What marks do I need to get into [insert school]? What are my chances of getting into engineering if I don’t get 90s in science? Will I get a higher mark in English at night school or day school?
I am a Grade 12 high school teacher. When it comes to academics and learning, most of my conversations with my students revolve only around “the mark.” And rightly so. The public education system is built around the assessment of your learning by assigning a final grade point average. Your entire academic career as a student ends with a single grade average, like a Hunger Games tribute training score.
According to this current model of learning, the higher the mark the more qualified you are to enter Post-Secondary studies. And so, in order to improve your chances of getting into the school and program you want, you focus your energy and efforts on getting a higher mark.
In my opinion, the obsession with getting high marks is an unbalanced approach to academics. I am concerned that this approach is contributing to some disturbing trends I see in the actions and habits of my students: habitual all-nighters, skipping classes, bargaining for marks, and cheating.
I have also witnessed an increase in the number of my students who struggle with mental health: anxiety, depression, and self-harm.
Marks don’t measure the process, the series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. Two students can have the same mark, but the process they took to get that mark is remarkably different.
Understanding a subject may have come easier for one, but for the other student it may have required a sacrifice of time. It may have even required a smart choice to ask for help or even choosing to get a tutor. Knowing when and having the courage to make sacrifices and smart choices are important learning skills that marks don’t measure, but are invaluable for your future.
Access to a high school education with the further opportunity to pursue post-secondary education is a luxury. The 2017 Social Progress Index has Canada ranked 2nd (of 128 countries) with respect to access to advanced education.
Your access to education is a rare opportunity. It isn’t guaranteed everywhere around the world. I can understand your disappointment if you didn’t get the marks that you were hoping for to get into “that” school. But pause for a moment. Consider the fact that you have the option to pursue post-secondary education at all.
All too often we hear of public figures in government, business, entertainment, and sports who have fallen out of public favour due to a poor moral decision they made, bringing their character and their position into question.
Their high marks may have gotten them into that position, but it was their lack of character that disqualified them. Often times we fail to see that development of our character is just as critical for our career success. Skills can be learned at various stages of life, but it’s your character that you take with you into every stage and facet of life.
Your character is often most revealed through your interpersonal relationships. How do you treat your teachers, peers, and family? Are you trustworthy? Even the corporate world is interested in your character. When you apply for a job, employers will most definitely ask for character references.
Why are you so obsessed with getting high marks? You feel the pressure to get high marks because you think they are the single most influential factor to determining the quality of your future career opportunities.
It’s understandable. You hope for a future where you can do meaningful and rewarding work. But if you think your opportunities are limited only to your marks you will feel chained by them. Your sense of hope rises and falls as your marks fluctuate.
In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Ephesus, Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
Nowhere in this promise of good work does he mention the prerequisites of high marks or achievement. God doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get high marks, get a high paying job, and be financially wealthy, but God has prepared good works for you to do in advance. This is the promise that you can put your hope in.
Getting high marks is not the only hope you have for a good future. Learn to grow the more intangible parts in your process of learning. Treasure the gift of education. Strengthen your character. Discover that your hopes for the future don’t depend on you, but Jesus.
Your life is about so much more than getting high marks.
Read more about NEXT, Power to Change’s initiative to help Grade 12s connect to a faith based community in college or university.