The Power Struggle With Academic Pressure

Lovleen Sahota, Co-Editor in Chief/Editorial Editor

Ever since many of us were little, we’ve been acquainted with phrases such as, “Get good grades and do your best!” Academic validation is exactly this, students want to be praised for their achievements and success. It brings a warm feeling of pride when someone, especially teachers and guardians, acknowledges a student’s remarkable performance in school. However, with such validation, it is quite simple that we feel that we must prioritize academic achievement over everything else—mental health, maintaining a positive relationship with peers and family, creative self-expression, and downtime to recharge—it puts a toll on ourselves as an individual.
While a variety of students are gifted academically, the constant amount of stress they put themselves under hinders their ability to be fully successful. Not all students are strong test takers, which makes up a significant percentage of the current grading system, and affects the overall grade for those who continuously do poorly on these kinds of assessments. Students also have other responsibilities such as sports, jobs or helping around the house, which adds more stress and interferes with reaching the success they crave in academics.
Furthermore, the pressure and realities of college applications stem partially from academic validation. Teenagers are put through a grueling process to advance their academic success and start building a career early on, which simultaneously adds more stress to their everyday lives.
Despite all of the stress, everyone is different when it comes to academics. The need to feel validated academically can give an individual motivation to put the effort in their schoolwork. Academic validation gives students the boost of self-worth and reassurance they look for in life
It’s evident that academic validation and letter grades play hand in hand with one another. The current grading system lets students know how they’re doing, and if they can see how they’re doing they can know what they need to do better and work on improving. The letter grade also easily helps parents know how their child is doing, as they are accustomed to this grading system.
In many areas, grades have been made to matter for a variety of reasons. In many instances, students consider grades to be a reflection of their intelligence. Parents and admission committees look to grades to judge if a student is performing at their “expected” level. But for many, they find themselves seeing the letter grades being tied to their self-worth. Having your overall worth depend on a single letter mark isn’t an accurate portrayal of your ‘intelligence.’ Grades have subjectivity in action. Tests are subjective in the way they ask questions, the questions they ask, the depth of knowledge they require, and the selection of the “right” answer. Although this holds less validity in math and science where answers are more defined and direct, the subjectivity of grading is most apparent in subjects like English. To exemplify, if a teacher creates a rubric to score a writing assignment with letter grades, bias [whether conscious or unconscious about it] could be involved. Although the letter grade is standardized and rehearsed, the grading practices may not be. This means that what one teacher would score as an A, another could consider a B, depending on the parameters of their grading principles and their perception and knowledge on what colleges target to be a “good” essay. Therefore, tolling your mental health even more. What was considered an “unique” essay in your English class last year, may just be a “basic” essay in your current English class. And in result, you get a “B” instead of an “A”, further confusing your academic ability and self worth, in all.
Furthermore, the grading system does NOT accurately reflect what a student is learning. There’s no explanation for what got a student to the grade they achieved. Some may be learning more than others, but aren’t able to apply their knowledge well to the task at hand. This leans towards a testing culture rather than a learning culture. Many students, in effect, will then ask the question, “Will this be on the Quiz/Test?” when learning a new concept, rather than spending their energy to absorb and relish the material fully.
Competitiveness has been rooted in human beings for quite some time now. And that competitiveness has been translated into the educational system through the idea of ranks. As I was a little fifth grader, I clenched onto a desire-as tight as a mother protects her son from the vices of the world-that I would be within the top 30 high-ranked students. But, as I continue my senior year in high school, I can’t help but think, is it “worth” it? Being able to be within the Top 50 is a “wonderful” thing but, where does it take you? You remain in the same place as to wonder whether all the sleepless nights, the breakdowns, the stress acne pimples, were “worth” it. Ranks can further penetrate one’s ego or lower one’s self-esteem. How are students supposed to stay hooked or relish learning in the upcoming years if the academic pressure causes them to falter? How are we supposed to have the motivation to go to college if we’re mentally drained from maintaining our grades?
Grades have been rooted and we students have been conditioned to believe that A’s or grades define our overall character. Although the competition and “A’s” give a taste of a “win” to one person, it does not go without its major impact on one’s mind. The idea that my letter grade enables me and others to solely identify and define my most inner intellectual “smartness” is quite incomprehensible to me, therefore its heavy (and unnecessary) mental impact.