Grades/ Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Coping with disappointing grades

It’s the tensest time of the year. Whether graduating or not, most students are receiving their final grades for the year. A gut-wrenching feeling looms over us as we imagine that our future depends on whatever’s inside that envelope or email. We can all agree that it’s a fantastic feeling when all the hard work you’ve put into your degree over the year has paid off and you get the grade you were hoping for. Better yet, you might even have exceeded all expectations and managed to secure a mark far higher than you thought you would.

But that’s not always the case. At school, and even sixth form or college, we get into a routine where we learn the grading system from back to front. You know exactly what works and doesn’t work, and you reach a point where you can master any essay or exam if you put your mind to it. You manage to conquer school with a whole score of As and A*s, and you make it into university. Then, all of a sudden, it feels as if the whole system has been flipped upside down. Everything you learnt at school about how to get the top grade means nothing anymore.

I found it very difficult to adjust to university from school. I was confident with the grading system at school and I’d been a high-achiever. But the sudden switch to a new marking system, unique to each institution, was a shock. I was surrounded by a sea of extremely clever people, and I felt out of my depth. For a while, my grades didn’t seem to reflect the fact that I had always been a high-achiever.

If you’ve not secured that first, 2:1, or the grade you were hoping for, these reminders may help you deal with that initial disappointment.


You can’t compare yourself to others

We live in a world where money seems to mean everything. And to get money, you need a good job. And to get a good job, you need ‘good grades.’ That’s what they tell us, and what many of us come to believe. As a result, our grades are a way we measure our worth. We compare ourselves to people around us, deciding that because they have better grades, we must be worthless. It’s important to recognise that even when it comes to the worst of grades, comparing ourselves to others will achieve nothing. It will just lower our self-esteem even more.

Remember to be patient, and be happy for others. Whether your friends have found the perfect jobs, are in relationships, or have secured themselves the top grades, be happy for them. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on the fact that you’ll find happiness in the long term. Everyone’s set of circumstances are different, so no two people can or should be compared.


Take into consideration your circumstances

Do you ever stop to consider what’s going on in your life before getting frustrated with your grades? In your first year at university, for example, you’re adjusting to an entirely new living situation. You’re away from your parents, the familiarity of your usual friends, and you’re no longer being spoon-fed by the teachers. University life is very much a road of independence. As well as having to balance your budget, cook for yourself, wash your own clothes, clean, maintain a social life, you still have to attend lectures. The entire process is undeniably overwhelming.

Everyone processes big changes, such as moving away from home, differently. You may also have to deal with difficult circumstances in your personal life. Whatever it is, you are not in the same circumstances as the person who is sat next to you, taking the same exam. And no two people handle the pressures of exams, and the worries of life, in the same way.


Numbers and letters don’t determine your success

Success is a very subjective concept. Someone else’s interpretation of success should not necessarily be yours. What you perceive to be a ‘bad grade’ could be the next person’s goal. Trying your best says so much more about your work ethic than the grade itself.

No matter what your image of success is, happiness should be our number one priority. I remember it being said at a career talk in first year that a 2:1 with extra-curricular achievements is more employable than a first with nothing to show for your experience. The university experience isn’t just about grades. It’s about the societies you’ve been involved with, the people you’ve met, the changes you’ve tried to make, and your personal development.


If you’re disappointed with your grade this year, take a moment to think about how invaluable your university experience has been. Your exam results cannot take any of those experiences away.


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