So, how do we manage all of this and find a healthier way of looking at our grades and where we stand? In a way, it can seem very difficult to separate your grades from others in a K-12 setting, where papers are passed out all at once and standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are done in class and scores are often gossipped about. How can we take a stand back and be okay with our grades?
Personally, as someone who has worked for good grades and also gotten a lot of bad grades, I have had some experience with having to feel good about my work even when I did not perform as well as others, or even when I did not do the best I could have done. Some questions I ask myself that help put things into perspective when you are stuck in your own head about it are below.
How much will this one score affect my overall grades/GPA?
One homework assignment or even test is not the end of the world. Talking to a teacher after a bad assignment and asking them what went wrong or if there is any make up work can help bring the grade up.
Did I do my best?
A fixable solution to a bad score is to simply do better. Procrastinating, cramming, skimming a reading, or spending the shortest time possible on an assignment is not doing your best. Try planning some extra time for the next one.
Can I study differently or more?
Not every study trick works for every person! For me, seeing someone demonstrate something for me in person is how I learn best, so staying after class or watching videos will help me better than reading the textbook or purely listening to a lecture. How do you learn best?
Was this an objectively hard class or assignment?
Sometimes the highest grade in the class is an E (>56%). Certain subjects, course lengths, and teachers can greatly affect your grades. Teachers grade differently, courses are taught differently-- so, if you are in a harder class, or a class condensed into a shorter amount of time, or have a teacher that does not give partial credit, or all of the above, doing the best you can is what matters. At that point, the grade may be lower, but it does not show a lack of effort, as the grading was “rigged” from the start.
Was my grade the result of something else happening in my life?
Did I miss an assignment due to absence? Did I forget to take notes because my friend was sitting next to me? Was I on my phone? Was I too anxious to do a group project? Many times a bad grade can be because of outside factors and distractions. See if you can remove these or get help managing them.
To me, the most important aspect of the topic of grades and comparing yourself to others is that it does not determine your intelligence, your worth, what your grades will be for the rest of your schooling. It may seem like everything in the moment, and it is important, but you are more than the grade on a piece of paper. If you did your best, acknowledge when you need to change your routine, ask for help when needed (this might be the hardest one!), you are learning valuable skills to help allow for a successful adulthood. Dealing with outside factors, such as anxiety (not being able to ask for help), ADHD (severe difficulty paying attention or staying on subject on an assignment), depression (thinking you’re stupid and going to fail before you even begin so you don’t try very hard), physical illness (loss of or difficulty hearing, seeing, or moving around the instructor/room), language barriers, COVID-19. . . all of these can impact learning and memory and cause “bad” grades without ever once bringing intelligence into the picture. I believe in you.