It’s Okay to Not Get an “A”

Should I try to be a straight “A” student?


I can hear the cries of dismay now. Wait, what now? Hold the phone – Katie doesn’t want me to be a straight A student? Katie says I should get bad grades. Katie is the worst tutor! 

Hold your horses. That’s definitely not what I said. I think you should absolutely work very hard at school. You should learn like there’s no tomorrow. Learn like it’s going out of style. Know what putting forth your best effort looks and feels like, and be honest with yourself about whether you’re doing that. School is a great place to learn about everything from Romantic poets to calculus to what kinds of study methods help your brain keep track of information. But school’s not the place to hone a perfectionist streak. 

“Trying to get straight As” isn’t, perhaps, the goal you want to be working for. In fact, trying to be a straight A student might actually be holding you back. Time for a little real talk about that elusive 4.0.

4 Reasons Its Ok to Not Get an “A”

It’s classic all or nothing thinking

Deciding that your measure of worth or value is only in “getting straight As” (see also: a perfect score on the SAT, all 5s on your AP exam, etc) is a pretty dicey situation. It means that there’s only one way for you to succeed and almost infinite ways to fail – even if “failing” means getting a stray A-. It might make it easier to give up entirely if you feel like you can’t make every grade an A. If you’re looking for a way to motivate yourself to do better, think about the middle ground. Work to improve your grade in a tough class, not necessarily ace it. Think of it as choosing to value progress over perfection. 

It’s a surefire way to keep you from taking risks

If you want to get nothing but As, you’ll need to make sure you never take a class that’s too hard, right? The pressure to be perfect might make you shy away from doing things that are a challenge. If you have the choice between the extra-reading, lots-of-essays English class and one where the workload will be lighter, you might choose the easier option, even if it isn’t the one that sounds best for you. You might stay away from AP or IB coursework, because you’re not totally sure you can get an A. Chasing an A might keep you chained to things that are safe and easy –  that’s not where you’d like to stay. 

It might keep you from learning things you love

The first time I took a class in my major at college (you know, just the thing I knew I wanted to do with my life, the thing I thought was my “best” subject, etc) I got a B-. That class knocked the wind out of me. I couldn’t figure out how to write a good historical essay, or read critically enough, or ask the right questions in class. But the next term I signed up for another one. And another after that. I enjoyed the work I was doing, I just hadn’t learned to be good at it yet. If I’d wanted an A, I might have abandoned my major altogether and never have learned to be good at the thing that I love best. Believe me – I know how nice it would be to just be good at something, the first time you do it, without having to try – but that isn’t usually how life works. Don’t let perfectionism keep you from discovering things that make you happy.

It doesn’t leave much room for the rest of your life

Okay, so imagine that you’ve decided to keep taking difficult classes, but you’re still going to get straight As anyway. First, maybe you’ll have to cancel all your extracurriculars. You start eating dinner alone in your room with your textbooks. If your friends text to ask you out for ice cream, you say no because you’ve gotta run those flashcards one more time. Even if you get that A, it doesn’t sound like much…fun. Lots of things in your life – think family, friends, the school play, swimming practice, reading your favorite books, petting your dog – don’t necessarily contribute to your GPA, but they certainly affect your Happiness Point Average (not to mention your well-rested point average, your health point average, your joy point average … you get my drift).

So what’s a student like you to do? 

Take your eyes off the A. Or the 100%. Or the 36 on the math section.  Make your goals more meaningful and related to you. Keep stretching, trying, failing, and trying again. Look for ways to challenge yourself and keep learning all the time. Most importantly, find a way to decouple the “perfect score,” whatever that may be, from your idea of what it means to be successful. You can try your best to master quadratic equations, you can take a test, get a B, and still have succeeded.

Keep your focus on effort, not outcome.

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