With final exam season in full swing, one cannot ignore the stress in the air. It is easy to lose perspective and get caught up in self-denigration given our emotional attachment to our grades. Where does this unhealthy relationship come from? When I first arrived in Montreal and joined the exclusive Desautels faculty, I was introduced to my new frenemy – the bell curve. The bell-curve creates an environment where competition takes on a whole new level. Unlike its usage in high school, the curve here does not ensure that studying hard positions you at the top of the class.
The bell curve influences us in many ways. It reduces the risk of getting a very low grade but simultaneously makes it almost impossible to receive that shiny A. Although the curve is meant to encourage students to work harder, I find this curve rather discouraging. About 70 percent of the students will fall in the area of one standard deviation on either side of the literal average. At Desautels, this means the majority of students receive an average grade of 70 to 75 percent, or a B.
Used to nearly perfect scores on just about every graded piece of coursework, McGill students find it difficult to face being considered average. The bell-curve means that some of us will be in that middle area, and that unfortunately, not all of us can continue to be the stars we were in high school. In an age where individualism takes precedence, it is no surprise that we all fear being considered regular. We see being ordinary as a curse as we strive for extraordinary in every aspect of our lives.
It is crucial to remember that receiving a grade – whether it is above, below, or exactly average – is not a reflection of who we are. To avoid basing our self-worth on our GPAs, it is important to do things we value which give us the opportunity to express ourselves more accurately or completely than the mark on our last Marketing assignment. Especially when curved to fit a mold, grades cannot encompass our entire being.
That said, we should not give up striving for academic excellence but rather allocate enough time to focus on the things that add value to our lives and not only to our resumes. Remember, you’re making the decision now, not your parents. It is time to become the person you’ve always wanted to be and that cannot be achieved without doing what you value most in life. For some that means having a strong support group by letting others know the importance they have in your life. For others, that means finding new passions and perhaps even new dreams. Don’t let the competitive nature of university take away the pleasure you get from doing things you love.
More than just a good GPA heals a wounded self-esteem. Be proud to be a McGill student but moreover, be proud to be yourself. There is no shame in being average in one of the top 15 universities in the world. Find other factors to inspire inner confidence other than a number out of 4.0. To keep things in perspective, reaching graduation is only a matter of time and all the hardship will boil down to two digits out of the 900 characters on your CV. What’s more, exams will be over in four weeks, summer will arrive and the sun will be out. Take a deep breath. We can do this.