\ Mrs. Gifford
\ Pre-AP 9
\ 26 Oct. 2017
Thesis & Map:
Grades are a major source of stress that have been with me from years and will continue to be with me. This is due to their importance, their ability to lead to judgement, and their usually unstable nature.
The high importance and reliance the system puts on grades can many times feel unfair, and less of a test of intelligence but more of a test of mental endurance. My father told me a story that described him in a situation that would be essentially my worst nightmare. My father entered college seven to eight years later than average as he had gone into the Iranian military, got detained by the Iranian government for trying to escape the military, eventually escaped detention, and began jumping all around Europe as an immigrant with no money or connections trying to find a job and a college education. His experiences had given him a lot of mental resilience which allowed him to get into a Finnish college so he could take classes as the second oldest in the class, learning in a language he could hardly understand, after not touching a textbook in about seven to eight years. Every test, quiz, or exam, he was constantly at a disadvantage as a result of all the hardships he’d gone through, and the fact that he was never taught test taking techniques. Despite all of this, my father’s ability to keep himself collected, and his general maturity allowed him to get through college. Although his experiences may seem a bit extreme, my point still remains that at times grades are less about work ethic or knowledge but more about keeping yourself collected and your mind sharp to get through the work. Just recently, I didn’t finish an engineering test in time so I ended up failing on the next part that took place the day after because I was worried about my performance on the first part, despite my hours of studying and my otherwise perfect grade in the class up to this point. If only I was less scared, like my father, I wouldn’t have a low grade in engineering now, despite all the effort I’ve put into that class. The unfortunate thing is, the importance of grades stresses out students, which lowers their grades, which ruins their success, which stresses out students. It’s more a battle against a vicious emotional cycle than academics.
A more specific aspect of the emotional cycle is the judgement that arises from grades. Grades constantly lead to judgement; that’s their entire purpose. One’s own self, their peers, and their educators all judge them over them. This creates a mixture of emotions within me, as I feel calm and content whenever I check my grades to see a maintained or rising grade, but a sense of panic and fear as it drops further and further as I remind myself of the flaws that I can’t seem to fix, as I see the majority of my peers consistently perform much better than me on tests, while I only slightly outperform them on homework and classwork. In other cases, even that’s not true. The feeling of being trapped in quicksand, slowly suffocating, builds with every new test that seems to show that I’m performing worse and worse no matter how much I study beforehand. Just recently, two test results came back. One quiz in math, and a chapter test in biology. When students were sharing their grades, I felt embarrassment overtake me, as these two classes, my classes with the lowest grades I have, both fell even further as I had failed both tests, meanwhile my classmates were complaining of only scoring mid to high Bs. Every year I start out performing terribly, but eventually catch up, but the fear that this year may be different, that I may be unfit for my classes just terrifies me to no end. The judgement I give myself, and the judgement from my classmates that I get when they ask me how I scored on something builds up further and further in my mind. The unstable nature of my performance – the lack of any real trend is the worst part. If I could predict within a reasonable measure that I would begin scoring better in the future and that I would turn out just fine, I would feel far better, but unfortunately I just can’t predict such a thing. I’m left just hoping, and hope is not something I put much value into. I feel nothing when I do well, and I feel like garbage when I don’t. For instance, I’ve seen that same thing in my friends who half-heartedly joke “I just failed a math test last bell,” followed by nervous laughter, and who also let out a tiny sigh of relief as a test brings their grade up by a percent. Regardless of the level of confidence I have in my knowledge and the effort I’ve put in, I always end up scoring below or above my already broad expectations.
The unstable nature of grades doesn’t exactly help my anxious feelings toward them. My grades can fly around like ping pong balls, as a new grade gets put into the system, smacking them up or down an entire letter grade. Even if I was convinced I failed a test, I could easily end up passing, or a test I took with full confidence may end with me failing terribly. I had full confidence in the recent engineering and biology tests, yet it turned out I had no reason to have any. The differences in the grades between classes themselves can be large even if they have a similar difficulty. There is no true way to determine what exactly one is doing wrong when the same subject presented in a similar way gets two very different grades. For example, throughout last year my math grade was constantly rising and falling entire letter grades every two weeks it seemed. I still can’t understand how so many things had such an impact on our grades, but they did. The main culprits of the flying grades were the weighted tests with the large number of points. Towards the end of the year the entire class was given the opportunity to submit corrections for a large test since the majority of people, including me, failed it. After the corrections were graded and put in, my grade went from about a 65% to around a 95%. The idea that a single assignment could determine whether or not we failed the class seems crazy. Even though that was quite an extreme example of a class with unstable grades, it still shows that I, at the very least, if not the majority of students, have no real subject specific trends relating to how they score. Although it may be true that there are trends with the type of work students perform well or badly on, such as doing really well on tests but never doing well on homework, those are trends relating to how they work and not their knowledge, reaffirming the point that knowledge matters significantly less than conquering stress. With no knowledge related trends, one gets is a feeling of contentedness or frustration with no in-between constantly flipping back and forth. Since I haven’t been performing consistently well so far, all I can do is to hope things will get better and study more. Unfortunately, the nagging feeling that things won’t be better never leaves me, which stresses me out, which causes my grades to fall, which stress me out. The only thing that seems to break the cycle is starting over with a new quarter after finishing off an acceptable, passing one, where I know more, have more confidence, and am more ready for school than the first quarter. The lack of any pattern in my grades is primarily the reason I fall into my stress cycle of being afraid of my scores and how they’ll be perceived.