Now before you get too stressed by the title of this entry, note that I didn’t say “good grades” are important. Of course, good grades are much more fun to receive, but they aren’t any more or less important than bad grades.
The reason that I assert that grades are important is not because they will determine your entire future (they won’t) or because they are an objective measure of a student’s intelligence (they aren’t). Grades are important simply because they are a valuable source of feedback.
The Truth about Grades
The truth is that grades carry very little meaning beyond that which we ascribe to them, personally or collectively. Of course, assignments and assessments add up. A semester grade may paint a more complete picture of ongoing habits and struggles, and, thus, it may carry more weight in the long run. But, for today, let’s consider that semester grades are built one grade at a time, so that is where we will put our focus.
It’s also important to remember that grades are relative. Those of use who have taken lots of classes and have received lots of grades can appreciate that not all grades are created equal. For example, if a student were really struggling in a class, a C on a final exam may seem like a dream come true.
The same student may find that another class is so easy that anything less than an A would be an insult. The C that would be celebrated in the harder class would be an abomination in the easy class. For this reason, we cannot view or judge all grades through the same lens.
Output versus Input
Due to this variability, there is only one conclusion that we can consistently reach when it comes to grades: if your output is not what you want, your input must change. This doesn’t mean that you’re not smart, that you’re not capable, that all is lost. It just means you’ve got to reconsider your approach.
For example, if you bake a cake and it doesn’t turn out well, you don’t quit baking forever and conclude that you’re just not a good baker (I hope).
A far more measured and reasonable response would be to reflect on the recipe, the ingredients, and the instructions. You could ask yourself if you followed them precisely, if you used the right ingredients, if you had the right tools. You might taste the cake to see if it was too salty or sweet, poke the cake to see if it was undercooked, or review the instructions to make sure that you didn’t skip any steps accidentally.
This is the exact same process that needs to be undertaken when it comes to grades. Sure, it’s fine to feel disappointed and even discouraged when you receive a grade that doesn’t make you happy. But that won’t change future outcomes. Learning from your mistakes will.
If you are being honest with yourself, you may realize that you didn’t spend enough time with the material, you didn’t ask for help when you needed it, or you didn’t study adequately.
Sometimes students may even find that a significant time spent studying doesn’t yield their desired outcomes. In situations like this, they must consider that they didn’t study effectively, they didn’t study the right material, or they didn’t ask their teacher enough questions in class or in meetings.
Viewing Grades as Feedback
Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair and sometimes it’s not. But, ultimately, grades are just a source of feedback. A student that can process and learn from that feedback will certainly do better next time. In this way, a bad grade can be the most important kind of grade at all. By heeding the feedback, you can turn a bad grade from a disappointment into an opportunity.