What do you do when you get a graded assignment back from your teacher?
If you’re like most students you pack that graded assignment somewhere you’ll probably never look at it again. You might stick in somewhere in your textbook if you’re truly lazy. If you happen to be an organized nut you might just find a nice little spot in your binder to store it. Maybe you just tuck it into a binder pocket to deal with later.
Most students pack their graded assignments away almost immediately after looking at their grade. They look at their grade and almost instantaneously pack the assignment away in hopes that it will be completely forgotten (unless, of course, it’s an impressive grade.) The average grade the average student receives gets less than 30 seconds of thought from the student receiving it.
This is one of those habits that help keep your grades stagnant.
The following is one of those subjects that I’m always a little hesitant to talk about because it often seems more like a mind over matter self-help seminar than an actual useful strategy. It’s a concept that’s been brought up so many times by communities that I’m just not too aligned with that I do my best to avoid the discussion at all.
A number of studies have shown this to be true though.
When people don’t measure something objectively, they have less control over improving it.
When You Pack Away A Paper
When you pack away a graded assignment within seconds of receiving, you are signalling that the grade on the assignment isn’t important to you.
If you got a lower than usual grade on that assignment, you wouldn’t want to just pack it away and forget about it. You’d want to worry about it. You’d want to think about it. You might even dig through every single problem looking for any extra points you can squeeze from the teacher, “see teacher, the question wasn’t perfect. My grade should suck less!”
That’s no way to win over your teacher.
If you got a higher than usual grade on that assignment you might think about it with pride. You might show it off a little bit. Depending on your own style, higher than usual grades will typically get packed away particularly carefully.
When you’re just throwing a paper into your binder and forgetting about it, you’re not giving your brain a signal that your grade actually matters. Instead you’re signalling that your grade doesn’t matter. Since that’s the way you’re acting, your grade isn’t going to matter. You’ll continuously be mostly satisfied with the status quo of your grades.
If you’re looking to improve your grades, you need to look at these assignments a little differently.
Opportunities To Improve
Whenever you get an assignment back, take a couple minutes to actually look at the assignment. This is just plain old good practice. The red marks on your assignments aren’t dangerous. They’re already finished. The teacher has already seen the grade. Fortunately, it won’t get worse. On that sheet of paper, you have an explicit list of areas you can improve.
Spending 5 minutes looking at the assignment can drastically improve your ability on later assignments because it directly targets improving the areas that you’re struggling in. If you’re struggling in an area, the teacher will be marking that particular area up like crazy. That gives you plenty of opportunities to learn something.
This is the ideal way to look at grades. If you can learn to improve from them then you’re on track to improving your grades. That being said, most people still won’t learn this lesson.
If you can’t get yourself to go through your assignments then at the very least, write down the grade on the top of all your assignments in a single place. This process quickly recategorizes something you’d forget into something you’re taking the time to track.
Every time you open up to the notebook page or the app that you track your grades on, you’re going to be reminding yourself that your grades are important to you. You’re going to get a split second reminder of all the grades you wish you could forget. You’re also going to get to see if your grades are improving or getting worse. This is helpful in itself.
The Watched Grade Never Drops
When you’re tracking your grades in a single place, it becomes significantly more difficult to ignore your grades getting worse. If you see a few assignments dropping in scores each week, you’re going to notice it.
Without even consciously trying, this will encourage you to correct it. This can be the extra push of motivation you need to start studying when you are supposed to. This can be the extra push that gets you to double check things that need checking. This is the extra push that actually gets you to listen to the teacher’s boring lecture. You may never realize where this extra push is coming from but repeatedly having it can make a big impact.
If you want to improve your grades, tracking the baseline of your grades can give you an extra push. When you see your grades aren’t quite where you want them to be, you’re going to have to make a decision. The decision most students make is to stop tracking their grade. If you can avoid that then you’ll inevitably be forcing yourself to put the time you need into your classes. If you can’t ignore them, your body is going to fight to make those bad grades go away.
Studies have shown that people tend to manage things better when they take the time to actually measure them. Hence the old phrase from the old book, “what gets measured gets managed.” Without consciously trying, measuring your grades can improve your grades but this isn’t a magical process. It’s all about finding a way to put your grades into some kind of a perspective that can help you make the right choices when you need to make them.
When you get your graded work back, instead of just packing it away, do something about it! How you treat the average assignments is what determines whether or not you’re going to improve those average assignments. Don’t waste them by letting them get forgotten.
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