading system we have now is pushing us towards superficial learning, where we only remember material for long enough to get a good grade, but never is it a priority to retain that knowledge in the long term. Cramming for tests is in no way equal to actual understanding.Besides, the fear of bad grades might actually hinder a student’s willingness to learn. Many will prefer tasks that achieve an “easy A+” rather than taking bold intellectual risks.
In addition, a student’s goal should be to strive for academic excellence, not academic perfection. We are so focused on getting an A+ on exams that taking a test is no longer about how well you understand the ideas, but rather how meticulous you are in not making careless mistakes. Achieving a 98% on an exam may not be reason for celebration—instead, you may be beating yourself up over knowing just how close you were to the 100%. But no one is perfect. The grading system is simply emphasizing the notion that we must not and cannot make any errors. By fretting over every single fraction of a point, we are putting unnecessary pressure onto ourselves. After all, what difference is there between a B and B+ student? Or a B+ student and A- student? Often times, it’s less than 1%.
In a world where numbers define self-worth, students are constantly the ones that are suffering. In fact, by calling ourselves “students”, we are reinforcing the idea that our purpose is not to learn, but to study. Many can study for two hours to prepare for a test, but they cannot fully comprehend the concepts during the process of cramming. Hence, although we shouldn’t throw away the grading system as a whole, educational institutions should reevaluate their grading systems so that they can reflect a student’s actual goal, which is to learn.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of UNIT-E. It was written by Kaylee Ding, a student at the International School of Beijing.
UNIT-E was founded in the spring of 2010 with the aim of establishing a non-profit, student-run magazine for international students in Beijing. Staffed by current students from a range of international schools, the magazine provides an amalgam of cultural tidbits, fragments of Beijing student life, and a broad spectrum of unique perspectives from a diverse group of young adults.
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