What Your Marks Really Mean

What Your Marks Really Mean

by Susan Huebert
Jobs People Do | JobsPeopleDo.com

For many students, grades can be a very stressful part of going to school. Report card time can be difficult, especially for anyone who is close to failing a course. It can also be hard for students at the higher end of the grade range, wondering if they can keep up their high scores to help them succeed in the future. With high marks, they think, they will have good opportunities and a bright future. Grades have traditionally been used to show how well students have learned their material, but how much do they actually mean? Should you be concerned about the marks you get?

Depending on what you want to do with the rest of your life, your high school marks could be quite important. Many universities and colleges use marks to help them decide which students they should accept. For some programs an average mark is enough, but for other programs a high mark is necessary. Often, a small difference in marks could mean that one student gets into the program while another has to wait for another year or go somewhere else. This is especially true in areas like medicine and dentistry, where schools accept only a limited number of students and academic expectations are high. In fields such as education or sociology the emphasis on grades is usually much less obvious, although expectations of students are often still high.

High marks are good for getting into university programs, but are they really useful for anything else? Probably not, except in a very general way. In your school you have probably noticed that different teachers have very different standards, with some giving high marks and others low ones. Schools all have their own ideas of what makes a good student, and there is very little consistency among them.

One of the problems with marks is deciding how to measure achievement. Until 1967, each province required students in Grade 12 to pass a standard exam which showed that they all had the same knowledge of areas such as writing, mathematics, science, and literature. Since then, however, schools have been able to set their own standards, and the result has been very uneven levels of education.

Another problem is known as grade inflation. Since about the middle of the 1980’s, the grades that students have received in high school and university have slowly risen, so that more people now are receiving a grade of A or B in their classes than ever before. That could mean that students are actually better than they were in previous years, but many educators are not sure. Factors that are raising the marks could be increased competition for university programs or job insecurity among teachers who want to keep parents and students happy.

If marks are such uncertain measures of learning, what do they mean for you? If you want to go to university, you’ll still need good grades. Otherwise, you might want to think about whether marks really reflect your learning. After all, learning is what really counts.

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