Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Grade-Conscious By Sheila Grace Tan

No other feeling can compare with the agitation one feels in seeing the teacher enter the classroom holding a pile of brown papers—well, for the grade-conscious, at least. Usually, teachers give them out one by one. After the teacher calls the student’s name out loud, the student stands up. Thoughts immediately rush to his head—“Did I pass?” or “I hope I got at least a 90!” A stream of seemingly endless questions goes through his mind until the crucial moment when the student gets the paper and takes a peek at the grade—the number that signifies a whole night’s hard work, a tutor’s guidance, or a quick cramming session five minutes before the test. I could go on babbling about how students stress over tests, and now I wonder: are tests and grades all we really care about? It seems like many of us, I myself included, are so preoccupied with tests. Aside from making friends, do we go to school mainly to ace tests, or get the grade good enough to pass, and call it a day?

I have to admit that there’s nothing quite like seeing a substantial grade and feeling a sense of fulfillment after spending one whole night studying, reviewing, and, more often than not, memorizing. Still, I can’t help stopping and thinking about what I have been doing for the past twelve years. Have I actually been learning in school? Or have I been just answering questions in tests, just filling in the blanks?

I always find myself getting stressed over a bad grade, ranting when I get a 99 for a careless mistake, and almost feeling depressed when I fail. Now that I think about it, why make a big fuss out of numbers? Why bother aiming for that elusive 100 and begging the teacher for “plus points” when one actually doesn’t learn anything?

Perhaps grades are like mirrors that reflect one’s diligence or even intelligence, but I don’t think they are enough to depict how much you’ve learned. A 100 can be the product of a night’s hard work, days of practice, the so-called chamba or luck for others, or the sheer genius of those lucky few. 80 plusses? Not enough for the overachievers but a true blessing for many. Meanwhile, a failing grade may seem like the end of the world for the grade-conscious, but now, I realize I should look at a failing grade as a lesson that will always make a mark on me. Failing should not be something that leads to despair and hopelessness but rather a stepping-stone to improvement. What’s wrong with getting a 60 plus when one can learn something from it? That failing grade can even push one to exert more effort and do better. At the end of the day, I think one learns more from mistakes than from accomplishments.

Yes, getting good grades and passing tests do give us a sense of fulfillment, but I believe that what’s more important is for the lessons we study to light a fire inside us, give us something to think about on our way home, and, even better, ignite our curiosity to learn more. Yes, getting good grades and passing quizzes are great, but seizing the perfect opportunity to acquire endless knowledge should be our reason for coming to school. That’s what school is for. That’s real education.

We squeal with delight upon knowing we get bonus points. We scramble and line up at the canteen to photocopy a test guide. Both are mere aids to pass tests. A student who receives a perfect score after memorizing words from a test guide has nothing to be proud of. A student who attains honors but cannot apply school-taught concepts in real life is hardly praiseworthy. We must look beyond test guides, beyond bonus points, beyond textbooks. We must not cease to remember that lessons are there not to be memorized and written blindly on an answer sheet. Again, getting good grades is nice. By simply memorizing words and hoping not to forget them when it’s time to take the test, however, we are ignoring the beauty that lies behind Chinese culture and history, the unique feeling of contentment we get from answering a tricky math question, and the wisdom we gain from reading stories with beautiful lessons.

Sometimes, we get so hung up on getting good grades and passing tests that we fail to see the beauty of knowledge and the real meaning of learning. As we get older, go through the stages of school, finish college, and get over those stressful grades, we must still have relentless passion for seeking knowledge and being curious about our world.

I think this is how we should look at tests and grades. Maybe it’s time to change our perspective and approach to getting an education. After all, a life spent learning is a life well-spent. Learning is better than studying. Listening and asking questions are better than plainly sitting in class and waiting for the bell to ring. Understanding is better than memorizing. Being inquisitive and imaginative are better than blindly saying yes to everything the teacher says. We now have a good reason to start looking at grades differently. So, the next time you get a hundred, ask yourself, “Did I actually learn something?” and make sure you really understood the lesson.

The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live. ~Mortimer Adler

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