Heartbeats quicken, fingers cross, and feet tap nervously as teachers slowly progress around the room, calling off names and presenting papers to students. Hands quickly flip the papers over; eyes search for the grade; minds process the penned numbers momentarily then immediately proceed to either silently celebrate or despair.
More often than not, it is despair for small mistakes, rather than appreciation for pretty good grades.
Everyone knows the stress that accompanies the return of an important paper, test, or project; each instance seems to single-handedly alter the fate of one’s entire high school career and beyond. To some extent, this stress is beneficial as it drives students to reach their full potential. However, in many cases the stress leads to skewed patterns of thought which can seriously harm students’ mental health.
It may seem natural to assume that students focused on academic achievement will celebrate their successes with as much energy as they condemn their failures. Instead, many seem unaffected by their successes but severely distressed by the disappointment of slight failure. This line of thinking could be explained by the fact that if students expect themselves to succeed, instead of merely being hopeful, then a good test grade hardly seems worth celebrating. Consequently, any grade that falls below their definition of good is deemed unacceptable.
Paying attention to bad grades has some merit; it allows students to learn from their mistakes and refrain from repeating them. However, it is important to view graded tests and projects as opportunities for learning, not perfection.
Focusing only on what went wrong, as opposed to a maintaining a more balanced outlook, paints a distorted picture of one’s academic career. Suddenly the self-proclaimed failures stand out much more than the accomplishments, leaving students with the false impression that they are constantly falling below their expectations.
It is equally important to take the time and congratulate oneself for the tests and papers that are successful. One can learn just as much by studying what went right as one can learn studying what went wrong. However, the value of self-congratulation is much deeper than purely academic.
Today’s high school students are experiencing higher rates of stress over academics than ever. According to a study published by Frontiers in Psychology focusing on elite East Coast private schools, 49% of students reported that they felt “a great deal of stress” on a daily basis. While much of this stress stems from uncontrollable outside factors such as standardized testing and the pressure to be accepted into an elite college, a considerable amount results from students’ own skewed expectations about themselves and underevaluation of their own achievements.
This stress can have tangible impacts on students’ mental and physical health, including fatigue, sleep problems, and higher rates of depression and anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. While it may seem like a trivial and useless pursuit, taking the time to congratulate oneself over good grades can shift students’ focus from their shortcomings to their successes, resulting in a much more positive outlook on their academic career. The difference between working hard to ward off failure and working hard to continue one’s progress is huge, and can help reduce students’ stress levels.
After finals wrap up, the semester comes to a close, and students are released to a few weeks of no school, they should use that extra time to reflect on what they achieved over the semester and refrain from obsessing over their mistakes. Simply finishing the semester is an accomplishment itself.