How to stop your grades from yo-yo'ing!

by Jessica Holsman

Dear Jess,

I received my year 10 semester report and I’m not happy with my results. My grades on my report were literally a 'yoyo'. I excelled in some subjects and received an A or A+. On the other hand, 2 subjects were the complete opposite and I either didn't pass or 'borderline' passed that exam.

I’m worried about failing or getting C’s and D’s. Most of my teachers say that a C or C+ is average, but I wouldn’t feel satisfied with those grades.

All of my teachers tell me that "you're too hard on yourself", "you’re too critical about yourself", "Don't be so hard on yourself". It feels weird saying this but I don't feel satisfied if I don't get an A or A+ in my assignments.

During your High School years did you ever go through a phase where the effort and hard work you do before a test or exam doesn't reflect well on the test paper or exam?

This keeps happening to me and I’m worried what if I don’t fix this problem before year 12?

Also, how do you deal with stress? Some of my close friends call me a 'stress-head' and that I study 'too much'. My teachers say that if I keep it up, next year I am going to have 'severe' mental breakdown!

Anonymous x

Hi Lovely,

I remember experiencing a similar challenge in high school and also into my first year at university. Once I got into year 11 and could choose all of my final subjects, I didn’t really see much of that yo-yo’ing with my grades, which was good! Then, when I started uni, we had mandatory subjects, along with our chosen electives, and while I didn’t find the exams too tricky, some of these classes had new types of assignments I’d never done before. That’s where I saw my grades dip again… It was all quite the learning process for me!

You’re email actually reminded me of when I was in first year uni and we learned how to write a research proposal and lab report. I thought I was doing my absolute best (plus I’d always been great at essay writing!) and yet my grades were repeatedly around the 65% mark. The one thing that really helped was meeting with the teacher and revising her feedback, as well as looking at an example of what an A+ paper actually looked like, so I had a better understanding and clearer direction. It took a while but by second year I was getting much higher grades that reflected the effort I was putting in.

Forgetting about the exact grades you get for a moment, I think what’s most important is that you feel like you’re getting a grasp of the topics and understanding the overall material you’re learning in class. Grades aside, you need to be getting something out of your classes too! When you look at your performance on a test or exam, it can (but not always) be a good indicator of how much you’ve gotten out of your time in class.

It’s also great to aim high and say that you want to really reach your full potential by doing the best you can (I’m the same!), but it should only be as long as it’s within reason. By that, I mean it shouldn’t come at the expense of your hobbies, social life, personal commitments etc.

Improving your grades can be a great long-term goal but it’s an ongoing process. Plus, it takes time to improve in different subjects and grasp new or complex information, so you shouldn’t be kicking yourself or feeling down about yourself if you don’t see results right away. Being proactive is always a great thing though and striving for constant self-improvement is a really positive trait!

Just ask yourself why you don’t feel satisfied if you don’t get an A or A+. Is it because you did your very best and committed to doing everything you could to learn the material (e.g. take notes, revise effectively, study in groups, meet with teachers, look over feedback, etc.) but can’t understand why your efforts aren’t being reflected in your grades? Or is it because deep down in side, you need those grades so that you can feel like you are smart enough or good enough?

Maybe it’s a mix of both? I found that this was the case for me. The thing is, our grades only reflect how well we studied, how well our teachers taught us, and our understanding of some very specific information. Also, like I said earlier, mastering a particular assignment format or grasping a subject can take time and requires us to tap into the right types of support (i.e. teachers, tutors, friends, or additional resources). It’s not always an overnight kind of thing…

Also, I know it’s really easy to do this, but try not to think too far ahead into the future and entertain those ‘what if’ worries about year 12. What’s important for now is that you just focus on the subjects you’re currently studying and take things one step at a time. Who knows, you might make one of your not-so-hot subjects, one of your top subjects by the end of the year! It’s certainly possible and it was definitely the case for me when I was studying statistics.

You also mentioned that some people call you a stress-head and it sounds like your teachers are pretty concerned about your mental well-being. If you feel like you aren’t putting too much pressure on yourself and have a healthy balance between work and play then that’s great. One thing you might like to do so you have a clearer insight into your current lifestyle and mental health is to document on a piece of paper all the nice things you do for yourself each day. See how much time you spend meeting your own needs and even track how much time you spend studying/being at school vs. focusing on hobbies, self care and personal commitments. When we keep track of our behaviours, it’s a lot easier to objectively see where we can make some helpful changes and improvements.

Even try and get into the habit early on, of setting healthy boundaries. One idea is to set an alarm each evening to clock-off from studying and make sure you prioritize yourself. If at any point however, you feel like things are starting to get too overwhelming and the stress is affecting you (no matter how much that might be), always make sure that you reach out to your supports for help!

Best of luck!

Love, Jess x