Why do you want to know my grades?! I do not believe that grades are an accurate measure of a person’s worth, nor even of a person’s academic merit.

First of all, many people forget the contents of a unit as soon as it’s over, leading to a lot of pain during final exams. If your grade going in is good enough, it’s possible to get a good grade overall while doing very poorly on the final, meaning you don’t necessarily need to retain information after the class. At the same time, students are expected to learn content in a set amount of time and are penalized if they can’t. If, for example, a student understands inverse operations instantly, they will do fine on that test. If it takes them a bit longer to learn factoring quadratics, they will get a poor score, and even if they do figure it out later in the semester, they will have no chance to make the test up. This goes against the idea that tests are an objective measure of understanding.

Also, the testing system which is often used to determine grades is also somewhat problematic. Firstly, multiple choice questions more often than not test memorization rather than understanding (there are many exceptions, but this seems to be the general trend); in spite of this, there are classes that rely on scantrons almost exclusively for tests. Free response questions aren’t perfect either: if you have ever encountered a test question that tells you to explain why something goes on in the hopes that you list all the important concepts described in class, you know what I mean (it seems to occur more often in science and history classes). Instead of a vague question that implies you should write a certain thing, questions should be more explicit in what they want to hear. (I suggest exams where you talk to the teacher and where the teacher can ask follow-up questions to test your understanding, but I know this is impractical.)

Additionally, the fact that “test-taking” is such an important skill in school shows the system’s flaws, particularly since improving test-taking skills is often a problem you “throw money at”. A test should be an objective measure of a student’s competence in the subject, not a measure of how good they are at expressing it. For example, College Board posts examples of responses for the AP Spanish Language exam and the scores they received. In these you can often see examples of students whose Spanish is clearly good but who obviously didn’t study for the test and didn’t know its nuances, getting a bad score. If the exam system is indeed unbiased, an exam for “understanding Spanish when you hear it and read it, holding conversations in real-life situations, and writing stories, letters, emails, essays, and other texts” should assess a student on those values, not how well they understand the “correct way” the exam should be taken.

Note: I understand that teachers are under pressure to prepare students for some future class or standardized test with the flawed test practices outlined, so I do not in any way blame teachers for these problems.

By the way, here are examples of (in my opinion) good “explaining” questions I randomly pulled out of the textbook Machine Tool Operation Part I, Fourth Edition:

  • “How is a burr thrown up on the side of the screw slot? Does filing it off fix the slot? Is it fair to leave it on? What should be done?”
  • “What is meant by front rake? Side rake? What is the object in giving rake to a tool?” (The “bad” way to write this question would probably be “Explain the concept of rake in cutting tools”)
  • “Explain how the carriage is moved along the ways by hand. What is the feed rack?” (This is a great example because the follow-up question addresses a point a student might have missed but that the teacher would like to hear.)

It is commonly argued that while grades are imperfect, they are either “the best possible system” or a worthwhile tradeoff, exchanging simplicity and objectivity for the complex truth. I think this is completely false. As I’ve said, the way learning is assessed is wrong and a lot of improvements can be made, starting with allowing calculators for all STEM tests after elementary school. As to the “worthwhile tradeoff” argument, let me just say that while giving up complexity and nuance in exchange for simplicity is at times beneficial (after all, this is the basis of currency), and grades are a way of doing this, so is assigning an item’s monetary value by color. This would certainly reduce the complexity of all the factors that determine an item’s value (cost to produce, durability, benefit to owner, etc.), simplifying it in a ridiculous way.

I’ve been told that to change the system, you need to beat the system. As such, let me say that I am capable of achieving good grades, as you can see from my résumé.