Learning to get good grades or just learning? Or both?


I’m a professor and I know it is all about learning. Who cares about the grades? Right? What matters is whether or not students comprehend the material and can use it in real life. In my world, I want counseling students to understand the nature of trauma, how to recognize it and respond well to it when evident in their clients. I don’t care if they get an A or a C as long as they are competent. And, I know that some students test poorly and yet are exceptional counselors.

Yeah right, grades DO matter

But ask students and parents of school-age children, and guess what–grades do matter. Good grades get better scholarships; get parents off your back. Good grades get better internships. Good grades make teachers think you are smarter. Good grades help you feel better about yourself. Wait…those last two…are they true? Yes, even if it shouldn’t be that way and probably worth another post at some other time.

Is there a relationship between good grades and learning?

But how close are getting good grades and learning? Can you get good grades and not really learn? How many readers aced a history or statistics test years ago but now couldn’t tell you the first thing about the subject? You can memorize, recite, and forget…and get good grades. So, we know that you can teach and study to the test (notice I didn’t say learn) without learning.

And yet, let me suggest one positive relationship between getting good grades and learning. The student who learns to get good grades (but hopefully isn’t obsessed or controlled by them) has learned to

  • Decipher what the teacher is looking for and to complete assignments as required
    • Learning: decoding, organization, self-assessment, predicting time/effort needed to complete tasks
  • Get the information needed to complete an assignment
    • Learning: speed reading, efficient categorization of material
  • Deliver the information needed in an appropriate format
    • Learning: concise communication, learning to differentiate between essential and non-essential material

The real reason I’m writing this post

Okay, the real reason I am writing this post is that I just helped my teenage son take a difficult, on-line quiz that covered an inordinate amount of material. He was allowed to complete the quiz while having the material still open. However, the amount of material he had to read and understand comprised overwhelmed his ability to remember what he learned and where he learned it. So, I taught him how to read the quiz question and then go back to the multiple e-documents and use the “find” button on his web browser to find the pertinent information he needed to answer the question.

Did I help my son learn or just to get a better grade on his assignment? If he chooses to not read the material in the future but just use the search functions, is that a failure to learn well or did he learn to become efficient in work?

4 Comments

Filed under education, Family, parenting

4 responses to “Learning to get good grades or just learning? Or both?

  1. Sad to say, but you taught your son “survival skills” for online education. There is nothing wrong with learning to survive, because online tests are very difficult and are usually written by the authors of the informaion (text book). The sadness comes when the tests and grades stifle the thirst for knowledge. Give me a thirsty student and I can teach them. Give me a great test taker and I can mathmatically pass them but they may not actually know a thing.

  2. imaginatemum

    It sounds like an OK technique for some things, but not for everything. Did he understand the answers he was giving? Did he learn more / enjoy the process?

  3. Great post. There is a massive disparity between getting good grades and knowing the thing. Your post is really enlightening.
    For this same reason, a number of people have been through college and have certificates but can’t profer relevant solutions.
    Life is full of such contrasts.

  4. Danny L Trussell

    Who knows exactly. State licensing tests can be taken the same way. But, then state license tests often have to be taken again on a renewal basis. The key is to keep up the mind be review. How many things have I forgotten from my classes? How many things do I remember? My memory falls into both categories. The key is continuing education for your needs in life.

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