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A magician says: “Pick a card! Any card!” and you pick the card. Suddenly the number on that card means so much to you. For some reason, it became your number. The number you were born to, even though you didn’t even care about it when you learnt how to count. But now, it carries a whole new meaning.
It’s baffling how numbers can play such an important role in our lives. Everyone knows. Students know.

Every one or two weeks, our graded papers get handed back to us. Above all, one thing stands out: the number we were given, our grade. Like the number on the card, we sometimes can’t help but think that numbers define us in some way. But do they?


Grades, A Serious Business


Since secondary school, I think of grades the same way a working adult would think of salary. At the end of every trimester, when they hand me the transcript, I have to make sure that my numbers are high enough to secure my future. This puts a lot of pressure on students (including me) and makes learning less like ‘learning’ — and more like ‘earning’.


I will confess that I harbour a certain pride from my relatively high scores. To me, grades were never a measure of my capacity; instead, they’re a mark of prestige. If school is like a mini model of our society, then this ‘earning’ level puts me in good position.


This is especially true considering the fact that when processing college applications, the first thing people will generally look at are your transcripts. As if we are nothing but numbered chess pieces, they will judge us even before seeing our faces or talking to us. Evidently, GPAs have the power to decide more than how we think of ourselves. They also decide what others think of us.


Grades, A Serious Problem


Ever since I was little, I’ve been standing between two opinions: either grades do matter or grades do not matter. In this day and age, when our transcripts have become our second identity cards, a line that is too often blurred is the one standing between who we are on the whole, and our grades. We can only get universal grading standards from standardising our educations to a certain extent. But what happens when some of us don’t quite fit the norm?


A grade is more than just a number or a letter, it is a label, a burden. If we are convinced of something for long enough, eventually we will believe it. This also implies that our grades, like our childhood fears, only have a grip on us if we let them.


The question isn’t whether or not our grades define us, it’s whether or not we let our grades define us. — To Thu Phuong


To Thu Phuong is a high school junior at Alexandre Yersin French High School (Lycée Français Alexandre Yersin) in Hanoi, lfay.com.vn

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To Thu Phuong

One of the writers of the column Student Eye, Phuong is Vietnamese born and bred. A little (in fact a lot) smaller than her classmates, her voice makes up for her size. If you’re lucky, you’ll find her sitting on a plastic stool on one of the busy sidewalks of Hanoi, feasting on local street food.

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