Health Matters: The pressure of grades negatively affects students

The high schoolers and 8th graders of Ann Richards have just taken their 2019 midterms. With a revised schedule of two classes a day, both two hours long, they take their tests or projects that will account for 25% of their final grade for the semester. This time is extremely hard on students and teachers, as lots of projects are due, tests are being taken, and the end of the semester looms overhead. 


It’s important for students to learn how to take care of their mental and physical health. As more homework is added, tests become harder, and it seems impossible to get all the work done that needs to get done, other responsibilities get dropped. The first part that seems to go is taking care of their health. Students overload themselves by staying up way too late, waking up way too early, coming to school sick and not taking the time to care for themselves. All in the name of school and grades. 


“The night before a test, I stay up a couple hours past my bedtime, so usually about 12,” Max Webb (11) said. “Then I can’t sleep, because I’m so stressed out, so I don’t fall asleep till about 2 or 3.” 


It’s not uncommon to hear ARS students talking about how they spend more time at school then they do at home. While this is played off like a joke, it is quite serious. Just like a full-time job, we attend school 40 hours a week. However, outside of school hours, many students have real jobs, other school activities that require attendance on weekends or extracurriculars that take up time before or after school. These responsibilities add onto the workload of homework and projects. In the end, the amount of work we are doing for school, plus any social life we may have, ends in students not getting a proper amount of sleep and sacrificing a lot, just to keep up.  


“It’s crazy how much we focus on our grades, but it’s mainly because we’re being compared,” Webb said. “The messages are, ‘You have to be a leader,’ and ‘Colleges are looking at your grades.’ So we become hyper-focused.” 


Students tend to focus their entire lives on their grades. The most important thing is passing, cramming the information into their heads, putting it down on the test, and forgetting it all. This is not because students don’t want to learn, it’s because there is too much pressure on them to get good grades, they feel like they can’t take the time to actually learn the material. 


“I think there is a disconnect between students’ understanding that their grade is supposed to represent what they know,” Ms. Denise Sanders, Chemistry and senior Biotechnology teacher, said. “So they worry about the grade, and not learning. Instead of saying, ‘what do I need to learn the material,’ they say, ‘what do I need to do to pass.’” 


The pressure of grades is hard enough, but now that midterms have started students have many tests that they have to worry about, ones without retakes and could potentially change their semester average dramatically. In a 6 weeks, there is usually several grades on the report card that balance out so not one assignment or test determines the grade. On the midterm, however, it’s one shot, one chance. If students have an off day and tank it, their grade could plummet. 


“A lot of people, me included, are like, ‘Oh my god, if I don’t get a good grade on this, my life is over,’” Ellie Fitzpatrick (9) said. “I think that people put too much stock in grades, and we need to chill out on that front as a society.” 


With all this pressure to perform, students feel like they can’t get sick, and they can’t take longer to grasp something, because everything moves too quickly. Some students feel like since they can’t keep up, it doesn’t matter how much work they put into it, they will always fall behind. 


“Compared to freshman year…a lot of people have that giving up mentality,” Webb said. “With homework in general, because they stress us out so much, I don’t want to do it, I don’t have the motivation.” 


Teachers also feel the pressure of the end of the school year, having too much to do, and trying to help students through this stressful time. 


“Coming up to finals [teachers get stressed] because we are trying to keep teaching, we really love our content, and we want to make sure we teach all of it,” Ms. Sanders said. “So, we’re still trying to have good lessons and assessments on the stuff we’re currently teaching, while also trying to write a final exam that’s going to be a good assessment of all we’ve learned in this semester. Also, not just writing it, but having review activities to help students get ready for it, because we know they have a lot of classes to prepare for and we want to make it as easy as possible.” 


Although the system seems unbeatable, there are a few key things teachers can do to ease the stress. The biggest cause of stress concerning midterms is the unknown. Students feel like if they miss something when studying, it could be their downfall. 


“A study guide is great,” Webb said. “Something like that, that tells us what’s going to be on [the test] and if we can answer these questions, then we’re going to be fine.” 


Teachers are here to help give advice to students, as adults who have been exactly where we are now. 


“Focus on mindfulness,” Ms. Sanders said. “Get up, take a walk around the building. Get up, stretch your legs, see some nature. Sit and just eat lunch, don’t try to study while you eat lunch. Don’t try to multitask, just sit and enjoy the meal, then go back to studying. Don’t let studying for finals be your entire life.”  


School is hard, but your health and happiness should be just as important. If you ignore your body’s messages, like the fact that you are sleep deprived, or that you haven’t eaten for several hours, you could take a huge toll on your health. Never forget that homework assignments can wait, and you can study later, but when your body is telling you that you need to sleep, listen to it. 


“Go to bed on time, or at a normal hour,” Fitzpatrick said. “Don’t pull an all nighter, it won’t work. You’re not going to get any work done, you’re just going to be really tired. Go to bed, eat food, very basic things, but please do it.” 


Above all, students need to learn that school isn’t everything. Try to allot time for hobbies, friends and family, your favorite Netflix show. Spend time doing something you really enjoy, because having three hours of a well-deserved break is just as important as spending three hours studying. School seems like the most important obligation in the world right now, but in a few years, we will have moved on to bigger and better things. So take care of yourself, because, in the end, your health should be your number one priority. 


“Find something that you really like, and just do it every weekend,” Webb said. “Over the summer, I got a job at a skate center and I realized that I love skating. So, every Saturday, I go skating for a couple of hours. It really helps me take my mind off of this stuff.”