From SSC/HSC to O and A Levels to university admission tests – as results come out, the questions many people ask are “Are these grades a measure of my intelligence?” and “What do I do with these results?”

They’re a factor when we’re being considered for new institutions, they’re what our relatives use to define how smart we are, and they’re taken as a measure of our success as a learner. But if you actually look at what good grades give you, or what bad grades take from you, will you really find that big of an impact?


The Need for Education

Let’s start at the roots; education systems are implemented to raise children to be the most knowledgeable and capable people possible. In economics, education is a factor leading to good workers and productivity. In science, it’s what gives people the launchpad for their leap into the great unknown and its mechanisms. In mathematics, it’s what turns minds into processors. But does that mean getting an A in these subjects is the same as mastering it? Yes, our Physics books teach us the science behind sub-atomic particles and reactivity. But when a Physics student reads about nuclear missiles, can they recognize the science behind their weaponry? Can they try to formulate a possible counter to it?


The Measures of Education

The issue is that most systems don’t much care for these applications of education.

They give students a certain arsenal of knowledge, but then don’t care if they go on to use it.

Once you complete your test and receive your results, what more use is there in knowing that plant cells have cell walls but animal cells don’t? The papers don’t ask you, “what do you think genetic engineering could mean for our world,” they ask you, “define the term ‘genetic engineering,’” because on paper, the precise keywords and phrasing are more valuable than the ability to expand on what we know to be facts.

But here rises another question; how can a paper actually measure a person’s ability to think over their ability to memorize? When you have a class of 100 or so students sitting down to take one test, you won’t be able to determine their knowledge in the same way, because everyone thinks differently, so how would you be able to put a standardized number on what they know? How can you tell a student that they don’t have the makings of an economist just because they don’t want to define GDP in textbook terms?


So here we stand, rooted waist-deep in an education system built to raise professionals, not innovators. The process of churning out a degree is long, tiring, and stressful enough for students to actually consider dropping their chase after information to settle instead for something easier and more doable. After all, we’ve all said at some point, “if Steve Jobs and Abraham Lincoln didn’t need a degree to become legends, neither do I.” It wasn’t a certificate that they needed to change the world; it was a thirst for knowledge. How much can our system really be benefiting us, if it makes students dread learning?

“Being Smart” versus “Being a Good Student”


Now to our central question at hand; do our grades define our capabilities? There’s no argument on whether or not they matter—they do. This isn’t the same as saying that the brightest students will get the highest grades, though. In most cases, it’s the student who’s most committed to their schoolwork, and therefore most studious. After all, there isn’t a section for general knowledge in our exams. But simply saying this can’t be an excuse for genuinely clever students to throw in the towel. You can be the smartest person in the world, and that would mean nothing unless you worked to not only prove your smarts, but also expand it.

A high IQ is no different from a low IQ if its bearer doesn’t care to use it.

So what excuse do you really have if this is the case for you? “Memorizing isn’t my style?” The bitter truth is that regardless of which field you choose to pursue in your life, you’re never going to get away from some degree of memorizing. Medical professionals need to know the names of organs, conditions, and medicinal chemicals. Physicists have to be able to draw formulae at the drop of a hat. Economists cannot go far without their arsenal of terms and facts. So really, aren’t exams just a test of commitment and determination? After all, many a time, the top student isn’t the smartest student in the room, but one who tries harder. If you are the smartest student in the room, then what excuse could you have for not sitting down to study a subject you can easily grasp?

But here’s another question I pose to you: how do you know if you’re the smartest? We’re all capable of mastering a subject of our strength, but does our system really help us to do so? We are essentially handed a book containing everything we need to know, but does that mean that it’s the only thing we need in order to master that subject? Studies have proven time and time again that for different students, you need different teaching methods. While some can easily make do with a textbook, that’s not the case for all of them. For some students, it’s easier to grasp a topic if you see it with your own eyes. For others, the only way to truly master it is to take part in it with your own hands. Then would it be safe to say that the students with the low grades are the ones incapable of learning?

Our education system fails us in this aspect. But really, how can it avoid failing? It’s not a living, breathing, learning organism. It can’t see the potential in a student, understand their needs on an individual level, or measure their adaptability and thinking skills. The best it can do is put an approximate number value on their determination to know their substance, and know it well.

The Verdict

So when textbooks can’t teach us, teachers can’t focus on us, and papers can’t understand us, what’s left for us to do?

Teach ourselves.


There’s no rule in our system saying that the textbook dictates the boundary of our learning. So why do we take it to be one? When we don’t understand a subject in school, why do we instead pay coaching to try hammering it into our heads once more? Watch documentaries, watch projects, watch experiments. Listen to talks, listen to the systole and diastole of a heart, listen to world leaders explaining their politics for themselves. Make notes in multicolour, draw diagrams within diagrams, highlight that word you can’t even pronounce. Sometimes what we had read that we remember during a test; it’s actually what we were looking at when we were zoning out.

Mark Twain once said “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

The man knew what he was talking about. Don’t let a B in chemistry keep you from being a doctor; find a new way to remember its mechanisms. For centuries, our icons have proven that all you need for excellence is the infallible desire to be excellent.

After all, the only part of the system that’s fixed, is that you’ll get marked for your work. How you get your work done is up to you to decide. Words on paper can’t understand what you need; only you can.

by Imaan Khasru