Remembering Why Perfect Grades Aren’t Everything

At the end of last year, thousands of year 12 graduates received their final grades.

And while the emotional responses around the country likely ranged from devastation to euphoria…

Whichever side of the spectrum a graduate might fall on, it’s still important to remember:

Grades AREN’T everything!

For those who did well, it’s a great accomplishment that will serve as a head-start for their futures.

And for those who didn’t, it’s an opportunity to look at what they can learn from this experience.

But for both camps, accepting that marks are not the be all and end all of education is an important lesson going forward.

And the best thing parents can do for current students is to show them why…

Because grades aren’t a reflection of intelligence or ability. 

They are a reflection of hard work.

2017 VCE student Daniel Hu received an ATAR of 99.85…

Yet he insists this grade did not come easily.

‘One important lesson I learnt through these 13 years of schooling is that success doesn’t necessarily belong to those who are naturally talented, or those from wealthy family backgrounds. It belongs to those who work hard.’

‘I took it upon myself to study as hard as possible for the HSC… I worked assiduously, trying to maximise my potential in every subject. I am not an intelligent kid. In terms of intelligence, I’m probably below average. Yet, that never fazed me.’

While the exact definition of ‘hard work’ will vary for every student — some may excel in particular areas and struggle with others — the rewards from effort and diligence are universal.

Aspiring for perfect grades is bad for our mental health. 

A US study found that 80 per cent of surveyed students based their sense of self-worth on their grades.

The lower their grades, the lower their self esteem.

And when grading systems are dependent on so many variables, it’s a very precarious and dangerous measure of value.

One of the largest studies into students’ mental health in Australia revealed that 70 per cent of respondents rated their health as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’. 

79 per cent of students suffered from anxiety, 75.8 per cent suffered from low moods, and 59.2 per cent experienced feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness.

And even if school is the sole cause poor mental health for some students…

These challenges inevitably infiltrate other areas of young people’s lives:

Including their social life, home life, physical health and future career or study prospects.


Anxiety about grades and achievement can actually impede performance. 

While some stress is normal, especially around exam time, and can help to motivate kids to study…

Excessive worry and perceived pressure has a negative effect on performance.

In the aforementioned study, 82.1 per cent of students had suffered from lack of energy and motivation…

55 per cent had trouble sleeping…

And 52.7 per cent had experienced panic.

Lack of sleep is detrimental to self-regulation, which is our ability to control emotions, cognitive functions and behaviour.

Therefore making sleepy folk more likely to experience anxiety, and less likely to be able to concentrate and study.

Anxiety itself affects working memory — what we need to retain information in exam situations….

It leads to avoidance, of school, homework and study…

And it makes thought processing less efficient.

So it’s clear that by putting too much pressure on the future outcomes of study, we’re getting in the way of the process of learning.

And on that note…

Grades aren’t the point of school. 

Learning is!

Research shows that prioritising good grades over anything else limits our ability to learn.

It discourages academic risk-taking, creativity and engagement…

Crucial elements of a productive, rewarding and ultimately successful school experience.

As a result, students can lose their desire to learn…

And instead, their motivation becomes solely to get through the next assignment or the next test.

This attitude leads to ‘cramming’ and unhealthy study and life habits…

Causing stress and anxiety, negatively impacting sleep, and reducing engagement and information retention with study materials.

And that’s why…

Prioritising learning over grades is the key to success. 

When students love to learn, they’re inherently motivated to study and engage with what they’re learning.

They work hard, and understand the value of diligence, persistence and commitment to what they’re learning.

And in the face of failures or disappointments, they’re resilient...

They take these setbacks as an opportunity for further learning and growth.

While chasing good grades is a finite endeavour (it ends when the results come in)…

A love of learning can — and usually does — last a lifetime.

And the benefits of a love of learning continue into adulthood, in university, work, social and home life.

That’s why motivation — not innate ability — is the key to success.

So help your kids thrive in school by showing them that grades aren’t everything.

That learning is a privilege, and one that we should value and enjoy.

That being challenged is one of the best ways to learn.

And that the benefits of loving learning will last far longer than any grade.

Parents can do this by:

Promoting a love of learning from a young age, and outside of the school setting.

Encouraging students to pursuing their interests and passions, rather than choosing subjects that they’re naturally good at.

Taking the pressure off, but holding high expectations to support their motivation and self-esteem.

And by focussing on finding the value in the process, rather than the outcome, of all their children’s endeavours.

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