Phillipian Commentary: What Students Are Getting Wrong

Sometime last year, while sitting in Lower Left thinking about what the newly renovated library would look like, I saw a friend walking toward me. Normally optimistic and cheery, he looked uncharacteristically dejected. When I asked about the source of the issue, he wordlessly took out his slightly wrinkled biology test; on it, the teacher had scribbled a hasty but unmistakable “4.”

Though this may not apply to our campus as much as it does other ones, many talented individuals are simply put at a disadvantage by traditional tests due to their rigidity. For example, just take a look at some of our public figures. Even if many of them didn’t do well in school, they end up in prominent positions in life. It is crucial to stress that the traditional system of assessment isn’t capable of measuring many individual abilities, such as social and emotional intelligence, as well as creativity. In the end, these traits generally make one more successful in life. Although those with a better work ethic tend to be more successful in school, the skills themselves aren’t explicitly measured.

Week after week, I watch as my peers obsess over getting straight sixes. In the name of getting good grades, many students sacrifice their sleep, social lives, and mental health. This being said, I do the same. Every day, the omnipresent threat of not getting into a good college lingers over me to the point where it seems that a single math test or French essay could ruin my entire life. There is something that all students are forgetting, however–that academic excellence is not an accurate reflection of how intelligent a person is. All too often in public schools, intelligent children, bored by rote memorization, slip through the cracks. Many others simply don’t fit into the straitjacket of conventional education.

Sure, those with straight sixes are good at applying information onto tests and exams, but having good test-taking skills doesn’t necessarily translate to success in life. In a recent study, researchers found that valedictorians usually had successful careers, as one would expect, but rarely reached the most influential positions in their fields. They tell us that these valedictorians “aren’t likely to be the future’s visionaries”–those who do become visionaries are those who have more unconventional skills but don’t necessarily excel in school.

This isn’t to say that academically-oriented students are somehow inferior or less impressive than others. Consistently doing well academically also requires a certain set of abilities such as resilience and a work ethic–values that are just as important for success later in life. However, many of us have become so blindsided by grades that we start to neglect these other traits. Grades are important, but so is challenging oneself, exploring extracurricular activities, pursuing athletic commitments, and just hanging out with friends.

Maybe if I could go back to Junior year (not that I would want to), I would tell my friend that it’s alright, that he’ll do better on the next test, and that his life probably isn’t going to end because of a four on a biology test in ninth grade. Sometimes, underachieving in school can prepare you to overachieve in life.