Grade obsession and why it’s a serious problem

As a freshman in my first few weeks of college life, I have been starting to realize the differences and similarities between college and high school. One big difference that I have picked up on is the idea of grade obsession. We live in a regurgitation society. Professors/teachers put information in, and all we do to learn it is spit it right back out on tests. When I was in high school, if I didn’t get an A on my test I would freak out and feel like my life was going to explode. I know, dramatic, but I bet that a lot of you guys secretly felt the same way. So…I wanted to look into why we were all so obsessed with getting B or A grades in high school? And when we didn’t, why did it feel like our world was coming to an end?

What is linked to grade obsession?

If a student is constantly struggling with their own personal issues and trying to keep up their grades at the same time, this constant need for A’s can lead to an immense amount of stress emotionally, physically and potentially even physiologically. Because “students are faced with a tremendous amount of pressure to get good grades,” there is a significant amount of evidence that “their mental well-being is at risk,” with the possible risk of suicide and other serious mental health issues.

Even though “grades do provide the desirable incentive to perform better, they also cause the undesirable effect of restricting student learning.” In addition to the mental health aspects, grade obsession can alter a child’s creativity, as “constantly thinking about what the teacher wants or what the rubric says for a paper injects a fear of not meeting standards for a good grade” and may “limit the domain our research, our thought process and the exploration of a topic,” or in gist our creativity and our willingness to explore and actually retain information on the desired topic.

Students’ desire to be perfect also plays a role in grade obsession. Because of the “pressure to be perfect” in the school setting for some, it is important to remember that “there is a big difference between striving for excellence and striving for perfection,” as striving for perfection is irrational and unattainable.

If students know that grade obsession is bad, why do they still do it?

Students have and will continue to obsess over grades because we feel the need that we have to. In order to be successful; get into the perfect college, get the perfect job, we have a desire for perfection even though learning should be about acknowledging what we know and don’t know and learning from it, so that we can take a true interest in the matter and be able to apply it to our own lives.

So…What are adults doing to solve the problem?

To be quite frank, all of the research seems to show that adult parents and even most teachers aren’t really seeing how serious of an issue grade obsession is. Below is a quote describing the problem:

“All too many adults seem to be oblivious to the issue of mental health in schools, especially in regard to grade obsession. A quick web search of “problems with the American education system” brings back pages upon pages of articles dealing with low test scores and high dropout rates.  Parents, teachers, and politicians all decry the failures of teens to stay in school. What isn’t considered is the fact that maybe the failure is in the school system, as well as in society.” – US Represented

It could be argued that it should really be up to the student to “know better than to attribute their self-worth to a letter on a paper,” but considering that teenagers and children are still learning how the world works, adults and their supervisors should be making sure they learn the value of education and not making it seem like grades are all that matters.

Why is this relevant to us?

As I said, there are many differences between high school and college, grade expectations being one of them. In college, it seems that students stress less about getting a perfect grade, and focus more on simply passing a course. In high school I pushed myself extremely hard to get into the college of my dreams, which meant good grades so colleges would see that on my transcripts. So I guess one of the differences is the fact that employers don’t necessarily look at your college transcript (or at least I don’t think they do) to see exactly what grades you got in each class. For example, employers seem to be more concerned about what’s on our resumes, than what’s on our college transcripts.

Why should we care?

So even though it’s not quite as prevalent anymore in our lives, I still think it’s an important issue to be addressed for the lives of middle and high school students. It may not be there all the time, but grade obsession still lingers in all of us. You know that deep down part of you wanting that A is because you feel the pressure to get good grades rather than striving to learn as much information as you can to improve who you are. Grade obsession is a serious problem and those students are more focused on what letter they receive than what they are actually learning and applying that knowledge. We were all there once, (and maybe you still are) and I think we owe it to those younger than us to advocate for change on this serious issue and help them understand that grades aren’t everything in life.  But is there a solution to this? Or is this how our society will always be? Comment what you guys think below.

http://www.usrepresented.com/2014/03/24/mental-health/

http://dailynorthwestern.com/2014/04/07/opinion/chowdhury-the-grade-obsession-trap/

https://www.mentalhelp.net/blogs/on-being-a-perfectionist/

13 thoughts on “Grade obsession and why it’s a serious problem

  1. Pingback: The GPA Race – Under the Umbrella

  2. Sang Hyun Cho

    Right on my brother/sister (I have no idea who wrote this) this needs to be shared/re tweeted/liked all over social media. Since I was little I had the idea that perfection was the only thing I needed to strive for. The American dream is accessible to only those with high aspirations and reaches the perfection that all of us strive for. however, I believe that perfection is subjective and different for everyone. Society tries to objectify this idea of perfection so that everyone can have a simple explanation for whats perfect and whats failure. A’s are good B’s are bad; so simple even a caveman can get it. But we’re not cavemen. I’d like to think that we evolved far enough to know that we shouldn’t quantify success. Enough of my rambling, great article and really really well written. Hope to read your further works.

  3. Sang Hyun Cho

    Right on my brother/sister (I have no idea who wrote this) this needs to be shared/re tweeted/liked all over social media. Since I was little I had the idea that perfection was the only thing I needed to strive for. The American dream is accessible to only those with high aspirations and reaches the perfection that all of us strive for. however, I believe that perfection is subjective and different for everyone. Society tries to objectify this idea of perfection so that everyone can have a simple explanation for whats perfect and whats failure. A’s are good B’s are bad; so simple even a caveman can get it. But we’re not cavemen. I’d like to think that we evolved far enough to know that we shouldn’t quantify success. Enough of my rambling, great article and really really well written. Hope to read your further works.

  4. Sang Hyun Cho

    Right on my brother/sister (I have no idea who wrote this) this needs to be shared/re tweeted/liked all over social media. Since I was little I had the idea that perfection was the only thing I needed to strive for. The American dream is accessible to only those with high aspirations and reaches the perfection that all of us strive for. however, I believe that perfection is subjective and different for everyone. Society tries to objectify this idea of perfection so that everyone can have a simple explanation for whats perfect and whats failure. A’s are good B’s are bad; so simple even a caveman can get it. But we’re not cavemen. I’d like to think that we evolved far enough to know that we shouldn’t quantify success. Enough of my rambling, great article and really really well written. Hope to read your further works.

  5. Jessica Nicole Greenhut

    I completely agree with you. I have always been grade obsessive, to the point where it wasn’t about learning the information and acquiring knowledge as much as it was about the letter grade. College has definitely helped me realize that it is important to comprehend what I am doing because it is necessary for success in the real world. Grades cause a lot of stress and it is unnecessary stress when it gets to a point of being excessive. Thanks for the great post!

  6. Sang Hyun Cho

    Right on my brother/sister (I have no idea who wrote this) this needs to be shared/re tweeted/liked all over social media. Since I was little I had the idea that perfection was the only thing I needed to strive for. The American dream is accessible to only those with high aspirations and reaches the perfection that all of us strive for. however, I believe that perfection is subjective and different for everyone. Society tries to objectify this idea of perfection so that everyone can have a simple explanation for whats perfect and whats failure. A’s are good B’s are bad; so simple even a caveman can get it. But we’re not cavemen. I’d like to think that we evolved far enough to know that we shouldn’t quantify success. Enough of my rambling, great article and really really well written. Hope to read your further works.

  7. Sang Hyun Cho

    Right on my brother/sister (I have no idea who wrote this) this needs to be shared/re tweeted/liked all over social media. Since I was little I had the idea that perfection was the only thing I needed to strive for. The American dream is accessible to only those with high aspirations and reaches the perfection that all of us strive for. however, I believe that perfection is subjective and different for everyone. Society tries to objectify this idea of perfection so that everyone can have a simple explanation for whats perfect and whats failure. A’s are good B’s are bad; so simple even a caveman can get it. But we’re not cavemen. I’d like to think that we evolved far enough to know that we shouldn’t quantify success. Enough of my rambling, great article and really really well written. Hope to read your further works.

  8. Connor Ethan Ogden

    I completely agree with what you are saying here. The apparent contradiction between “learning from failure”, and “perfection within the classroom” creates so much unneeded stress in students. Stress has many negative effects and by creating an environment of stress, we are subjecting youth to these effects. I think something needs to be done within the grading system, yet at the same time I cant imagine what could be done other than to create an absolute financial and social utopia which will never happen. I guess we need to work at reducing the stress rather than eliminating it all together.

  9. Connor Ethan Ogden

    I completely agree with what you are saying here. The apparent contradiction between “learning from failure”, and “perfection within the classroom” creates so much unneeded stress in students. Stress has many negative effects and by creating an environment of stress, we are subjecting youth to these effects. I think something needs to be done within the grading system, yet at the same time I cant imagine what could be done other than to create an absolute financial and social utopia which will never happen. I guess we need to work at reducing the stress rather than eliminating it all together.

  10. Lauren Ann Heess

    I really enjoyed your post, because I agree that this is a huge issue in the education system. I was similar to how you were in high school, All I cared about was getting perfect grades, so I would just learn the material well enough to ensure I’d get an A, but never think about it on a deeper level. On the other hand, when I knew an assignment wasn’t going to be graded, I would actually think about and enjoy the information being taught to me, which is how education should be. I’m not sure if this system will ever change, because most of society associates doing well in school with success. However, maybe someday extracurriculars or involvement will be just as important as grades, which could take some of the pressure off academics.

  11. Lauren Ann Heess

    I really enjoyed your post, because I agree that this is a huge issue in the education system. I was similar to how you were in high school, All I cared about was getting perfect grades, so I would just learn the material well enough to ensure I’d get an A, but never think about it on a deeper level. On the other hand, when I knew an assignment wasn’t going to be graded, I would actually think about and enjoy the information being taught to me, which is how education should be. I’m not sure if this system will ever change, because most of society associates doing well in school with success. However, maybe someday extracurriculars or involvement will be just as important as grades, which could take some of the pressure off academics.

  12. Stephen B Caruso

    I completely can relate to this article as I too was obsessed with grades in high school which led to lots of constant stress. I agree that this is definitely a very broad issue across school systems that isn’t taken seriously. Adults and administrators, as well as some teachers, do not notice the stress on our mental health that is only briefly satisfied, until the next assignment. Society blames the student when they should be looking more into how school systems currently run. The content students learn should be valued more than the letter grades. Also, nice job with the layout of your post I liked how you asked a question and then answered it with every change in topic and it was very easy to follow.

  13. Isabel Linares-Martin

    I totally agree with this topic! I myself, guilty as charged, have grade obsession. Students all around the world are more worried about the actual grades than they are about learning information. I do agree students and parents should be aware of this, but I find it really hard to resolve this issue. Unfortunately, colleges evaluate our high school grades to determine our eligibility, and employers do the same when we apply for jobs. Grades are basically the only way for colleges and employers to know if you are smart, hard-working, and worthy of attending the school or working with the company. Without grades, it would be almost impossible to distinguish each person’s abilities. Grades can’t disappear and because of this I feel that this is something that is always going to happen and can’t be fixed.

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