Stress and Marks

Stress and Marks

This blog is based on a couple of questions I have received lately.

How can I stop stressing about exam results day?

Why are my marks never good enough for myself? I often get A’s and B’s but I’m never satisfied.

There are many ways to address these two questions separately; however, these questions are closely related.  The first question isn’t about doing the exam, but the results which is the same thing as saying that they are stressing about the marks. 

First of all, marks are not the be-all and end-all of learning. They give a snapshot into your ability to recall information.  Sometimes, they are a look at how well you can synthesize material and use it in a variety of ways. In a sense, grades are proof that you have learned something throughout the course. 

Some people who want to do away with grades and marks altogether.  I don’t know if that is such a great idea. There needs to be some way of measuring one’s achievements, and marks can be an excellent way to do so.  Getting good grades should make you feel motivated and encouraged to keep going.  Weaker marks can be deflating for sure; however, with the right support and education, they should alert you to an issue and provide you with some insight into where you need to focus.

Of course, a simple mark or grade does not always do this.  I am often annoyed when teachers provide a letter or number grade on a student’s essay with no comments at all. This is not helpful. Still, something is better than nothing.

Having said this, I don’t think that a grade should be the ultimate goal. Your real achievement is in learning the material and gaining knowledge that you did not have before.

Many very successful people including authors, inventors, and entrepreneurs have had a lot of setbacks and outright failures before they succeeded.

Here are several quotations from some very successful people.

Winston Churchill: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Maya

Maya Angelou: “There is no failure as long as you learn from your experience, continue to work, and continue to press on for success.”

Thomas Edison: “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10 000 ways that won’t work.”

Albert Einstein: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

Bill Gates: “When you are failing, you are forced to be creative, to dig deep and think, night and day.”

I am sure that you see the message that threads through all of these thoughts. You need to rethink failure.  It is not the end.  In fact, it is often the beginning of something amazing!

For over twenty-five years now, I have been tutoring students to think differently about learning.  Stop stressing or even thinking most of the time about the marks and focus on the material.  Get excited that you are going to learn something new.  Will you learn it perfectly? No.  (There is no such thing as perfection.)

Use the marks and comments to help you learn more.  If you have 95%, where did the other 5% go?  If you have 45%, what can you do to get above that 50% mark?

Start where you are and begin to move forward, no matter what. Do not give up!

Focus I understand, of course, that the grades often let you move into a more academic stream or get into the college of your choice, and so on.  Still, if you stress and worry about that number (or letter grade), all your energy is being wasted.

Instead, spend your energy on improving your study skills and strategies and spending lots of time with the course.  The grades will follow if you learn the material!

More directly to the first question above, once you have written the exam, there is nothing you can do about it.  The grade will be the grade.  If you do well, congratulations.  If you do not, then the effort begins again. 

When I did my university courses, I almost always stopped studying a day or two before the exam.  Oh, I should mention that I started studying for the final exam on the first day of class – that helps.  I tend to be a stressful person by nature, so I needed to find a way to reduce the stress.  By stopping a day or two ahead of the exam, I was relaxed going in.  I told myself that I have done all the work throughout the course.  I have done my cycled review of notes. I have gone back over the more challenging sections, and so on.  In other words, I have done all I could possibly do, and I could not do more.  The exams were much less stressful once I started this method.  After an exam, I worried very little.  It was now out of my hands. Once the exam is handed in, I can’t change the grade this time around.

(I feel the same way when I get on an airplane.  I am stressed because of the crowds.  Did I remember everything? Do I have my passport? Is my ticket ready?  Once on the plane, total relaxation because the pilot is flying the plane.  It is out of my hands.  No worries!)


More directly to the second question, stop looking at the grades. They don’t even measure everything you know. Sometimes you will be rewarded when you shouldn’t and sometimes the grade is likely lower than it should be.  So what.  Did you learn the material? Are you pleased with gaining knowledge and being able to do things you couldn’t do before?

Keep moving forward. If your grade is very low and interferes with your progress, look into what you can do to improve it. Talk to the teacher or professor. Take another course.  Sometimes you can do an intermediate course to get you to the next level, for example. 

There are many things you can do to make change if that is necessary.  I

Also, it is good to have a little stress anyway because it will propel you to do more.  Just don’t panic.

Be happy with the learning process!

I know that it is not easy to change one’s thinking and worrying about grades; however, with some practice, you can do it. Begin by enjoying the courses and engaging yourself fully with the information they provide. 

If you want some help, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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