Filling in the correct bubbles, reaching that 2,000 word count and meeting graduation requirements seems to be the bulk of our focus as college students. Exam after exam, paper after paper, exhaustion kicks in just weeks into the semester. At what point did school become solely about achieving that desired ‘A’? Students shift their focus from genuine interest in a subject to making sure their name is printed in that Dean’s List in the local paper. At the end of a class, each student earns a letter grade. I would argue that this grade is not always a reflection of that student’s intellect and effort in the class. 

Philip Bergeron / Graphic Design Editor

Philip Bergeron / Graphic Design Editor

Author of the book “The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms” and “Tougher Standard’s” Alfie Kohn talks extensively about the negative impact grades have on students. “First, their [students] interest in the learning itself is diminished. Second, they come to prefer easier tasks — not because they’re lazy, but because they’re rational. After all, if the point is to get an A, your odds are better if you avoid taking intellectual risks. Third, students tend to think in a more superficial fashion — and to forget what they learned more quickly — when grades are involved,” Kohn said. Kohn hits the nail on the head here. As a student approaching my senior year in college, I can say with confidence that I have had just about every type of teacher that exists. Despite my many experiences with teachers and professors, I have always noted one commonality: the emphasis on grades. With that said, I fully understand that teachers and professors do not have the freedoms they might want in terms of how they conduct their classes. There are certain laws and regulations in place that prevent them from eliminating grades altogether. So, essentially, because of the way the system is run, we are stuck. Grades can vary in certain states of educational systems however the standard grading system in the U.S. ranges from an ‘A’ being exceptional/outstanding to an ‘F’ representing failure. I have always had a natural curiosity about how I would approach my education if grades were taken out of the picture. Some would argue that grades provide an incentive for students and this is certainly true. However, I would argue that when there is such a strong emphasis on achieving that desired ‘A’ I am more likely to play it safe and do what it takes to meet requirements to get that socially desirable grade, instead of just letting my natural curiosity take its own course.

When doing any assignment, students wonder in the back of their mind what grade they will receive when they hand in the assignment. Instead of being creative and taking educational risks, they are more likely to stick strictly to what the syllabus or what the instructions for the assignment demand. Students are then shaped by their teacher or professor’s own opinions and may change their work based off what they believe will impress the teacher the most. When grades hold as much weight as they do in terms of determining your overall academic success, they take away from the learning experience itself. Instead of just being excited to learn, especially at the college level, the concern of getting high grades precedes concerns about your growth as a person.

To hold each individual student to the same standard is damaging because we are all different people with different minds and learning abilities. We have different ways of understanding things, different ways of seeing the world. Instead of looking for the right answer students should be looking for answers that make the most personal sense to them. Obviously, this cannot be the case for every subject. Subjects that are more black and white, such as mathematics, do not have as much freedom when it comes to forming your own individualized answer. However, most other subjects do have this kind of freedom.

Schooling is a part of nearly all of our youth and even goes into adulthood for many of us as well. It is something that should serve as a tool to equip us with the necessary knowledge for success in our futures. It should also provide a foundation of basic knowledge that every person should have. I believe the heavy emphasis on grades takes away from the overall learning itself, the motive is not about absorbing as much as possible but absorbing the knowledge in the way that will eventually get you to that A.


Sabrina Lapointe can be contacted at

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