Grades and Stress

My crippling anxiety related to the most minimal of failures can be traced back to the radical change of education systems, from British Cambridge based O & A-Level system to local FSc, Bachelors and Masters system of education. In the former, the slightest of failure would have a pronounced effect on your grade. There’s a massive difference between an A grade and a B grade. This difference is directly correlated with intellectual abilities. In the British system under which I was taught, A grade is exemplary, a B grade denotes slight intelligence marred by questioning one’s own capabilities, a C grade was considered average but would require one to reappear in the exam since I was one of the “intelligent kids”. D grade is tantamount to public humiliation and absolute negation of any sign of intelligence. Let’s not even go to grade F or U (fail, absolutely fail). To add to this we had marking schemes which would evaluate the band one would fall in, with each grade analysed precisely, determining the scope of answer and how one approached it. Hence attaining complete perfection in every answer was a must.

Now coming to the latter mode of education, the local system where the minimum passing marks is a dreary forty out of a hundred (thirty-five at intermediary level), one is considered a genius if he or she scores a 60 (essentially a D grade in Cambridge system). So passing with a meagre 40 entitles you to excellence.

This results in an internal conflict in regards to assessing ones failures and successes. Having been excessively pruned to a very rigid system of what number defines your intellect from a very early part of life, the indigenous system of scoring and grading beckons mediocrity in all forms of self-assessment. The former has left an indelible impression on me, and also crippled any form excitement from owning up to any praise that may come my way.

Imagine my consternation when a CSP officer asked us to score JUST 40 out of a 100 in an essay. Our goal was to simply aim for the passing marks, and all our efforts were to be solely directed towards those forty odd points to secure the examination. Forty! Forty? This was, to me, an assertion of his teaching technique. He too would aim at teaching his students just enough to help them secure a 40. There would be no extraneous details in the class that might lend a hand to those aiming for a 60, or even a 55. No sir! All shortcuts, principles and rules, lectures and assignments would be designed to attain 40 marks.

At first I was baffled, and disappointed somewhat. How can the standards of the most competitive examination in the country be put so low? The fault of this approach lies alone with me. I failed to take into account half the population who, much like me were striving to get into the bureaucracy, and who unlike me, had to swim through muddied waters to get here. So by an explicit statement of attaining 40 marks, nobody in the class was alienated from the harrowing process. But as for me, I was to be isolated on my own account. I yet have to reconcile my greed for an A grade with the reality of a passing average – a profound understanding of which would eventually help me off my high horse and graze in the reality-stricken field of local education which is a tragi-comedy of its own calling.

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