RICHARDS: A grade? No, thanks. I’m set

Amy Richards

We have tumbled into the season of grades, papers, all-nighters, study groups and the discovery of strangers in your go-to seat at the library. As this past weekend saw Villanova’s first snow and one of the last football games of the year, most students were inside preparing for the finals that are fast-approaching in a frenzied rush to prove themselves to professors one last time. What a downer these grades can be. So, in the spirit of argument, let’s argue against them.

During freshmen orientation, a professor spoke to my group about expectations for academic life in college. He guessed that we would spend a great deal of energy worrying about grades in the four years to come, while worrying far less about whether, or what, we were actually learning. He asked us to raise our hands if we were in school for the pursuit of knowledge or wisdom. If I didn’t brazenly raise my hand that day, it was because I knew better than to single myself out to the first group of students I had met in college.

But the truth was that I really had come here to learn from classes, peers and professors, and I know that others felt the same way. So I decided to prove that professor wrong, knowing at that moment that grades would not guide my studies, but instead, I would.

I have thus relieved myself of the nervousness that accompanies the returning of a paper or test. I know how many hours were spent doing my best, or not, the moment it was submitted. What matters to us the most is the feeling we experience upon turning in our paper, lab report or project, a perhaps more proud or uncomfortable moment than what we feel upon receiving the grade. Our intuition suggests that we do indeed aspire to master course material; at the end of the semester, don’t we feel uneasy about those classes in which we failed to put in enough time and effort to learn a thing or two? If we pay attention to our sentiments about our own work, grades are just superfluous letter notations doled out by another person.

A preoccupation with final grades can cause students to focus a large portion of their time on specific assignments that determine their grade. Focusing on certain topics that will appear on exams, students are often limited in their own research and inquiry, deterred from spending too much time on material that will not appear on an exam or in the prompt of a paper. The opposite occurs when a student audits a class, in which he or she may participate freely, and focuses on the aspects of readings or assignments that excite him or her most, without worrying about how the professor will judge.

Grading is undeniably a subjective process because grades are generated by one person and are based on a five-letter system. People will define something through their own perspectives, judgments, prejudices and experiences. If a grade is the perspective of one person, then isn’t a B- paper just an A paper disliked by a particular individual? As we learned earlier in the semester, grades at Villanova and across the country have been inflated, making it all the more difficult to know whether they really reflect our efforts in a valuable way or whether the gauge on which we rely for ranks and resume-building is perhaps in need of repair.

I don’t expect universities to begin breaking down the grading system that was so long ago established. However, there is something restraining about the way the need to grade is imposed on professors and the pressure transferred to students. How does one professor judge our achievement with a letter grade, especially when he or she knows each of us in the limited setting of the classroom?

During the next few weeks, in the moments when we feel plagued by the burdensome weight of our professors’ judgment, we must remember that we ourselves are the only ones who can understand all that we have learned or achieved inside and outside the classroom.

We might then see that the moment of truth is not when grades are posted on WebCT but, rather, all those proud moments that have already passed.


Amy Richards is a senior honors, Spanish and global interdisciplinary studies major from Kings Park, N.Y. She can be reached at [email protected].