Monday, September 28, 2020

What happens AFTER the test is more important than what your kid scores ON the test

The alternate title for this article was "Why a B is better than an A". Even though the one chosen is longer and therefore statistically not as marketable, I figured it told the story better.

My daughter recently came home with an 86 on her science test (gasp!). She studied for it and at least from my point of view she seemed to make a legitimate effort at preparing. She was disappointed that her grade was not an A but there were no tears and she was confident that she would do better next time. I am satisfied and think she did well. Of course, I want her to strive for excellence but not to the point where it causes an ulcer.

Why is her 86% better than getting a 96% on the test? Blasphemy you say? Sure, higher grades are generally better but allow me to explain. There are two key lessons learned from a less than stellar performance on a test.

The first is that just because her teacher said, "OK, pencils down class." does not mean that the test is actually finished. Did your daughter talk to the teacher? What did she get wrong? Can she ask for extra credit? Did she explain to the teacher that she only needs a B+ to bring her GPA up to an A and this class is the only one where it is questionable. Did your daughter mention to her teacher that this particular class is her favorite? One thing that our kids need to learn is that you can negotiate almost anything. School policy shmolicy, we are all human and susceptible to all that comes with our humanity (like guilt, sympathy, vanity, compassion...). Even teachers! Let them learn early that they do not have to meekly accept all that life throws at them.

The second point is a bit more serious. There seems to be a pandemic running amok through schools now (apart from COVID). This one is causing strong young men and women to avoid taking risks for fear of failure, increasing anxiety, and producing an unwillingness to make decisions without peer support or authoritative guidance. This article from Psychology Today, while from a few years ago, is an early indication of what we see today. Resilience is on decline. 


This ability to bounce back is a better trait to have than good study habits. In the world beyond academia, grades are rare and life is mostly pass or fail. When was the last time your boss handed you back a report you had written and said, "I'd give this about a 76%. It is passing but not by much." While there may be a few managers like this, most of work-life is either pass or fall. Did you get the sale or did you not get the sale? It doesn't matter that you prepared all week and did a great presentation hitting all the key points for the client. Did you get the sale or did you not get the sale?

The resiliency to bounce back and learn something from a bad grade is a trait much more valuable in the workplace than knowing all the answers. Because, many (most?) times in life, the right answer is not clear. Recovering and moving quickly towards another solution is critical for success in business. So embrace that 86% and teach your kids that it is OK to get a B (occasionally).


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