‘Our Grade, Our Choice’: we’re missing the bigger picture

If we change our attitude to exam results, the class list won’t be an issue.

Cambridge campaigns Exams grades our grade our choice Stressed college

Recently the ‘Our Grade, Our choice’ campaign has gained momentum, with well over a thousand signatures calling for the end of grade publishing. Its arguments are understandable: ‘grade-shaming’ is damaging, as is an excessive level of competition.

The petition took off

In the context of exam term, competition and subsequently stress are high. This is hardly surprising: Cambridge has 20,000 undergraduates, all of whom pre-Cambridge were used to being ‘the best’.

Hands up if you were on the ‘Gifted and Talented’ list. Yeah, me too. Most students at Cambridge are natural ‘high flyers’, used to being at the top, and certainly not used to failing. Many display perfectionist traits. What happens then, when we’re chucked into the metaphorical pond with 20,000 other perfectionists and asked to sit a tripos exam, where we can’t all get 100%?

This is where campaigns such as ‘Our grade, our choice’ are born. Suddenly, we’re facing the prospect of not being at the top. Suddenly we’re – shudder – painfully average. And it’s scary. What do we do? Panic. Batten down the hatches.  ‘If I fail my exams, I don’t need the world knowing about it’. But stop: calm down. We need to think this through before crying over a class list.

Not worth crying over

Personally, I think we’re overreacting. And I don’t say this from the eyes of somebody headed for a starred first, but rather your average fresher, gradually realising that they spent too much time in Cindies this year.

Firstly, come results day, I’m not sure many people will give a flying fuck about your grade. Yes they might have a casual glance, but that grade will have gone from their mind after a few seconds. I can barely remember my twin sisters A Level results for god’s sake, let alone the results of my friends.

As far as your exam results go, I’m happy for you if you did well, and commiserations if you didn’t, but I don’t give a shit as long as you’re happy. We need to move away from the idea that everyone’s going to be analysing or even considering our grades, because chances are they won’t.

People are too stressed about their own grades to care about yours


Secondly, many of the arguments of the campaign are limited. ‘Our Choice, Our Grade’ points out that whilst you can remove yourself from the class list, you have to explain why. Well, so? Provided you have a valid reason – be that mental health, an issue with your name (for example, if you’re a transgender student, as the campaign notes) – then the university won’t have an issue with your withdrawal.

As per, that reason won’t go beyond those who ‘need to know’. The campaign suggests that withdrawal from the class list may cause gossip. Who the fuck during the summer holidays is going to be trawling through a class list, frantically trying to find a specific name? If you are, may I recommend a summer job.

Summer job = sleeping


Finally, and most importantly, we all need to adopt a change in attitude. We need to embrace this new concept of ‘average’.

I admit it’s a new one to me: I was so terrified of failing my A-Levels I left college with 100% across the board, and a mentally fucked head to go with it.Hardly worth it. That experience completely changed my mind-set.

Bossing my GCSEs

In the ‘real world’, it’s ok to not be the best. Hell, it’s ok to be average. Who cares if you failed one module? Maybe you aced the next one and the two will balance out. I’m not advocating avoiding work for exams, but rather a new-found sense of perspective.

Yes you should care about your exam results, but because of the work you’ve put in, rather than because you’re worried about what other people might think of your mark. Your grades don’t – and never will – define your worth as a person: something we can often lose sight of in the stressed out hot-bed of exam term.

What? I’m worth more than a 2:1?

Little miss perfect within me is long dead and I don’t miss her. I might get a 2:1 this year, and I’ll be really happy if I do: I’ve worked hard during exam term. But I’m not going to cry if I get a 2:2 or a third. Yes I’ll be disappointed, but my perception of who I am and my self-worth won’t change. Equally, no friend worth your time will change their opinion of you based upon a public exam grade.

So maybe by supporting the ‘Our Grade, Our Choice’ campaign, we’re missing the bigger picture. We need to acknowledge that it’s ok not to be perfect, and indeed to not do well at everything. We need to acknowledge that our grades don’t define who we are, or our worth as a person.

If we did this, would we really care about our exam results being made public? I wouldn’t. Class lists are an age old tradition, and one we need to stop fretting over. You never know, it might just save your phone battery come results day.