Aim to be the Tortoise, Not the Hare

Aim to be the Tortoise, Not the Hare

How high stakes in grading fails to set students up for long-term academic success



Now that the semester is over, many students are wrapping up the last of their papers and prepping for final exams. It is the most wonderful time of the year, but it is equally the most stressful as people are handing over 40–50% of their grade that will determine their final mark in their classes. 

For a long time, we have stressed the importance of mental health on campus by emphasizing counselling hours and getting a fall reading week. These are all amazing and effective initiatives. However, they are not necessarily the answers for long-term success.  

There is a way to supplement these initiatives in how they set out to improve the well-being of students, and that all starts in the classroom with the system of assignments. Speaking from personal encounters, the classes that I have had a more positive experience in are the ones that broke down the assessment components of the course into smaller chunks. This helps to create a feeling that the stakes are lower and therefore, the stress doesn’t begin to mount to such high levels. 

The adult world is stressful, and so school is only preparing us to be able to handle whatever our career fields throw at us. However, is simulating the stress of the work environment the way to do it or is there perhaps a better, more sustainable way to make sure that we as students and future professionals can handle the challenges in our future workplaces and academic endeavours without feeling burnt out when we get there?  

I can appreciate why professors do this — after all, they are busy with their research themselves and they may not always have assistance to mark multiple small assignments. There are also many students who probably prefer the system where the assessment components are broken down into smaller parts but hold more weight because that means there are fewer small assignments to allot time to which allows them to focus on the matter at hand. These are all valid parts to the argument, and perhaps there are more.  

Notwithstanding the time and convenience that the current system holds, I think it is still problematic in the culture that it perpetuates toward education. If a student gets stressed and messes up on a smaller assignment — perhaps they had work, extra-curricular activities, or simply needed more time to understand a concept — they know that they can make it up with the next one and in fact, it boosts the morale to try harder on the following assignment. However, I believe that the current system fails to teach us from the failures because the stakes are set so high. It destroys the morale and motivation to do better next time. What is even more relevant is that it inhibits students from being explorative and daring in their learning. I think it is important to remember that school is a marathon, and it should be just as much about preservation and generating a genuine fondness for knowledge as it is about getting a career. After all, it isn’t just a degree one is walking away with, but acquired skills and optimism about the future, and the academic system should work harder in order to facilitate that.