Are Grades Paralyzing Us?

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Written by Kayla Morton.

Have you ever failed a big test? How did that make you feel? I distinctly remember a test that I failed in seventh grade. It was an algebra test and I remember the feeling that washed over me when I got it returned to me. It was sheer and utter panic. My heart was beating fast and everything felt wrong. What could I do in this moment? Was my grade ruined forever? Would I even get into college someday? Sure, some of these questions were a bit dramatic, but it is true that it is very difficult to make up for a bad test.

My story ended differently. My math teacher approached me after class and told me that I could do better and if I studied I could retake the test a few days later. I worked hard at home to learn the material I was missing, and when I retook the test I got a solid B+ and felt a lot better. A lot of students don’t get shown grace in this type of situation. If I hadn’t had a teacher who allowed me to correct my mistakes I might never have learned the material as well as I did.

I will certainly give credit to the effect that F had on me. Grades are important. They measure how well students have learned and provide an idea of the development of the class. I think it would be incredibly difficult to have a world without grades because students could more easily slip through the cracks. The lazier students might just do what they need to do to get by. I will be the first to admit that a bad grade motivated me to be better. After the bad test, I was much inclined to take the time to study. I knew I couldn’t just hope for the best. Grades have helped me immensely in that way.

So, let’s talk about failing. Failing was good for me in that moment along with many others. Critiques in college have helped me become a better creator. I have learned how to give criticism in a more helpful way to my peers, so they can learn and grow.  Critique culture is something that might be very intimidating to the outside world, but it has been a very helpful and healthy way of learning for me.

The best way to get good grades is to do exactly what is expected. But is that really the best way to grow personally and professionally? Trying to do something differently is how new developments and innovations are introduced to the world. Schools don’t reward innovation, they reward the following of directions. Doing something differently often leads to failure the first, second, or third time around. Many incredibly successful CEOs have been rejected some point in their career before they were successful. They failed before they became great.

People, but especially people working and learning in a creative field we make a lot of bad work. Or at least work that could be better. If students are anxious and worried about making sure to get the GPA they want they will play it safe to make sure they pass. That isn’t how we make our best work. Trying new and scary things is where greatness happens. But a lot of times we try something new we fail. Schools, specifically colleges, should encourage this. Students shouldn’t be so afraid of falling that they don’t grow to their fullest potential.

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