Lately, I’ve been seeing something slightly bothersome around studyblr, and I just want to say something about it. Basically, there seems to be this attitude cropping up (or at least that I’ve seen/heard about more frequently these days) that your grades reflect your level of effort, or that by simply working hard and putting more effort in, your grades will automatically improve. I disagree.
Yes, there are certainly some cases where you’re already proficient in a class and if you just put in the extra time to study, you’d do better. But there are some classes where grades are not a measure of the level of effort you put in, and therein lies my biggest issue with the grading system and these types of studyblr posts in general. This was certainly the case with me in honors physics (so bear with me, because I have a very large point to make with the following anecdote).
Personally, I’ve always had “easy A” classes where I don’t have to work hard; my brain and academic strengths simply favor me in that particular subject, so with minimal effort I can still be top in the class. And then I see peers who go in for tutoring every day, who spend hours studying and meeting with teachers, who basically invest 100 times the effort I do… and still can’t get above a B or C.
This is not to mention people who take classes that are “reaches” and, accordingly, don’t do so well – even though they work hard – because it’s a challenge. Then there are those who take lower level classes but have capabilities beyond that – and don’t need to put effort in – thus giving them an unfairly easy A. Does their A mean that they work harder? That they’re a better student, studier, scholar, intellectual? Hell to the no.
English is one of those “easy A” classes for me. I’m just innately strong in verbal-linguistic intelligence (going off of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences), so I’ve literally never had to study for English tests or reading comp/writing. But put me in other classes, particularly science classes? Well, that’s something else entirely.
Which brings me to junior year honors physics.
Guys, I studied my ASS off, for hours at a time. I desperately Skyped people in my class nearly every night to try to understand the homework and spent every lunch block trying to master the material. I met with my physics teacher and tutor all the time and had a dozen anxiety attacks (and I mean actual, diagnosed anxiety attacks) over that one class because I tried harder than I’ve ever tried… and I got a B for the whole year. I was the one who dreaded seeing that red number scrawled on my test, who shoved it into my backpack before others could see and blinked back tears, thinking, But I studied so hard!
Physics was a nightmare I was desperate to forget by the end of junior year. But then a couple things happened that shocked me, and I instantly thought of them when I read some of these posts about good effort = good grades.
Now, my physics teacher, who has a reputation for being on the strict side and being a tough grader, has had four teaching assistants (TAs) in five years of teaching. Most science teachers at my school have as many as five a year. At the end of 11th grade, after I’d scraped by with a B in his class, he asked me if I wanted to be a TA. Out of the entire grade – out of the multitude of students I’d watched parade past with straight A’s and “that test was so easy” and “I barely studied” and “sorry Edye I don’t know how else to explain it to you” – he chose me.
I think I (very graciously) blurted out, “What? Why?” because I was so taken aback. He said that I was hardworking and dedicated – that I’d always gone above and beyond in my studying and meeting with him – and he wanted someone like me to be a TA. I was flattered, and I thoroughly enjoyed being a TA during senior year. (Also, anyone who doesn’t think he’s super nice is incredibly wrong. He’s awesome.)
Two years later, I got to read his college recommendation for me. Bear in mind that I was not, based on my grades, a top student in his class. And this is what he wrote for his opening line:
Honors Physics is a rigorous course that draws from the strongest students in the junior class and Edye proved to be one of those students.
What? He had seen my report card, right? I got worse grades than all of my friends. I got a goddamn 66 on a test in that class, my all time low. He continued:
One of the many examples of Edye’s commitment [is when she] had been ill and missed quite a bit of school and consequently had a lot of school work to make up in all of her classes. Many students in this situation would take one or more classes pass / fail for the quarter; Edye would not take the pass/fail option and insisted she complete all the work and complete it with the grade she would earn. She did in fact complete all of the work and with a B-. A remarkable accomplishment considering she kept current with her studies while making up all of the missed work.
He called a B-minus “a remarkable accomplishment.” Did he say “too bad she didn’t put enough effort in, which was reflected in a B-minus” or “she only got a B-minus, so I guess she didn’t try hard enough”? No, he praised the amount of effort I put in, even though I didn’t even get a “good” grade.
I’m hardly one to knock putting in effort, but what bothers me is that this attitude, that effort = good grades, has the potential to make people feel bad. To feel like if they aren’t acing a class even though they’re studying harder than anybody else, well, they just aren’t trying hard enough. Yes, grades are important. So is effort. But they are not always directly correlated. As is evidenced by my story, sometimes people who get lower grades have worked even harder then those who got high grades. And, if they’re lucky, this will be acknowledged. (I can certainly attest that while I’ve been praised by English teachers for my writing skills and intellect, they’ve never singled me out for putting in an exceptional amount of effort. They know that while I’m proactive and responsible, I don’t try super hard because, well, I don’t really need to in order to get a good grade.)
Encourage other students to put in a reasonable amount of effort; recommend different study methods. But don’t tell them that good effort = good grades. Teach them to measure their success by looking at how productive they’re being, how proactive they are in reaching out for help, how dedicated they are to their education, how resilient they are in the face of obstacles, how committed they are to school. Admire those who refuse to take the easy way out, even if they only get a C. These qualities, which are far more important than a 4.0, just don’t always translate directly into good grades.
I dislike seeing this message all over Tumblr, that to get better grades you just have to try harder – which carries with it the implication that if you don’t get good grades, it’s because you aren’t putting enough effort in – when I know from firsthand experience that this is not always true. I strongly believe in trying to be the best student you can be, rather than trying to be in the top 5%. But in the end, do what works for you. Just take it with a grain of salt.
And to my followers, and anyone reading this… please know that, if you work hard regardless of your grades, you are already a model student, and you are absolutely someone I look up to.