A Junior’s Guide to Surviving Freshman Year Part Seven: Grades

Photo by Maia Madison

By Abby Lass

For better or worse, grades are a major part of high school. From one-night assignments to midterm exams, these numbers and letters seem to follow us everywhere, shape our interactions with others, and even determine our futures.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that grades aren’t important. They are, and having good ones is definitely helpful in life, but what “good” looks like to you can be very different from what it looks to your best friend or your teachers or your parents.

In a competitive environment like South, it’s easy to get swept up in the paranoia and pressure that surrounds events like the release of first term grades. It’s great to push and challenge each other, but I also think we’d all benefit from a little perspective.

Working hard and working smart aren’t always the same thing.

This is always a big point of contention at the beginning of the year. No matter what grade you’re in, you’ve probably got a system worked out for yourself when it comes to homework, note taking, and other school-related tasks. Those methods might have gotten you an A in physics freshman year, but it’s all too possible that they could leave you with a B- after your first term in chemistry.

In the same way that every student learns a little differently, every teacher teaches a little differently. Some are more focused on broad concepts and the general garnering of knowledge while others are only concerned with dates and facts, and neither is necessarily better than the other. It’s crucial, though, to be able to navigate between them.

This learning process can, unfortunately, lead to some lower-than-ideal grades on your first few exams as you try to figure out what works best. It can be difficult not to get discouraged, but with a little reorganization, you’ll most likely be able to set things right in no time.

One of the most basic things is your style of note-taking. This will have a varying degree of impact on your grades depending on the class, but the more higher level courses you take, the more important it becomes to have a style of garnering information that is both efficient and effective. Now that you’ve had a little time to get to know your teacher and their expectations, try to weed the superfluous information out of your notes. If, for example, there has not been a single question involving dates on any of your history exams, it’s probably safe to skip over the in-depth timelines in your textbook.

It’s also worth it to take the time and talk to your teacher in order to better understand what exactly is tripping you up. Maybe a little more attention to your homework completion would give your grade a huge boost, or maybe they’re just hoping to see a little more participation from you in class. Whatever they say, do your best to listen– it reflects well on you for being a conscientious student and allows you to only put effort into the things that will genuinely benefit your learning.

Your grades are your business.

I can’t even count the amount of times someone has asked me what I got on an assignment. It’s the most common topic of conversation after a big test or project, but all too often it puts the recipient of the question in an awkward position.

It’s important to remember, first and foremost, that you are not obligated to tell anyone anything about your grades if you don’t want to. “I don’t want to talk about it” can seem like a chilly response, but at the end of the day that information is personal and what you do with it is entirely up to you.

Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t ever talk about how our final papers went. While “what did you get?” is an intensely pointed question that requires a pretty specific response, there is a softer option: “How did you do?”

I love this question, because it takes the focus off of the assignment and puts it on the person. “Good”, “not good”, and “miraculously well” are all completely reasonable responses here, and they provide a means of talking about the work that is intensely important in our lives while still protecting our privacy.

The magic of it is that “good” is an entirely relative term. My good might be a C+ while yours is an A-, but if we’re both content with how our scores worked out, that’s really all that matters. Most likely, the person asking you about your grades is asking because they care about you and want to make sure that the results didn’t have an adverse effect on you as a human being. Honor that compassion and return it as best you can, but it’s always best to try and do so in a way that doesn’t make either party feel uncomfortable.

Your priorities are valid.

They may be few and far between, but there are definitely people out there who genuinely enjoy school and have no problem making it their top priority in life. That’s great for them, but many of us don’t feel the same way.

Whatever else is going on in your life– friends, family, extracurriculars, the basic battle for your sanity– you’ve probably constructed some internal hierarchy that determines what parts of your life deserve the most attention. And more often than not, that hierarchy is probably in a constant flux. When a grandparent is sick, family might temporarily trump friends. During show week, your grades might take a back seat to the production you’ve spent months working on.

Of course these things shouldn’t regularly be used as an excuse for not doing your work, but it is important that you feel good enough about the choices you make about the things that you do so that you can defend them to naysayers. Because even though most of us are not legally adults, we are old enough and mature enough to know what we need, even if it contradicts what our parents or teachers or friends want for us.

All I can recommend is that you make your sacrifices worth it. You do not get to make soccer a priority over school just so you can slack off on both. Find the thing that you are passionate about and dedicate yourself to it, whatever it may be, so that you have an answer you can be proud of when someone asks you why you didn’t get an A during your first term of calculus.

It’s a dirty secret that we often try to ignore or scoff at, but there is a life outside of high school, and sitting in your room studying is not going to prepare you for it. Engulf yourself in the things and the people that give your life meaning, and I promise you that when you go out into the world, you will find fulfillment.

Just try not too slack off on your physics homework too much.