Coping With Academic Pressure: Separating Your Self-Worth from Your Grades

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Coping With Academic Pressure: Separating Your Self-Worth from Your Grades

Written by Dr Hannah Farnsworth

When you’re at school, you might feel like it’s beaten into your brain that your test scores and exam grades are a big deal. Whether it’s your parents, teachers or tutors who put the pressure on, you might be hearing over and over again that your academic achievement is vital for being accepted to a college or university, or for getting a job.

With all this pressure, it’s easy to start feeling like your self-worth is tied to the grades you get at the end of school. A bad grade along the way can feel devastating, and you may feel like you’ve screwed up the rest of your life. 

If you feel like a failure, or are worried that you might not get the grades you want or need, stop for a minute. You are so much more than a score on paper, and your entire identity and future success does not depend on a letter or number.

 Remember Your Value

We can’t deny that grades are important for getting into uni, college, or for certain career paths. Working hard and having the grades to show for it demonstrates qualities like discipline, intelligence and perseverance. These are all things that future colleges or employers like to see.

 However, it is limiting and unhealthy to think that your value only lies in your grades. Your talents, passions, personality quirks, background, values, and personal identity do not get scored or graded.

 You may be incredibly creative, passionate about sport, a great listener, excellent at debating, or hilarious to be around. You might be a leader amongst your friends or within your community. 

 These talents alone may not get you into university, but that doesn’t mean they won’t serve you well in future. From professional sportsperson, to counsellor or politician, your individual traits will make you perfect for a job you may not have considered. In future, you could contribute to the world in an unexpected way, and your grades may have no relevance at all.

Give Yourself a Break

Which words do you use to describe yourself? Are you constantly beating yourself up, telling yourself you’re “stupid”, or feeling like a failure? Putting yourself through this horrible, toxic cycle of negativity won’t do you any good.

It’s time to give yourself some grace and compassion. Whether you’ve made a mistake, find chemistry hard, or are going through a crisis that has impacted your academic performance, you’re not any less deserving of love or respect. Being imperfect makes us beautifully human.

 Every time you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, stop and reframe it. Instead, tell yourself, “I am so much more than this test score. The grade doesn’t define me. I’m still a good person, and I have many amazing qualities to be proud of.”

 When you put too much emphasis on academic validation, you can start sliding down a slippery slope, especially if you are already dealing with a mental health issue like anxiety or depression. Now is the time to work on separating your self-worth from your performance and remembering that you have value regardless of your grades.

Focus on Growth, Not Judgment

Next time you get a test result, don’t judge or label yourself, but instead, commit to growth. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this to improve?” See the grade as data that will help you develop, rather than further evidence of failure. 

 Think about what went well, and the areas that you did have a good grasp of. Look for one or two main areas to spend a little more time on, ready for the next assessment. Progress beats perfection. 

Find Motivation Beyond Achievements

While academic success can open doors to opportunities, it’s important to find internal motivation that isn’t solely based on achievement. Maybe you’re driven by an intellectual curiosity to understand a subject in more detail, or perhaps you cherish learning because it fuels your personal growth. 

 You may have ambitions to address the climate crisis or be a role model, or you might want to make the world a better place. Whatever your motivation, connect to the reasons propelling you forwards so that you are committed to achieving your goals. Being naturally driven will get you much further than seeking a grade for the sake of it.

 Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, no letter or number on an assignment will encompass you as a whole, beautifully complex person. So don’t let it! External examiners will not know what is going on in your personal life, and sometimes showing up to an exam has taken more courage and strength than they will ever realise. This courage will build the foundations for your growth, perseverance, and overall success as an adult.

Keep working hard, but don’t let your grades define who you are. 

Posted by Dr Hannah Farnsworth

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