The line between grade grubbing and being studious
By Gena Mangiaratti
It seems most students can at least recall a point in their education when the grade, not the knowledge, seemed to be their main goal.
How much we concern ourselves with a grade system often relates to where we see ourselves going in the future. Students whose career aspirations require them to attend graduate school seem to face the most pressure. A 2006 article in The Washington Post argues we should “Stop Denigrating Grade-Grubbers,” because, as writers Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman elaborate, “…let’s face it, grades are the currency of college. They’re the money; they’re what counts. No one should feel apologetic about wanting to get good grades.” But is the grade always worth the stress?
Ithaca College professor Jack Powers has found that every time a test is administered, there are students who appear to be overly fixated on the number
grade. He recalled an incident where a student, upon receiving a 99 percent on an exam, fought for the last point. “But you can’t get higher than an A,” Powers tried to reason. “If I could,” he said, “I would eliminate grades. I just think sometimes they inhibit the learning.”
To some students, the point system can be a distraction. Murray Leaf, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, told The Dallas Morning News that students rarely look at his comments on their research papers if they are already satisfied with the grade on them. And when he receives e-mails from these students, it’s rarely about anthropology, but rather in concern with how they can improve their grades in his class.
Other college students stress about grades because they feel they are entitled to an A for meeting the bare requirements. An English professor at the University of Maryland appears to struggle with what grade inflation has led his students to expect. “I tell my classes that if they just do what they are supposed to do and meet the standard requirements, that they will earn a C,” Professor Marshall Grossman told The New York Times. “That is the default grade. [But] they see the default grade as an A.”
Stressing about grades and being concerned are two different things, though. “I’m not as happy with a B as opposed to an A,” said Dennis Feliciano, a junior biochemistry major at IC, “but at the same time, I realize that it’s not as easy to get an A in harder classes.” The students in his classes seem to share this perspective, and they do not become competitive about their grades.
Like Feliciano, some students are able to find the balance; viewing grades not as “currency,” but attempting to understand how grades correlate to the quality of their work. And there are times when a grade can be justly modified. IC education professor Jeff Claus recalls a student who faced an initial struggle with an assignment and asked him for help. Claus worked closely with the student until he began to progress formidably.
When Claus handed back the assignment, the student was disappointed with the A- he received—not because he felt he needed to raise his grade in the class, but because he believed the quality of his work deserved a higher grade. He explained this to Claus, who looked over the paper again and realized the writing was better than he thought. Claus raised the student’s grade.
Feliciano says efficient time-keeping is the key to maintaining his grades. He structures his days around rigorous classes, studying and keeping physically fit. His studying, usually three to five hours each day in the library, consists mostly of reviewing the material many times over and often completing practice problems when math is involved. A grade of C to him would be a cause for concern and may mean that he is not putting enough time into a particular subject. Feliciano acknowledges that grades are important to him, but he tries to keep them in perspective.
Grades may just be the currency of college, but it seems to be most useful when percentage points and letter grades are viewed not as “the money” or as badges of honor, but as means for reflection that signal when, if necessary, students should modify their approach in a way that allows the most learning to take place.
Gena Mangiaratti is a freshman journalism major who’s cool with a B but really wants an A, okay? E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.