Grades Obsession

I need to get out of this mindset where I think an A- is a bad grade.
I wasn’t like this before.
My first semester of college I got a mix of As and Bs and I felt quite good.
My second semester I got all As I was thrilled.
My third semester, again I got all As.
By my 4th semester I was thinking ‘wow It’d be neat if I kept this all As thing going, and again all As
Now it’s my 5th semester. It’s no longer just an neat thing, I feel I have to do it.

Right now my GPA is being pulled down by an A- (the Bs from that first semester transferred to my new school and don’t factor into GPA).
This pattern started because I was enjoying classes and putting a lot of time into them as a result. Now this pressure is destroying my ability to enjoy the learning.

I just want so badly to watch my GPA to creep up closer to a 4.0, undoing the damage of the A-. I want to discover if there’s a point where a 3.99999999 can be rounded up to a pretty 4.0. How many decimal places are needed?

I need to keep telling myself ‘You don’t have to go to an Ivy League school for grad school.’
I’m not even sure the particular Ivy league school I’m thinking of has the type of program I want.
I guess as long as I get into grad school it’s okay?
No. I need my little bit of elitism. As long as it’s not a state school (No. <3 you Emi. Do you even read this? We can go to state school together. Future Alumni of Generic State School ftw?)

I’ve had a series of academic disappointments this week. When school is your life that makes them bigger
-The student I tutor got a D+ on her test. Which makes me feel awful, since it’s my job to try to keep that from happening. We’re going over it tomorrow to see what happened. I feel really bad, especially because I though she had a good sense of the material.
-I didn’t get into a really interesting class I wanted to take.
-I got an A- on a paper. I realize that isn’t awful. I just can’t consider it good. I lost some points because I didn’t italicize the volume number in my APA citation. It’s worse when it’s something that preventable.
-I had two peer writing workshops that were useless. I’d been looking forward to them, because I’m excited about my paper and wanted feedback. I don’t feel like my classmates took it seriously. The only constructive criticism was spotting a few typos. Rip my paper to shreds please? I can handle it I promise. As long as it’s not a bad grade, I’ll find it helpful.

I hate that I’ve become one of ‘those people’. I wasn’t one of them in high school. They say if you graduate high school without doing drugs it’s unlikely you’ll start after. I guess the same doesn’t apply to being obsessed with grades.

6 thoughts on “Grades Obsession

  1. i totally got the same way in university. I never cared all that much about my grades in high school, but wound up with a 3.9 GPA for my BSW and let me tell you, I tried to get that .9 to round up, but only wound up at a .91

    Reply
  2. I was a perfectionist grade-seeker when at high school. Having been out of education for the last 5 years, I hadn’t given grades a thought – until I got feedback for a ‘personal development record’ thingy at work, (which is just a load of crap and doesn’t *really* matter) and I was totally GUTTED, ashamed and disappointed to find out I scored just averagely.

    Need to work on this acheivement thang too…

    Reply
  3. May I use this story for my speech, im using it for my introduction, since i like the last sentence ni which the drugs are obsessed to as much as grades are.

    Reply
  4. Crazy psych major, whoever you are, I am very glad you posted this. Please take a minute (or 20)
    to read my story… at the very least, it will make you feel way better about yourself.

    I have been grades obsessed since I was in middle school. I remember an eighth grade teacher of
    mine sending me to the nurse’s office after I broke out into tears and started hyperventilating
    because I forgot we were going to have a quiz that day and I hadn’t studied. Ah, good times.
    When I was in high school, the most important thing (no, the only important thing) to me was
    being valedictorian. I had extremely tough competition, though. Well, one extremely tough
    competitor =P. Her name was Nicole, and she had a 99.3 GPA (out of 100), so, naturally, I had to
    get almost all 100s to beat her. A 99 out of 100 was absolutely unacceptable because it dragged
    down my GPA.

    Wait, it gets worse. My high school didn’t weight grades based on the difficulty of the classes
    you were taking, and my parents insisted that I take all honors and AP courses so I would get into
    a good college =(. Boy, that led to a lot of fights! I didn’t care about getting into a good college
    and getting a good job. I just wanted not good, but PERFECT grades. Before high school, I was
    involved in high school, horseback riding, and drama. I quit all that when I went into hs to have
    more time for homework. Being in the school play freshman year caused me to get a 98 instead
    of a 100 in precalc, and all these years later I still regret agreeing to take part in that stupid play. I
    didn’t get crushes on boys like other high school girls my age (I didn’t have time!), and I didn’t
    have friends I did things with outside of class (again, less time for homework!), although I did
    consider my classmates friends (though I didn’t interact with them at all outside of school).

    Sure enough, I was valedictorian of high school (I beat Nicole, yay!), and I got into a very
    exclusive college program that only accepts 1/11 people who apply. When I got into college, I
    quickly realized that it was impossible to get 100s on everything. I shifted my standard of
    acceptability down to 93-95 because that was what was required to get an “A” and my college
    didn’t have “A+”s. I even TRIED, my first semester of freshman year, to get a B in a class, so
    that I could finally become less obsessed with grades and have time to make friends and be
    involved in extracurriculars, like “normal” people were. (I have never liked taste of alcohol or
    standing around awkwardly trying to “mingle,” so partying was always out). That didn’t work out
    so well… I got one A- in a class, but I’ve always regretted it since, because I knew that if I’d tried
    a little harder, I could have gotten that A. Plus, I felt that, even with my slightly decreased effort,
    that that professor graded my work unfairly because he was one of those profs who stated the
    first day of class he hates giving As. (Of course, I would have normally avoided that class like
    the plague, but remember, that semester I was trying to get a B so I could become less grades
    obsessed).

    Around my junior year of college, I became depressed. I studied abroad in London because I’d
    always wanted to go to England, but (unlike my fellow students who spent almost every
    weekend jetsetting to Paris, Prague, you name it) I spent every weekend in my apartment
    obsessing about grades. (Incidentally, my parents filled out my ENTIRE study abroad application
    for me because I was too busy doing homework for my current classes. They still do my laundry
    and clean my apartment for the same reason, and they accept my decision to only get part time
    employment during college “breaks.”) I cleverly did manage to get SOMETHING out of my
    abroad experience by registering exclusively for classes that required trips to places as part of the
    curriculum. In this way, I was able to travel to Paris and Rome, even if my enjoyment was
    somewhat curtailed by the fact that I had to catch EVERY word of the professor’s lectures at
    famous monuments or else I might get an unacceptable grade. I also took less than the minimum
    required courseload that semester (12 credits instead of 15). However, my depression got worse
    because I still felt like I was missing out compared to my less grades-obsessed classmates in
    England.

    When I arrived back in the U.S., my depression got worse. I hated anything to do with school,
    but I had to spend at least 50 hours of my week in class or on homework to be CERTAIN of my
    A. I begged my parents to let me go on anti-depressants, but they wouldn’t let me see a doctor
    because they said “it’s normal to be a little sad,” and I couldn’t lie to them after all they did for
    me. Because I hated schoolwork so much, I would procrastinate excessively. Since I had no
    friends and didn’t allow myself to become involved in extracurriculars, I procrastinated by
    reading, and by watching anime online. I have always loved to learn (as with the OP, this is
    probably what caused my grades obsession to develop in the first place)! I love historical fiction
    and fantasy novels and anime (because they allowed me to forget about the modern day and my
    very modern-day grades obsession), and I preferred watching anime to watching American
    television because it allowed me to learn Japanese as well as to learn about various Japanese
    cultures. When I absolutely HAD to socialize, I spent a few hours on World of Warcraft, where
    politeness is nearly nonexistent, and I could log off in the middle of a friend’s sentence to go
    back to schoolwork.

    My last semester senior year of college, I procrastinated a ten page paper so much that I hadn’t
    even started on the night before it was due. I had another paper due in another class the same
    day, which I had nearly finished, so I finished that paper, handed it in, and then started freaking
    out about the paper I hadn’t started yet. I emailed the professor and asked to see her at the end of
    her office hours (which were just before the paper was due). I called my parents at 7 pm that
    night, and told them I would commit suicide if the professor didn’t give me an extension after I
    explained the situation. They knew I was serious about it, and I was. My mother told me to tell
    the professor I just felt very stressed when asking for my extension, so she wouldn’t feel
    personally responsible for driving me to suicide. She was very understanding because my work
    in her class had been consistently excellent (duh! I had to get an A!), and gave me a generous
    extension even without knowing how close I came to suicide.

    My parents finally relented and let me go to a doctor for anti-depressants over the summer
    because my suicide threat freaked them out so much. I started Zoloft early that August (it was
    last August), and ever since then I have felt so much better! I started going for my Master’s late
    last August (2011 fall semester, my parents did the application for me, except the essay, since it
    was due during my senior year of undergrad). I want to be a college professor, because I love
    teaching others and leading class discussions, and I am good at it. Before I started this new
    degree, I decided to lower my standards of absolute acceptability to an A-, since of course, I had
    gotten an A- before in a class, so it wouldn’t be setting a precedent in the same way getting a
    dreaded B or B+ would. I still feel disappointed when I get a A- on a paper or test, even though
    it’s nothing compared to how I feel when I get a B. Thanks to my parents and thanks to the
    Zoloft, I know I will never again seriously consider suicide, even if I do get my dreaded first ever
    B.

    Thus, I can completely identify with your disappointment on receiving A-s. I, too, can take
    receiving a lot of constructive feedback as long as the grade is an A. However, I can’t say I
    totally agree with your conclusions. You say: “I hate that I’ve become one of ‘those people’.”
    Obviously, I am one of “those people.” But are “those people” (people like you and I who are
    unhappy with Bs, and even A-s) necessarily “Wrong” just because they are in the minority? This
    will probably sound way weird to you, but just think about it for a few minutes.

    Other than my parents and my anti-depressant, I think that rethinking the whole “grades thing”
    has helped me become a happier person. For the longest time, I agreed with all the students and
    professors who said things like, “It’s your problem, you have to just get over it, a ‘B’ a perfectly
    good grade, you shouldn’t be disappointed.” I thought that my thoughts about grades were totally
    wrong just because they were in the minority, my B-phobia should be something I should just be
    able to “get over,” and that there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t just “get over
    it.” Naturally, this only made me feel more depressed.

    Then, a few weeks ago, I had a revelation. This is bullshit! What’s bullshit? The way teachers
    and educators, from kindergarden onward, emphasize the importance of getting good grades,
    then turn around and expect students to be okay with getting A-s and B’s! (Parents too, although
    not mine. If my parents ever pushed me to get good grades when I was very, very young, they
    surely regretted it by the time I reached high school). Somewhere along the way, they expect
    students to somehow realize that getting Bs is “okay” despite all the evidence to the contrary.
    Well, fuck that! Other people can be happy with their Bs (they will probably be happier people as
    a result!) but no one has the right to tell me that the statement “a B is a good grade” is “the
    Truth,” and that because I believe differently, I am “Wrong.”

    I firmly believe I will never be satisfied with a B+, and indeed, I will never be completely
    satisfied with an A-. Telling me to “get over” my grades obsession is like telling a recovering
    anorexic she looks thin and should just “get over” seeing herself as fat. I think that, sad as it is,
    some anorexic women (and men!) will never believe their bodies are good enough unless they
    are perfect. I will never believe my grades are good enough unless they are perfect.

    It makes me FURIOUS that all the talk on this issue is so smug and judgmental. When I googled
    “grades obsession,” the first thing that came up was a SparkNotes quiz to tell whether you were
    grades obsessed. Before the quiz, the site says this: “While we recognize the importance of
    getting good grades—they indicate you’ve learned something, further your progress from high
    school to college, and keep your parents happy—those letters don’t mean everything. Sure, you
    want to do well, but focusing only on maintaining straight A’s can lead to hair loss, sleepless
    nights, and generally irrational behavior.” Sure, it’s led to a ton of irrational behavior in my case,
    but who are you to tell me what should or should not be (VERY) important to me, stupid
    judgmental site person?!

    I assert that I am NOT wrong, that most people can believe a B is a good grade, but it is just a
    belief, not “the Truth,” and that they should talk about it as such. My minority belief that “a B is
    NOT a good grade (for me)” is just as valid as the majority belief.

    To return to the anorexia parallel, there is a website called http://www.prettythin.com whose goal is to
    support anorexics and bulemics without being judgmental. The site doesn’t tell these people to
    “just get over it” because they’re “thin enough already.” According to their stories, some of these
    women have had body dysmorphic disorder since they were very small children, and it’s become
    such a part of who they are they can never just “get over it.” Many of them continue to eat, but
    realize that they may never be happy with their bodies.

    As far as I can tell, there are NO similar websites for people with grades obsession, which (in my
    case) was (almost) fatal. All the websites dealing with this issue simply say grades obsessives
    should be able to “get over it.” The fact that lack of extracurriculars may hurt college/job
    applications is a valid concern, but it shouldn’t be used to take away responsibility from an
    ultracompetitive educational system that creates grades obsessives, the same way that anorexics
    shouldn’t be judged on an individual basis, without looking at the mass media and cultural
    systems that push women to achieve an impossible body image.

    I believe that all educational institutions should return to grading assignments on a pass/fail
    basis, and that professors should use comments to give critical feedback rather than grades. But,
    until then, the educational system and the wider individualistic, ultracompetitive culture (of the
    US/West, also Japan and China and other countries!) should have compassion for the grades
    obsessives it has created. I will not kill myself if I get a B, because I have an important mission. I
    will somehow survive 3-4 more rigorous years of GRADING so that I can speak about this topic
    as a tenured professor, perhaps on a college admissions committee.

    If the OP (or anyone else) would like to discuss this further, kindly look me up on facebook under the pseudonym Nadia Ari (which is not at all similar to my real name, so don’t make guesses).

    Reply

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