Another bit of paper?

I’ve had this certificate for a couple of weeks now, but have been rather reticent about writing a post. None of the previous postgraduate qualifications I’ve gained (a PostGraduate Certificate in Education and two Masters degrees) was ‘graded.’ But this one was. Merit. More than a Pass, but not a Distinction. And I wasn’t sure how I felt about sharing that in public. If there had been no gradations, I know I wouldn’t have felt like this, nor indeed if I’d got a distinction. So there’s clearly something in the grading system that bothers me … and in me not achieving the top grade.

Let me start by pointing out that I don’t think I’ve been hard done to; the marks I was getting for the assignments were not sufficient to indicate I was working at distinction level. I averaged 67.5% across the four modules and would have needed to be averaging 70%+ for a distinction. The feedback I received from my tutors was detailed, outlined strengths in my work and those areas which needed improvement. I’m absolutely happy that the marks I was awarded reflected the standard of my work. But the niggle was, shouldn’t someone studying at a higher level (PhD) be getting the highest grade? I could of course dismiss this as imposter syndrome; many (most?) PhD students experience this at one time or another. Or I could try to rationalise it by claiming that I was studying these modules at a time when I was also working at something else full time … but so are many of the other course participants. Both of these attempts at explanation position me as in some way seeking an excuse for underperformance, but rather than underperformance, perhaps I have simply been working at a level which accurately reflects my capability? However, I don’t think that it therefore follows that I’m ill-suited for PhD study.

What it left me reflecting on, more so than I ever did when I was sitting O and A-levels back in the mid-70s, was how a grade forces you to ask questions of yourself. If you regularly get B grades, what do you feel? How does that affect your aspirations? Is there a point at which you have to settle for ‘good enough,’ and what might that do your self-esteem? As someone, by dint of rather advanced years, with less to lose than most from being awarded a particular grade, my thoughts turn to all those young people passing through the education system. What effects does positioning them on various scales have on their self-worth and their aspirations, whether they’re at the bottom, in the middle or at the top?

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