During the break, Graduate School of Public Policy of Nazarbayev University announced elective courses open to all graduate students for the spring semester. One of the courses offered was International Financial Policy which got me intrigued by its content. It did not take long before I decided to add the course to my schedule.
Like many students at the beginning of the semester, I shared my plans with friends and asked them to join me. However, instead of an answer, I received another question in response: “Do you really like to take a risk and choose the course in an area that is not your strong suit? The course that is not part of your graduation requirements, but still will count toward your degree?”. And this caused me to question my ambitions and eventually, hold me back from taking the course. But it was not because I was afraid of challenging myself to learn new things, I was simply conscious about my grades and prized them over education.
Grades are the most common example of an external or extrinsic motivation through which we can leverage learning. Many believe that grades can act as incentives to make students work harder and learn more, and harder the grading system is, the better the results are. But does this type of incentive motivate students to really learn more?
While I acknowledge that grades do serve essential functions as to evaluate student learning and performance, the grade-focused system can have negative effects on students’ motivation. Students can easily miss the point of education in the pursuit of desirable grades. This is because education is often cited as the key to “success” and “bright future”. With this perception of the importance of education, students often get obsessed with their grades, taking them as inherent values that indicate their ability, intelligence or even self-worth. As a consequence of being wrapped up in their grades, they may afterwards suffer from grade anxiety disorders and high academic stress. And sometimes, to take some pressure off themselves, students may be even tempted to cheat, as reported by Barbara Palmer.
Students can also be encouraged to select the easiest courses, the courses they are already highly proficient in or the ones with “kind-grader” professors- not the best criteria for judicious selection of courses, one might argue. But this was exactly what I did. I did not want to risk my grade point average (GPA) by taking that tough finance course. I was afraid of getting a grade that I would not be able to accept.
So, do grades motivate students to learn? I would argue that the answer is yes. But this motivation can diminish the amount of the material you learn. Most students will learn material only over which they are then tested. They will choose the courses where the probability of getting good grades is high. While this is rarely the intention of anyone, this external motivation imbues students with the wrong motives for study.
To sum it up, grades have their place as a way of measuring student achievement. They are an essential part of education, but what they are not necessary part of is one’s self-worth. And even if there is a social pressure on you from your parents, teachers, do not ever make my mistake and place so much emphasis on grades. Instead think about the benefits (may be not always tangible, but valuable) you might get out of education.
Do good grades matter to you? Do they motivate you? Have you ever been obsessed with your grades? Feel free to share your experience in the comment section below!
Photo credits to http://features.columbiaspectator.com/eye/2016/04/13/what-do-we-do-when-we-talk-about-grades/