Ah, grades. Love them or hate them, we have all had to deal with them.
Good grades can be a great aid in getting you to where you want to go in life. Unfortunately, they infamously hard to maintain - and a hyper-focus on grades can warp your self-worth, stress you out, and add even more to the seesaw of work-life balance that your life is catapulted away. The value of good grades, exams, and the current education system is a topic for another article, but today I want to explain to you how trying to keep your grades up can actually make you less intelligent. Sounds counterintuitive, right?
I've noticed a grade-keeping tactics throughout my education (and one I've used myself) which may bring your brain to an academic standstill; simply choosing to study what you already know. It's fool-proof, isn't it? Just take a subject you already know well, and you can practically ensure you excel! While, yes, this does work fairly often, it may also create an issue. Take this example: hoping to get into their dream university, my friends on their college applications largely chose subjects they knew or needed for university. Many avoided new things they hadn’t done before, and this attitude continued well into their university choices. A lot of them did not join any societies or modules that they were not familiar with. That’s fine, for the most part –and especially if they plan to specialise in a subject for their career or want to be confident in their grade. However, as I said, I believe this creates an interesting issue: a lack of well-rounded experience.
That can’t possibly be as bad as it sounds, can it? Yes. For starters, you might never realise that your true passion lies in something you’ve never tried. How can you know this thing is definitely what you want when it’s all you’ve ever done? I have a friend that entered university with plans to be a psychologist and left as a teacher. On a less serious note, you may just be missing out on a new hobby. For example, I branched out last year into a medieval translation module and Film modules as part of my Creative Writing course, despite having no idea how university-level translation and Film study works. Now, Old English Translation is a hobby, and the cinematic analysis I learnt improved my literary analysis. More broadly, I applied to Surrey to do an English Literature with Creative Writing course without any solid idea about what would happen, and now I have experience in narrative design for video games.
‘But hobbies are irrelevant to my career!’, you say. ‘I don’t mind missing out on a bit of fun!’ you exclaim. Well, there’s more. Experiencing new things and new topics doesn’t just mean you miss out on something you may enjoy. You also miss out on how that subject functions. Why is that important? One example is the gaming industry, which recently exploded when it began hiring cinematographers and writers. These employees bring new knowledge and techniques to the industry, and consequently, games are more popular and cinematic than ever before. The same can happen for you, on a smaller scale. If you know how one subject does something, you can apply this to another. Say how carpentry knowledge augments guitar repair, or how childminding partly explains dog-sitting. Or as I found, how film studies accents 18th century novel analysis. Nothing is the same, but these are transferable skills, as schools love to call them. The more of these skills you have, the more likely you’ll find one relevant to helping you solve issues in your own career.
"You may not be good at everything, but you’ll find everything will be good for you."
This is how solely focusing on your grades makes you dumb: not because you aren’t intelligent, but because you simply may not know as many varied things as you could. You can only realise two things fit together if you know about these things beforehand. For example, you probably can’t apply extra psychoanalytical theory from the university modules you didn’t take to your police work. With that knowledge, you would be able to solve the case – but without it you are just another stumped officer.
This tendency to stick to what you know can be more serious than missing out on hobbies and coincidental realisations at work. If it becomes a habit, then what happens to your life? You didn’t want to branch off from Modernism at University and now you don’t want Accordion lessons to play like your toddler-self dreamed? Because you’re scared of failing the instrument? Many people live avoiding new things, fearing failure. But as Oscar Wilde (roughly) said, experience is simply the name people give to their mistakes. Remember, the path you stick to now for fear of the great and terrible new was once new to you. And as you learnt it, you made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes when they learn something new because they don’t know how to do it yet. It’s okay, it’s expected, and it makes you better. Failing is how you learn, and learning is what makes you smart. Not always grades.
I would encourage you not to always be afraid of letting your grade suffer a little, especially if you’re in first year – this could allow you to discover a new passion! Don’t exhaust yourself with opportunities, but explore the new. Take that module and try your best at it. Get those accordion lessons, and make a cacophony. You may not be good at everything, but you’ll find everything will be good for you. These lessons you’ll learn will make you see life from different perspectives, and can even allow you to find solutions invisible to others.
So, go on. I’m rooting for you!