Why is Grade Obsession Dangerous?

I hate it when people ask me, “What is your GPA?”. We all know why it exists, but GPA is arguably one of the most destructive elements in education. We have become so obsessed with getting good grades that we’ve completely lost touch with learning for learning’s sake.

The grade point average (GPA) is considered so important to many students because of the “finality” in its value. It is the average grade of all the subjects, the grade that many students believe university administrations only look at. The reason why IB students are especially so worked up by it is simply because they fear the simple number’s judgment, they fear that the number will decide the final destination to their future, which is a misconception that many have adopted over time.

Many people measure success by their grades, but in order to achieve the perfect 7.0 GPA, you have to reach top marks on all your subjects. UNIS wants to cultivate a generation of learners who embrace the qualities of thinking independently, creatively, and being a risk-taker, but the GPA system encourages the opposite.

Studying by Moyan Brenn – Creative Commons

Students are forced into a mold that encourages them to be deferential and risk-averse. Although grades do provide a desirable incentive to perform better, they restrict student learning in that many feels discouraged when they get low marks. In addition to stress, GPA obsession restrains creativity. We constantly think about what the rubrics say, what the teacher wants, and we always have a constant fear that our work does not meet the grade boundaries set. By limiting the domain of our research, we restrict our own learning by inhibiting our thought process and natural exploration of a topic.

Creative and open-minded people are great at asking questions, but the GPA recognizes those who can answer other people’s questions. Real life awards people who think in ways that computers cannot, but the GPA encourages people to grind away at mental tasks without any passion. Because of this lack of passion, students are working for the sake of scoring high grades, and not out of passion for learning.  

Dr Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania is the researcher most associated with the study and popularization of grit. She describes grit as persevering through unpleasantness. She writes about students who burn the midnight oil crunching through homework and athletes capable of practicing hours on end, yet she also notes that grit is affected more through moral purpose. More importantly, her studies show that the quality of our longing matters – essentially, our passion!

The GPA mentality is based on the assumption that we are thinking creatures. This is partially true, we do need to be taught discipline so that we can acquire knowledge, but as Professor James K.A. Smith notes in his book, You Are What You Love, we as humans are defined by what we desire, not what we know. Our goals, dreams and passions are what motivate us the most.

It’s very easy to criticize our culture’s emphasis on grades, but putting this into a broader perspective, our views towards the GPA is also influenced by modern society’s emphasis on competition in the workplace, and the importance of being the best. I myself have fallen into the trap of being a grade-obsessed zombie. Despite my personal struggles, I’m doing my best to fight the grade-obsessed monster to learn and fully enjoy my classes. While I fully agree that it is important to maintain a high GPA throughout high school, it is much more important to learn from all my classes.

As students, we should shift the focus from obtaining a 7 to taking advantage of the amazing academic atmosphere that UNIS has to offer. We should embrace our passions and focus on what matters to us. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should neglect all other subjects, just take into account the amount of time you spend in each area, and balance it out! In the process of learning for the sake of learning, you might actually score that 7 you’ve always wanted, and you would also attain knowledge that will stick with you well after your final IB exam.