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Monday, June 2, 2014

Achieving Perfection In School

Many students struggle through school. Not because they're incapable but because their expectations are waaaaaay out of touch with reality. They set goals for their grades and work to achieve them. Most students, do, appropriately, work to achieve those goals.

Many students get discouraged as they try to improve their grades though. They can usually improve their grades but over time, they don't see the results they're looking for.

There is this crazy misperception that every failure a student has is 100% their own responsibility. Certainly, a student has responsibilities but everything is significantly more complicated than that. This becomes particularly true for the highest scoring students.

The Challenge Of The Perfect Score

There is a concept that I've mentioned a few times on this blog but I haven't gone into any real depth with. If you're looking to add another 5 points to your final grade on a test, it's significantly easier to go from a 75 to an 80 than a 95 to a 100. The higher your score is the harder it's going to be to get an even higher score.

This goes all the way to the final potential points on your test. Going from a 98 to a 99 is way easier than going from a 99 to a 100.

Thats because, with every point you gain, there are fewer ways to gain a point. If you had a 100 point multiple choice test, and had a 98, to gain that last point, you would need to answer 1 of 2 different questions. To go from a 99 to a 100 you would need to answer 1 specific question. You have twice as many possibilities to go from 98 to 99 than 99 to 100.

This is absolutely essential to understand if you're ever going to try and achieve perfection in school. Grades get progressively more difficult to improve upon. Using my personal experience, I've seen most C students can turn into B students with 10 minutes of studying a day (even if they're a little inconsistent about it.) Students trying to get from B's to A's tend to need (at least) twice as much studying. Students looking to move from A to A+ need to invest significantly more time.

Taking Responsibility

People encourage taking responsibility. It's usually a pretty good thing but many people, teachers in particular, take it too far. You can take responsibility for a lot of things. You cannot take responsibility for everything. If you're reading this article trying to improve your grades then, guess what, you're obviously taking responsibility for your grades.

Now that we can take that off the table, why are you not achieving the grades you're looking for?

Are you taking responsibility in an intelligent way? You can build a skyscraper out of popsicle sticks but you'll probably have trouble finding tenants for it. You can study with some amazing effort but that doesn't make up for studying foolishly. Your grades won't be affected.

Are you taking enough responsibility? In most cases, if you're reading this, it's a yes. If you read about studying better but never actually do it then, maybe, you need to find a reason to actually put in a few minutes of effort. That being said, most students can get A's with 20 minutes of daily consistent studying (eventually, it takes a while because there is a learning curve.) If you're putting in more effort than that, I'd look back at whether you're studying in an intelligent way.

Are you actually responsible for your imperfect grades?

You're probably thinking I'm crazy now. No one likes to let you think about this but not all imperfection is your own fault. You are not a master of the universe. You can't magically make everything work in your favor. If you're averaging upper A's then I can almost guarantee you're not solely responsible for the points you don't get.

There is an unlimited number of problems that you could have with perfecting your grades but to list a few:

You can't control what the teacher puts on the test. Teachers are human. Sometimes they make mistakes by asking a question that you weren't taught to study for. It happens.

A fun problem: Sometimes teachers don't like you or they like you and expect more from you than other students. Again, this fits under teachers are humans.

What if a family member passes away before a big test, yea, it's okay to not get perfection during major personal problems. Guess what, you're human too.

Do not let someone tell you that you need to take more responsibility without them knowing how much responsibility you take. Teachers, parents, and many good students, are quick to attack anyone struggling with comments about “not putting in enough effort” or “being lazy.” These are usually nothing but blind attacks. (Really, how many of the people that say this actually watch how much effort you put in?) It can be true but it can also be a complete load of bull. Know the difference.

Setting Expectations

Achieving perfection in school is a noble goal. Students that are able to achieve the perfect score are certainly worth looking up to in one way or another. At the same time, there are a number of factors you need to keep in mind before you set this expectation.

First of all, you're going to have to put in an absolutely ridiculous amount of time. You're not only going to have to know specifics. You're going to have to study random facts that probably won't show up on the test (but still might.) The vast majority of your study time is going to be on irrelevant information. It's not going to be efficient.

Second, you can't control everything. No matter how hard you try, you're probably going to not achieve perfection because of factors out of your own control. There are students that can maintain perfection for a very long time in school but virtually none hold onto it forever.

Is it really worth it to you? Of course, I'm saying this with a bit of a lean on it not being worth it. I've seen too many amazing students grow up to end up in the same place as average students to appreciate the difference in grades but that's not everything. There are advantages to perfecting your grades. The number one advantage is the effort that you learn to put into what you do. (That being said, never let yourself say your grades are a means to an end. Learning is never ending. If you can't maintain it for life then you'll just fizzle out. Any advantages you gain from school will be lost.)

It can be worth it to aim for perfection but honestly consider the possibility of settling for great grades. Most students can average A's with only a little bit of consistent effort. That consistent effort is well worth the results. On top of that, you'll also have time to pursue the things that you're most passionate about it life.

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