With the end of the second semester in sight, the prospect of grades begins to loom large once again. It should be common sense that such a crucial facet of your academic career would not sit easy on your consciousness, it is the thing you have been working towards after all.
But this fear can (and often does) become paralyzing if left unchecked – and often this is a direct result down to personal expectations. Of course, having high standards for yourself is a great thing, but only within reason.
Where’s the Line?
When you consistently achieve high marks, you quickly become labelled as a ‘Top performer’, you’re ‘Excelling’, and are a ‘Grade A student’. These terms are great and are never used ill willingly, however each serve as a contributor to the intermingling of grades with identity.
Being attributed such descriptions on a regular basis can begin to blur the lines between who your personal worth, and the worth of your academic success. This grey area between who you are and what you achieve, can come to mean that your ego hinges on the grades you achieve.
In this way, your grades stop being merely trackers of progress and identifiers of room for improvement – instead becoming a validation or attack on your character. Harbouring such a personal dependence on success is shaky ground to rest on at the best of times, and if things don’t go to plan and your marks aren’t what you expected, the consequences of this reality can be devastating.
What if Things don’t go to Plan?
If you are defined by your grades, it should be no surprise that any feedback becomes incredibly personal – and as such you will react with strong emotions. Emotionally reacting to any form of criticism prevents you from learning from your mistakes, which will begin to limit how much you are able to progress in your course. Feedback is a necessary evil in academia, and in receiving an evaluation of your work you are given the opportunity to take a step back and look at the flaws your output may have produced.
This isn’t done to diminish your efforts, or dissuade you from carrying on, instead these are the steppingstones with which you can use to keep moving forward and improving. Feedback is an opportunity to build on your work, and by taking on board the lessons learned from assessments you can begin to work towards bigger and better things.
Making the Most of your Marks
Whether good or bad, your marks are a learning opportunity, submitting work to your tutors gives both you and them a better idea of where you are at academically and the skills and areas where there’s room for further development.
This grade extends further than just a number and some comments. Each examiner marks in their own way so I can’t pretend to speak on behalf of all of them, but a key takeaway here is that there is more than meets the mark.
If you are in any doubt about your feedback, and want to know more about what you can be doing to keep improving, then you should seek out a meeting with your tutor. Academic staff have office hours for a reason – make the most of them and really try to squeeze those grades for all they are worth. The more you question yourself the more you are going to improve in the end.
Being More than a Mark
No matter your course, aims, or work may be, there are times when your expectations match your realities, and other times where they don’t quite align. Whether good or bad, having these reality checks are essential to sustained development, and it is paramount that a healthy separation is drawn between who you are and the marks you got.
More often than not (though they may seem it), these marks are not the be all and end all, but they are markers and milestones you should be using to keep yourself on the right path during your time at university. At the end of the day though try to be content that your grades don’t define you, they can only account for where you are at in your academic journey.