The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News


This poll has ended.

Do you treat student evaluations seriously?


Sorry, there was an error loading this poll.

Loading Recent Classifieds...

Column: The hidden cost of good grades

Dan Hahn
Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 217-581-2812.

Do grades foster a healthy sense of personal satisfaction, or do they create a needlessly stressful environment where learning takes a backseat?  

I sometimes joke that I am an A student, but the “A” stands for “anxiety.” 

Picture a college where students are driven by a love for learning, untethered from the constraints of traditional grades and scoring.

What would our education system look like if we banished our commonly held conception of grades on the typical A through F scale? Would high-performing students still be motivated to excel and learn? 

It is my general belief that most students care more about scores and letter grades than they do about learning. I am guilty of falling for this trap, too. 

Often, students will coast through the semester until only a handful of weeks remain in the academic term. Then they realize they need to gather some trivial points to elevate their grade from a C to a B or a B to an A. 

In such cases, the student might email their instructor or visit during office hours to ask how they can achieve that higher grade. Sometimes, the student will argue that they did turn in that missing discussion board, but the dog ate their homework, or D2L is to blame. 

Imagine what life would be like for academics and students if we did not have to put on these performances. Imagine the absence of grading scales, extra credit, curved grades, weighted grades, grading schemas, GPAs, alphabet soup, pluses or minuses, grade contestations, or anything of the sort. 

Well, what I just described is something some teachers have put into practice. It is called “ungrading,” where students can actually grade themselves at the end of the course, usually in consultation with the instructor. 

Perhaps this form of assessment is not ideal for every class in every discipline, but under this system, assessments are designed to be more meaningful and authentic.  

Instead of relying solely on scored assessments, students are given opportunities to demonstrate their understanding through real-world applications. This allows them to showcase their knowledge and skills in a way that aligns with their career aspirations. 

Scoring and grading stresses and limits students’ intrinsic desire to learn. Impending deadlines are met with anxiety instead of a genuine desire to perform at our best.  

It makes students competitive when they should instead be curious. Grades can create a culture of comparison, where the focus becomes earning the highest score rather than developing deep understanding. 

Ungrading promotes a growth mindset by fostering a love for learning itself. Instead of wanting an A, students want to learn. 

Reimagining our education system without grades challenges traditions, but it also opens possibilities for fostering an interest in lifelong learning.  

While alternative grading approaches may not be a reality or suitable across all curricula, it offers an approach that prioritizes learning for the sake of learning. 

By shifting the focus from grades to learning, the classroom and curriculum become more genuine, engaging, and enriching for all. 

After all, school ends at some point for all students, but education continues (or at least it should). I fear that our competitive and stressful culture of traditional grading disincentivizes lifelong learning and trains graduates to reduce education to a transactional, carrot-and-stick dynamic when it is, in fact, so much more. 

Dan Hahn can be reached at [email protected] or 217-581-2812.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Dan Hahn
Dan Hahn, Columnist
Dan Hahn is a graduate student studying English and can be reached at 581-2812.

Comments (0)

Commenting on the Daily Eastern News web site is a privilege, not a right. We reserve the right to remove comments that contain obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language. Also, comments containing personal attacks or threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
All The Daily Eastern News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest