grades

Why You Need To Think Beyond Your Grades to Make the Biggest Impact

Think Beyond Your Grades3

What worries you most at university…Your grade situation or your money situation?

9 in every 10 students are frequently concerned about grades, according to a survey by Jisc earlier this year. Nearly 8 in every 10 students worried about money.

They’re both big concerns, but grades are a worry for practically everyone.

Are grades a worry BECAUSE of fees and money matters? Have issues got worse as tuition fees have gone up?

It’s not like grades have ever been a shrug-fest, but think how much pressure you’re under today with £9k fees as part of the deal.

It’s why there’s such a push and pull around the “students as consumers” angle, even though it shouldn’t be part of your day-to-day academic work.

You can be overwhelmed about all sorts of things without realising. Not that long ago, you risked wasting a lot of your time if you didn’t perform as well as you’d like in your degree. Now the risk is wasted time and money.

And while you may only pay off the debt when your earnings are high enough, the money remains as a constant reminder. Some students want the best grades so they can justify that student loan balance.

Balance ‘productivity’ with ‘good enough’

I don’t believe it’s worth forcing a First Class Honours. I can’t see the value in working solely to get the best grade possible. Make it a serious factor, yes, but don’t turn it into your whole reason for being.

A top grade isn’t the surefire route to future success.

No matter how much you’d like to grab that First (or at least an Upper Second), make sure you pay attention to the rest of your experience at university too.

In other words, look beyond the A grade. It doesn’t matter if you get a B. A Second Class Honours isn’t going to destroy your chances of a bright future.

A sole focus on the academic work alone, however…That could be a mistake.

Frugaling has listed 10 reasons why you shouldn’t obsess over the highest marks. Basically, work hard, but make sure you’ve got time and energy for other commitments too.

There comes a time when you investment bigger and bigger amounts of time to smaller and smaller gains. The magic is to find a sweet spot that combines ‘productivity’ with ‘good enough’.

There are some study fundamentals:

  • Turn up and do the work;
  • Seek help when you get stuck;
  • Make it a priority.

That last point about priorities gets a bit more complex.

You’d think the study priority is about doing really well in acing tests and excelling in coursework.

It’s not. Your priority is finding your version of good enough.

priorities

Priorities, Not Urgency

I’m not saying your grades don’t matter. I’m not telling you to take your work less seriously.

I’m pointing out that you have more than one priority. Studying is just one of those priorities.

And when you know several priorities need to be dealt with quickly, your issue is with urgency.

Urgency is different to prioritising, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Other priorities can include:

  • Work experience;
  • Achievements;
  • Extra-curricular activities;
  • Building a portfolio of work;
  • Investing in your future as a graduate long before you graduate.

These are priorities. Think of others that you’ve got. You need to juggle these.

Scheduling, deep work, practice, routines…There are ways to keep priorities in check so they don’t get in the way of each other, so they don’t overlap, and so they equal more than the sum of their parts.

If you only look at academic work while you’re a student, your other priorities will creep up on you. Deep into your final year (or worse, after you graduate), the other items I’ve listed above will become surprise priorities.

Avoid surprises as much as you possibly can. The more surprise priorities you have, the more urgent work you’ll have to do. At some point, it’ll become too much.

That’s why you need to pre-empt your priorities. Work out what your future needs are at the moment. Work toward those needs in small chunks while it’s not urgent.

Having nothing in place means you have too many urgent priorities. Stuff appears needing immediate action. Another recipe for overload.

Don’t get to that point. Take the time while there still is time. Make your priorities as relaxed as possible.

Imagine two people doing their coursework. One person spends small chunks of time over two weeks to get their coursework done. The other person does nothing until they pull an all-nighter just before the deadline.

Both people had coursework as a priority, but one of them let that priority become urgent.

In both cases, they could still pull off a top grade. In both cases, they may keep succeeding and land themselves a great job and fast-track an impressive portfolio.

But the all-nighter urgent priority case is leaving too much to chance.

Priorities in check

Putting it off, or always on?

If you’re prone to procrastination, Lifehacker suggests that it’s because you get an “impulsive tendency to do what feels easier, rather than the thing you know you should be doing”.

When you feel that problem, it’s worth checking out Wait But Why’s two-part series on beating procrastination:

[Yes, read both parts! I’ll wait…]

Once you’ve got past the procrastination, the next issue is getting those priorities in check.

On a casual level, you may think about your situation every now and then. You may be moved to take action over something random. Maybe not.

It’s time to face your priorities head on. Juggle them as you go so you don’t leave anything until the last minute. Or worse, until it’s far too late.

A number of relaxed priorities will help make a positive difference. A bunch of urgent priorities is far less forgiving.

When time is on your side, you really can relax to do more. That’s why it pays to face your priorities. When academic work is just one of the situations you’re dealing with, you continue to work hard, but not at the expense of everything else.

Keep all your priorities in check. Focus on both your present and future priorities. The importance of grades will become less rigid. And you may find that less pressure leads to a happier run on those grades anyway. Win-win.

And that’s why the all-nighter is a much riskier option than small, consistent doses of work, spread out over the allotted time.

Instead of the all-nighter, what if you want to spend every waking moment on your study? My suggestion is to step back for a moment and take a wider focus on your other priorities. Why are you studying without any other activity? What are your future plans? Are you plans likely to work out if you ignore everything except study?

If you’re prone to either procrastination or perfectionism, it’s time to bring your other priorities into the mix. Don’t let those priorities sit at the side and become urgent.

Instead, relax through all that you do. It can make a huge impact on your life, your grades, and your health.

Whatever your situation, you need to think beyond your grades.

Next time, I’ll tell you why your degree isn’t worth any less now than it used to be. And I’ll help show what you can do to be distinctive.

Why Your Essay Feedback Isn’t For Your Essay At All

Alan Cann calls this one ‘a bit depressing‘.

A new study found that:

“…a replacement of manually generated feedback with automatically generated feedback improves students’ perception of the constructiveness of the provided feedback substantially (undergraduate) or significantly (postgraduate).”

I don’t know why more respondents preferred automated feedback. Could it be because students aren’t frequently told that feedback is best used in order to improve on future assignments?

How clearly are students made aware of the need for ongoing assessment? If you don’t fully appreciate the way detailed and specific feedback can help you, the auto-generated feedback may seem a great idea. Get the grade and some general advice and walk away with all the info you think you need.

(photo by jepoirrier) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

(photo by jepoirrier) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

On the face of it, an automatic report makes sense. Anything beyond that seems like a time commitment with little gain. There may seem no point poring over the details when the essay has already been submitted.

But feedback isn’t for the past, it’s for your future work. General advice and rough guidelines won’t do more than weakly nudge you in the right direction. For the best hope of improvement, you need to respond to detailed information that is tailored to your specific circumstances.

Detailed feedback may be hard to swallow when you have a lot to improve. That may also explain why some people would prefer automatically generated reports. They feel one step removed, so you almost have an excuse not to listen. It wasn’t aimed exclusively at you, so there’s wriggle room and you don’t need to take the advice so seriously.

Whatever flavour your feedback comes in, consider these points:

  • Have an open mind – You may not like to hear that you’re not perfect, but the more you put your head in the sand, the less likely you are to even get close to perfection. Make the opportunity to action problem areas rather than defend yourself.
  • Think of the future – Work out what you would have done to improve the essay and remember that so you can make a similar effort in your next piece of coursework.
  • Ask more questions – When you’re not sure what the feedback means, speak to your tutor for more information. The key is to get a detailed understanding of how you can improve, so keep searching until you have a plan on which steps to take.

Automatic feedback isn’t useless, but it needs context and it should never be the only type of feedback given. It’s not enough when the aim of higher education is to dig deep and explore the possibilities.

There are loads of things you can do with your assignments when you get them back. The grade is just one part of it. Check out these links from the TUB archives for more tips on using your essay feedback:

A Star No Starter: Why You Are Worth More Than Your Grades

When you leave school with 7 A* grades at A-level, it’s pretty impressive.

When you fail to get a place at the University of Oxford on those grades, people start talking. That’s what happened to Alastair Herron this year.

Oxford (photo by Max-Design)

Oxford (photo by Max-Design) – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Despite the talking, not enough is known about the full application made. If we did have more information, would the application have fallen at a single point, or at several?

There isn’t a big story here, because Herron received offers from American universities and he has happily accepted a place at Stanford.

Whether you’re still looking for a uni place or you’ve graduated with full honours, there are some key takeaways from this news:

Keep your options open

Herron had offers from other universities that he was intent on going to. Regardless of an offer from Oxford, he had his sights set elsewhere. Interviewed on BBC Radio Belfast, Herron said, “I would never stay at Oxford with offers from America so I am not in any way disappointed”.

Whatever you do, have a number of routes open to you and prioritise. That way, you won’t flounder when one route comes crashing down. Herron took the news with a shrug. He was surprised, but he considered it Oxford’s loss. He already had other options at hand.

Grades are not the whole picture

University (and life) is about much more than exam results. Whatever you end up with, life goes on. Many things you set your sights on can still be achieved, albeit a little later and with further work. There are alternative routes in to some fields too.

When you’re put to the test, you waste your own time if you don’t put in any real effort. And when you do spend the time, don’t feel disheartened if you end up with less than straight As. Herron’s story shows that grades aren’t the whole picture.

Your situation wouldn’t necessarily be different with 100% in everything. You can’t read the future and it’s not worth playing ‘What if…?’ when you haven’t a clue how things would have turned out. Focus on here and now, not on an alternative reality.

Success doesn’t rely on one particular thing

It’s easy to fixate on a small part of the picture and building it up more than it needs. Spend enough time and effort on something and it’s not surprising that you can do great things in that area.

However, you need to demonstrate many qualities as a person. Personal traits, interests outside academia, social activities, and all sorts of elements comprise your unique makeup.

By all means boast a thousand A* A-levels, but be prepared to offer more than one sole quality.

Unless, of course, that quality is the solution to a huge problem or the answer to a long-standing question that has baffled generations of people. When you hold the key to something special, that’s great. Just be warned, this is rare. And even when you do hold the key, you may not realise it. In other words, don’t go searching for it blindly.

No regrets

When something doesn’t work out, however big or small, try not to dwell on it too much. My A-level adventure could have been much better if I had been mentored better and given more solid information, advice and guidance in certain places.

I didn’t let that bother me. For all the facepalm moments that I know could have been far better for me in hindsight, I’ve had many wonderful experiences that have taken me to places I wanted to be anyway.

If I regretted my actions and, once again, played the ‘What if…?’ game in my mind, I could have spent forever thinking I had missed my one and only chance.

There are other chances. It’s okay to kick yourself, or throw your head to the air and wish you’d spotted things sooner, but move on as soon as you can. Instead of regretting what has passed, concentrate on what could be. Seek out new ways to get to where you would like to be and use your new insights to help get you there this time.

Whatever the future holds, you can’t see it until it’s happened. And then it’s the past. Attempt to secure the best future for you, but don’t hold on to it if it doesn’t work out. Look forward, look for alternatives, and look out world…You’re on a mission!

We will never know precisely why a university turns a straight-A student down. That’s why it’s not worth focusing on.

You are worth more than your grades. You are better than that.

Returning to awesome: 7 things to do after lower A-level results

Okay, it’s A-level results day. If you, or anyone you know, is holding on to grades that weren’t the ones you’d hoped for, read this.

Your life IS NOT shaped by your results. YOU go way beyond a few exam grades.

What makes you awesome isn’t about a particular institution, degree, or career. Those things don’t matter as much as you might think.

Your awesomeness is about what you do. Everything you do. And who you are.

You are the big picture. While your experiences are parts of you, they don’t define you, they only help build a definition of you in pieces. For every situation that makes you want to crawl under a rock, there are many others that will pick you back up and make your big picture more amazing than ever.

In short, you can still make things happen if you want it. Lower A-level results aren’t a fail. You may have failed to secure a firm offer to the degree you wanted, but that doesn’t mean you fail. Or, put another way, failure is fine. It means you work on what’s next for your big picture.

Stuff like this can make you feel deflated. But don’t let it make you give up. Start with some of the following:

Have a cuppa and stay calm. Oh, and a doughnut too. Nom.

1. Take stock and stay calm

Yes, it’s time to pick yourself up, but have a cup of tea first. Have a few cups of tea. Basically, let it go for a moment. Nobody expects you to jump up fighting straight after a shock. So relax. As hard as that sounds, try.
It is not the end of the world. If anyone acts like it is, they are wrong. Hope is not lost.
Imagine how it feels when you’re really dizzy. Your balance is thrown around at first, but you gradually improve. Give yourself time to feel a bit less dizzy.

2. Consider clearing options

Although some unis say they have no clearing places, that’s no reason to ignore what is available. Check my previous posts on clearing to make sure you are prepared:

Other clearing tips online today:

3. Only accept a place through clearing if you really want it and you think it’ll suit you

Just grabbing at places because you’re desperate to go to uni is a dangerous move. If you really are that keen to be in a uni, ANY uni, it’s better to find places that will guarantee you a place next year based on the grades you have. Then plan ahead for the year ahead.
Yes, even though tuition fees go up next year. Fees are more annoying than dangerous.

4. Consider your other options

We’re all thrown curveballs from time to time. You certainly won’t be alone in this situation. There are other routes into uni. And you may even decide not to bother with university at all. Correct, that IS an option. Seriously. A good place to start in checking out other options is notgoingtouni.com.

The Independent has information on distance learning options.

Also check out Ross Renton’s tips on what do you do if you don’t get a place at University.

5. Find support from understanding friends and family

Don’t go through this alone. And if it is too tough to speak to those you know, seek online forums of support. There will be a lot of people going through similar circumstances over at The Student Room, for instance.

UCAS also has an Exam Results Helpline, with people on hand to discuss your future options. Give them a call on 0808 100 8000. UCAS say, “Whether it’s questions about continuing into further or higher education, or pursuing different routes such as vocational learning routes, taking a gap year or finding employment, advisers are on-hand to offer free, expert and independent information and advice”.

6. Work on Plan B, even when you don’t have one

University and College Union says that tens of thousands of students who don’t get a uni place this year are “unlikely to have a plan B“.

So make one. Now you’ve considered your options, make a focused plan. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it does need to be taken seriously.
Why? Because now is not the time to despair and grab at the first thing to fall into your reach.
Give it proper thought. Ask yourself some questions. What were you going to university for? How else can you get to where you want to be? Who or what can help you in your quest? Do you have any particular career or pathway in mind?
If you can’t answer all your questions, do some more research. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice as you do it. Nobody would be able to do as much as they do without other people.

7. Believe in yourself

It’s not always easy to pick yourself up after a fall. But don’t be hard on yourself. What’s done is done. If you did your best, there is nothing to worry about. You can shine brighter in other ways. If you know in your heart of hearts that you could have upped the effort, let this be Day One of making the effort you know you can give.

Good luck to you and may you have an amazing future.