By Ravi Smith
On the first Monday of winter break, I felt excited as I logged onto Axess to check my course grades. That excitement soon turned into remorse as I realized I had bombed the final exam of PSYCH 1, and my grade was much lower than I had expected. I started to question my personal philosophy that learning should take all precedence over grades. In PSYCH 1, I felt like I had engaged deeply with the key ideas concepts that were important to me. Usually this passion could be spun into contributions to class discussions which were once enough to earn me a high grade, but this time all the loquacity in the world could not conceal my cardinal sin: I hadn’t read the textbook.
There are two measures success in a course: the knowledge and skills you acquire and the jumping you do through hoops to demonstrate you have that knowledge. Success in one area is is not always the cause of success in another. You can learn a lot, but you might not show it all on the assessments which matter. You might be able to figure out how to do well on tests, but you still might have a rote, superficial grasp of the material. When I arrived at Stanford I thought I no longer had to worry about grades. However, as I contracted the blight of pre-professionalism and turned my attention to what I’ll be doing this summer, I haven’t felt as confident in my disregard of grades.
I still believe that I am a free soul when it comes to school. If I had to choose between having a deep understanding of the material or having good grades, I would choose the former, and I think most Stanford students would. And yet, my own staunch belief in this platitude gave me the excuse to actively neglect the graded aspect of my education. For the psychology final, I could have tried to study the textbook in more detail, which would have had a higher marginal return on my grade. Instead, I shifted all my attention to preparing for the integrative essay that I thought would be more edifying.
I talked to my roommate about the conflicted feelings I had about my psych grade. He described how in high school his pursuit of grades was mainly egotistical, but in college good grades allow him a wide variety of options to find his future passion. Decent grades in college can provide further opportunities to learn, whether they be internships, jobs or more school. Jumping through academic hoops is beneficial even to somebody who values learning far more than evaluations. I realized my extremist philosophy of grades had neglected these benefits, and I accepted that assessments deserved at least some respect.
Maybe I will read the textbook this quarter.
Contact Ravi Smith at ravi22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.