The Mindless Race for Marks: Do Good Grades Guarantee a Successful career?

Dr. Syed Arshad Hussain *

In our society, children are brought up with the mindset that they must score high marks in order to succeed in life. Each parent has expectations that their kids will excel in his/her career. According to most of the parents scoring high marks in exams are the basis of the success. From childhood to 12th-grade board exams, kids have learnt from teachers, parents, and media that they must work hard, and score above 90%.

But the main question is, do scoring high marks guarantee a successful career? Are employers looking at the marks? The answer is – good score in school might help student to get admission in a good college, it still does not guarantee a successful career. Here conception plays the vital role. What matters are how students utilize the opportunities they are given and how they develop their skills.

A student may cram and score in their final exams of school, but employers will always look at a person’s abilities rather than their marks when it comes to the real world. The way scores are evaluated in the current times is the reflection of the student’s ability to learn large amounts of text but not the conceptual or analytical skills. They demonstrate subjective knowledge of a particular domain or topic and may or may not be evidence of an aptitude for the subject or the field.

The Indian education system is built in such a manner that puts unjustifiable importance on obtaining good marks. Without an impressive mark sheet, getting into a good college is considered impossible, which means the student loses his or her chance to be offered a good job that will then lead to a successful career. So, the base of a successful career, according to many, is scoring high marks.

Very often success and recognition for students are measured in terms of "marks" or "grades" secured and/or awards won. In the absence of other easily available objective criteria to assess students, many stakeholders are forced to rely on the marks/grades secured. While the importance of marks / grades cannot be undermined, it is perhaps inappropriate to focus solely on this.

If we think about the scoring pattern we see that ten to fifteen years back scoring first division was considered as very good achievement as hardly student get first division or 60% at that time. In this regard I recall a story shared by my teacher that people came to see him when he got first division in eighty’s. But now scoring 60% is considered as merely average result as students very often score 90% or more.

However, through all the times the important thing is what a person achieved in professional life rather the marks. A bad mark sheet, or score does not imply that a person is destined to be a failure for the rest of their lives. History has taught us that there are many who failed at something important and went onto to becoming spectacular successes in their later lives.

You can find a long list of successful personalities who achieved phenomenal success in professional lives despite of not scoring very high scores in exams. Some noted examples are Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, Srinivasa Ramanujan, Dhirubhai Ambani, Albert Einstein Azim Premji and so on. They all excel in their respective profession / career despite of not scoring very high marks.

On the other hand there exists long list where people were unsuccessful in their professional life despite of scoring very high marks in academics. Genius people are very rare and also not everybody has a very high IQ. Generally less than 1% of the population are having high IQ. That does not mean that the rest cannot find success.

I am mentioning here two success stories who overcome all odds and attain highest level of success. First one is about the Missile Man Dr Kalam. In the words of our former President Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, “Man needs his difficulties because they are necessary to enjoy success”. He always said that our perspective can make all the difference.

In order to support his poor family, he distributed newspapers after his school-hours to add to his father’s income. He received average marks in school but was a hardworking student with a strong desire to learn and discover. He also failed to become a pilot but he never lost hope and later came to be known as the “Missile man of India”. His life is a clear example of the result we get when we deal with our problems positively.

Stephen Hawking is another well-known name. He was a great cosmologist, theoretical physicist and author. He hailed from a poor family and at 21, he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS: failure nerves that control muscles). His early school life was not magnificent, he got the third rank from the bottom in his classes but he really enjoyed board-games.

He made computers out of waste-parts to solve mathematical equations. His immense success as a physicist proves that our careers are not solely decided by our grades and disability but on our determination. He always said, “Disability is never physical and is always in the mind.”

Therefore, students should be encouraged to fully assimilate and integrate the knowledge across various subjects / courses and develop the ability to apply the acquired knowledge in real-life contexts. Students should remember that marks secured and awards won are recognition of hard work and relatively better performance in various assessments. Yet, this can perhaps only help initially in enabling access to various career advancement opportunities.

In the long run, one is required to consistently demonstrate the ability to apply conceptual knowledge to various situations. Often, one is required to work in diverse groups to resolve complex issues affecting various stakeholders. Marks may not always be able to adequately capture the ability to identify problems, critically evaluate alternatives and suggest appropriate solutions. Needless to emphasize, this requires a deep understanding of various topics learned formally through taught courses or developed through additional reading, interactions with colleagues, friends and experience.

Usually, a person who has a lot of work experience will not even be able to recall their exact board percentage. It is because it doesn’t hold much importance to their lives or their career. Marks may seem like a life-and-death matter at the time, but they are very short-lived criteria of evaluation that would make way for other successes over the years.

Clearly, it is very important to realize that poor marks and not getting admission in favourite college/ course are trivial issues. Rather than losing heart, we should think of making our next step successful. What matters is the way we deal with problems. That is what makes or breaks our careers. Good grades in examinations are never useless but they definitely are not the only factor that leads to successful professions and the students, should learn this from our real-life heroes.

Employers know very well that a topper will know exactly as much about their job role as the mediocre person – zero. Our education system is not one that puts much stress on making us world-smart. At the end of the day, any new recruit, no matter what their academic track record, will have to be given extensive training to make them job-ready.

There are skills beyond your bookish knowledge that you need for professional success. Your marks are only partially responsible for getting a good job. There are many other factors those play vital role in the recruitment process. At the end of the day, your employer would be much more concerned about whether you have leadership skills or if you can meet deadlines rather than if you scored 90% in Chemistry or aced the paper on World

Thinking about marks vs concepts one must remember the following - Enjoy the process of learning and do not focus only on the end result. Professional life will be fraught with uncertainty so do not be disheartened by small setbacks. Knowledge gained will stay with you for eternity. Be open-minded learn new things even if does not seem to be relevant now.

Knowledge can be gained in different ways in the classroom, from experiences of your role models, from peers from other media. Develop the ability to see big picture. Develop the ability to integrate knowledge across various topics learning in silos does not take one far. Knowledge gained is not useful unless it can be applied appropriately to resolve issues. Develop empathy for people around you and try to be humble.

At the end students must remember that scoring high grade in academics is good and help towards successful career but can’t guarantee the same. On the other hand if you can develop strong communication skills, solid problem-solving skills, ability to work well with others, develop a proactive attitude and a professional work ethic then you will definitely do well in any work environment irrespective of scores or grades.

* Dr. Syed Arshad Hussain wrote this article for
The writer is Professor at Department of Physics, Tripura University
and can be contacted at sahussain(AT)tripurauniv(DOT)in
This article was webcasted on November 07 2021.

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