Chemistry and mathematics were never my strengths in school; humanities were always my favourite. But while being in high school has taught me many things, it’s taken a while to come to a new conclusion about grades. I’ve always been a perfectionist regarding my academic achievements. I would study for weeks on end for a test, only to receive a lower grade than I expected or thought my effort reflected. 

I’m applying to many post-secondary schools in the UK, so there isn’t much time left before my marks are sent off to admissions departments. The teachers at my school are always talking about how we need to focus on post-secondary options. I had a meeting with my parents and counsellor and they all agreed that I need to work really hard during this final term to achieve my goals of getting into a good university. My parents have been on my back about this since Grade 9 and it’s exhausting to always have a constant reminder that the future is closer than it seems. 

I used to beat myself up about not doing well on tests or quizzes, telling myself I was dumb and that I messed up. This was partially due to the way I was brought up, where my parents would pressure me to do well, and then I naturally applied pressure on myself instead. When I was young, my parents wouldn’t accept any grade below an  A-. Sometimes my teachers would send home tests to our parents in middle school to get signed off, and it got to the point where if I hadn’t done well, I would forge their signatures to avoid confrontation. The fear of sitting down with them was enough motivation to keep my grades high.

Today, I had a chemistry test. It was a crucial one since this affected the grade that would appear on my transcript. I got a B+. Normally, I’d be pretty upset about it as it wasn’t on par with my parents’ standards – or mine for that matter. But when I received the news, I didn’t allow the information to phase me. It took a while before I reached the point where I accepted the result for what it was and tried not to dwell on it too much. Even then, there was a voice at the back of my head, trying to make me feel frustrated about the outcome. I mean, I had studied for two weeks for this test and I didn’t do any better than my previous ones, I actually did worse.

After receiving my grade, I left the class feeling conflicted. Upset because I had hoped I did better but accepting what had happened. I met the rest of my classmates outside, to which we exchanged our marks and started laughing about it. A few of them were joking around and arranged themselves in order of increasing marks, talking with each other about the week. We took a photo and continued to shout about the collective struggle we faced.

Some people didn’t shrug off their grades as easily, and many people were upset about their performance. We had our last class of the day and I was sitting near someone who wasn’t particularly thrilled. I was thinking about what was probably going through their head, about the thoughts they were repeating to themselves as I once did before. It reminded me of a time earlier this year where I had received yet another chemistry test back and was in this exact predicament again. I beat myself up about it for days, telling myself that I should have done better and that I’ll never be good enough for this school. It took a huge toll on my academic confidence, which later impacted the other aspects of my life. 

Just as the day was ending, I was talking with some friends who were discussing how we’ve become very sensitive to academic failure. We continue to believe that for us to be successful, we must have the best grades – the school system was specifically designed this way. Many students feel that grades reflect who they are and their abilities, which is in fact not true. This led me to conclude later today that a person’s value isn’t determined by their academic success.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you considered yourself to be the dumbest person in the world that day. Just because I got a D a couple of years ago doesn’t mean I’m worth nothing, and this is a subject people around me tend to find very hard to grasp.

We’re at the point where we’ll sacrifice our health for a good test mark, which would likely have little value in the near future. Our happiness should not be determined by our marks. The education system and college application process have made it so that we feel as if our entire lives are riding on this one chemistry test, when in fact, it isn’t. Grades don’t mean as much as you think. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand the system we are stuck in and how it prioritizes our marks way too much. But they especially don’t distinguish whether or not you’re good enough for society. 

So as a message for high school students right now, I implore you to not break yourself over a simple test or jeopardize your health for academic success. 

Looking back right now, as I’m writing this, I realize that today was probably one of the best I’ve had in a while. I laughed with my friends and made some memories that I hope to never forget. Because really, an A+ doesn’t establish my happiness, I do.