Dear Students, Grades are Just a Number

Image Credit: Courtesy AUS

By Zeina Saleh

At an early age, an infatuation on tracking our intelligence using a regulated grading scale is embedded in us. As we grow older, many of us accept that this is the only indication of what we can achieve. Such beliefs have become a glaring issue throughout education systems as grades do not prove an individual’s level of intelligence.

Grades are a numeric value that determines how well we do on assignments, exams, or projects. Whereas intelligence refers to our ability to learn, understand, and apply knowledge and skills. We may often hear the phrase “grades do not define you,” and as a matter of fact, that is true. Yet, this does not imply that scores do not matter, and we should not try to excel academically. It merely suggests that grades are not as useful if we are trying to judge something as compelling as a person’s intelligence. Numeric academic performance scales fail to consider qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional, and political intelligence. Depending on hypothetical metrics to determine our strengths could lead us to miss out on developing the right ones.

Someone who is good at math does not necessarily have the skills and determination to run a business and become a successful entrepreneur. Once we identify what we are passionate about and work hard to achieve our goals, we will be unstoppable. Career success is rarely about finding the right answer to a problem; it is more about discovering the right problem to solve. In a 1962 study, a team of psychologists followed and compared the most creative architects in the United States with their technically skilled but less innovative peers. The results revealed that in college, the creative architects earned about a B grade average. The study also indicated the students could turn in an A performance in courses requiring practical work that caught their interest. But, lower grades were attained in courses that failed to spark their imagination.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and maybe some of us did not overcome those imperfections when we were taking tests. But, what if we have improved ourselves now? In another study, Education Researcher Karen Arnold monitored 81 high school valedictorians and their lives for 14 years after graduation. She found that although those students usually had successful careers, they rarely reached the upper echelons. Valedictorians typically tend to settle into the system rather than excel, proving that even those with the highest grades have weaknesses.

Recruiters should make it clear that they value skills over grade point averages. Employers are slowly starting to adopt this ideology. In a study using data from 548 job postings in a college recruitment program, the relationship between GPA and recruiters’ initial screening decisions indicated that nearly 15 percent of recruiters actively deferred selecting students with higher grades. More than 40 percent of employers put no weight on academic performance in the first screenings.

Grades are important, and they do matter. Colleges, scholarship organizations, and some employers will look at academic performance. Yet, as individuals, we have an incredible variety of different strengths and talents. The abilities generally measured by the grading system only cover a set range of them. We should take our grades and the feedback, reflect on them, and use them as motivation to better ourselves and our performance.