Grades are everywhere. Everyone knows them. Exams are experienced by many, ranging from the grade-one in piano to fulfilling the bronze level at the local swimming pool. Entry exams into grammar schools, GCSEs and A-Levels are present in many British student’s lives. For the majority, it dominates the first two decades of our life yet can demand the same workload of a full-time, professional adult.

But how important are grades?

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Grades are obviously important. They get us from point A to B. In some cases, you really need them. On one hand, grades show our devotion and dedication to what we wish to pursue. They show a student’s capability to think independently and critically. But they also serve to separate the minority from the majority, to eradicate the undesirables without engaging with human contact. Grades, in other words, are a filing system.

This system doesn’t work for some. It seems reasonable to teach young people that grades embody qualities of life, such as being organized, developing skills for potential jobs and achieving success under pressure. Exams and grading start between the ages 11-18, where education and university applications are the end-goal. This is emphasized for seven years.  

However, what if students don’t achieve the desired grade and embody the ‘academic success’? Some feel obliged to apply to university, for the sake of conforming to norms and not appearing as a failure to the system from which they had been raised. My secondary school, for example, never mentioned the importance of internships, apprenticeships or job opportunities in our local area. Education and grades were the only options. It is important to highlight that for those involved in school careers, it’s just a job. Teachers naturally want you to stress and achieve the best grades, not only for your sake but for the school’s reputation and self-gain.

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Rightly so, academia shouldn’t define our lives. Life skills can come from socializing and networking. Careers can be explored in areas such as manual labour, jobs in the creative industry and hospitality, careers necessary to maintain everyday life. While we stress about grades and academic achievements we forget to explore personal interests and hobbies which equally add to our personal growth and learning. For example, team sports add to mental and physical well being and teamwork, while charity work adds to improving morals and ethical codes.

It is also important to highlight that most students associate good grades with good careers. Undoubtedly many careers require minimum grades especially in areas of science, mathematics and medicine. Notice, however, that many job applications simply require commitment, passion and interest. Most careers involve socialising and networking, so again it emphasises personal growth and knowing how to approach people rather than being academic.

While an exam lasts an hour, your personal wellbeing affects the rest of your life. Prioritise that. 

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