Despite investing a lot of time and energy, you are not able to get a better grade. Do not worry about that because you are not alone. There are a lot of people like you. The problem is competition. Everybody out there is competing with you. The people above you are investing time and energy and constantly trying to move ahead of you. The people below you are also trying to move ahead of you. As more people move to higher grades the standard of test is set higher. The fact is that you have to invest certain minimum amount of time and energy just to maintain your status quo. It is like a red queen’s race. If you have to move ahead, you have to invest extra time and energy. The world wants efficient people.
The expected level of efficiency is increasing day by day. If you want to survive the severity of competition, you need to understand the fitness landscape of learning. Learning started from the time first human beings appeared some 2 million years ago. It doesn’t mean that other organisms are not learning; their learning is in a rudimentary form. Once we learned how to think then learning became faster and faster that we are exploring other earth like planets in the universe and of course finding the gene that is responsible for our intelligence.
Competition is either natural or designed. Individuals of a species are competing with each other for the limited resources and a species as a whole is competing with other species for survival. The struggle for existence is ubiquitous. When natural resources are scarce and demand for such resources are high then competition to acquire them will be more. This competition is natural in any ecosystem. In the institution of education, the competition is designed in order to increase the efficiency of the students. The number of seats to higher education is limited or the top ranked institutions may prescribe a higher level of standard for the applicants. It means you have to be more efficient to get a seat for higher education. There is pressure acting upon you from outside. You will have to tackle this pressure with a positive mind.
The competition is intended to grade you in order to find your fitness for higher education and for better institution. There may be some flaw in the way the grading is done by the institutions (a lot of research is being done to perfect the grading method), but competition per se is not undesirable.
Grading is arrangement of people or things in groups according to their ability, quality, or size, etc. Grading in education is used to find your fitness level at a particular point of time. If you are getting a poor grade then it implies that your fitness is poor at that point of time. It does not imply that you will never be able to improve your grading. The problem is our mind set or the way we think. Once the institution labels you poor then somehow it sticks to your mind. You have to remove this stickiness from your mind. If you identify yourself as poor you will remain poor for life. The grading is done at a particular point in time and tells your existing ability and skills. You can always improve your analytical skills and expand your knowledge base to get a good grading. Grading is an opportunity to know your competency level, strengths and weaknesses. You should get rid of your weaknesses which will take you to higher achievements.
Knowledge vs. Intelligence
While knowledge is the information, understanding, and skills that you gain through education or experience, intelligence is the ability to learn, understand, and think in a logical way about things. Howard Gardner has argued for a theory of multiple intelligence that recognise each talent like fluency in music, language, and sports or the ability to understand other people’s mind as a separate ability. Robert Sternberg has suggested instead that there are essentially three separate kinds of intelligence – analytic, creative, and practical. School exam is mostly a test of your analytic intelligence. Analytical problems are ones formulated by other people, clearly defined, have only one right answer. Practical problems require you to recognise and formulate the problem itself, and poorly defined, lacking in some relevant information, may or may not have a single answer but spring directly out of everyday life. Whether intelligence is hereditary is much debated. We do not know exactly that there is an intelligence gene in your body that works for you.
We get some idea from the research of genetics that intelligence is the work of many genes located somewhere in chromosome 6. However these intelligent genes do not work alone. They respond to stimulations of the environment. It will take many years before we understand how exactly they work for your intelligence. What we know is you can learn and store your knowledge and skills that can be retrieved for your future use. Your ability to remember things is memory. Our brain has some mechanism to store the information we learn through education and experience, and our brain has some other mechanism to forget information that we learned earlier.
‘Although we are pretty good at storing information in our brains, we are pretty poor at retrieving it. We can recognize photos from our high school yearbooks decades later, yet find it impossible to remember what we had for breakfast yesterday’ (Gary Marcus, Cognitive Humility).
The more you use the information the more quickly you can retrieve it. If you don’t retrieve information for a longer time then the information is either deleted or not easily retrieved. There are two kinds of memory; they are long term memory and working memory. Knowledge and skills which are useful for future requirements and can be retrieved can be called long term memory. Working memory is where you store information temporarily for the purpose of processing and giving an output. While long term memory is closely associated with knowledge, working memory is closely connected to your intelligence. Your intelligence can be improved through the practice of working memory. Improved working memory means improved analytical thinking, space for memory, etc. Some research suggests that the space for working memory is limited. However, you can reach your maximum potential.
It is not your problem
You are born into a family. Your family has a location in a particular social environment. It means your social capital is more or less fixed. You cannot change this position or in other words you cannot change the status of your father or mother or uncle or aunt or close friends of you and your family. Social capital is acquired through generations. To some extent, it changes within a generation. Some has the ability to acquire social capital exceptionally. It is rarer than often. A better social capital gives a better head start to some people. Social evolution somehow created this difference. But it is not in your hand. You should improve your social maturity to understand the social relations. This constraint should not let you down. Trust your knowledge, intelligence, and skills. It will never let you down.
Your family has a culture. You acquire this culture or orientation through socialization. Your success partly depends upon your family culture. Again it should not be a constraint. Good culture can be learned. Hard working, sincerity, honesty, respect for each other, discipline, housekeeping, neatness are some of good family culture. As a family member you can be instrumental in cultivating good habits. The best thing is, understanding your family. Many have achieved good positions due to cultural legacy. In certain societies, people are naturally hard working or good in business. Identify and cultivate such legacies. Nurture can do a lot for you.
Your appearance is not your problem. You are born with a beauty. But some people cannot appreciate your beauty (appearance bias). Nowadays, the concept of beauty is standardised. Books, mass media, organisations, etc play an important role in standardising beauty. As far as appearance is concerned you should be neat and presentable. What is important is your inner beauty. That is what matters ultimately. Appearance seems to be giving a head start to some people for getting a job in certain organisations. Again that should not be a constraint. You have plenty of opportunities in other fields of work.
It is your problem
You do not focus on what you are doing. It is because your mind is elsewhere. A mindless job will not produce the desired result. Control your mind and concentrate on what you are doing. A five-minute work with total concentration will produce a great result than an hour of work without focus. ‘Willpower is really about properly directing the spotlight of attention, learning how to control that short list of thoughts in working memory. When we properly control the spotlight, we can resist negative thoughts and dangerous temptations’ (Jonah Lehrer, Control your spotlight). Focus meditation can improve your concentration. Sit erect in a quiet place, close your eyes, relax and focus on your breathing for five minutes. You can extent the time as you progress. Thoughts will come and go. As you focus on breathing, the thoughts will fade away. Alternatively, avoid negative thoughts and focus on a single good thought.
You are not a good observer. You don’t give attention to details. Seeing is not observation. Observation involves knowing the smallest details. For example, in practical work/learning, good observation will help you to do things in the correct way. You should see what others cannot. Try the steps of the dancer, while watching a dance program on your TV. It requires good observation.
You are not a good listener. Listening is an important tool of learning. If you don’t listen properly you will miss very important points. While conversing with people, allow the other person to speak completely. Interruptions break the flow of thoughts. Working memory practice will help improve your listening power. Ask your friend to tell some words in any order and then you try to repeat the words in the same order. As you progress, increase the number of words. It will improve your listening and memory power.
You are not a good organiser. Any activity can be split into its sub activities. The sub activities are executed in a sequence. If the sequence is wrong the whole activity will get disrupted. You waste a lot of time and energy. So, before executing any activity, you have to plan and organise your work. Give priority to the work which is to be done first. That means you have to identify the work which requires immediate execution. Perhaps you can list all your works and give numbers and deadlines according to the priority of the work. Sometimes, your priority might change according to the nature of the activity. Be flexible and reschedule your work to your convenience without upsetting the whole activity.
Immediate gratification might disrupt your long term goal. If you focus too much on that you will have less time and energy for the goal you set for your life. For example, you might take up a part time job for your immediate requirement. While your spirit of earning while learning is appreciated, you have to manage your time for your long term goal.
Attention expectation is an attitudinal problem. Do not always expect attention from your teachers or parents or friends. They don’t have a lot of time to pay their full attention to you. You have to understand the nature of their work/profession. Probably you can share time with them when they are free. When their mood is good you can learn a lot of things from them.
To sum up, if you want to get better grade you will have to invest extra time and energy. Competition per se is not harmful; rather it is intended to test your fitness in the landscape of learning at a particular point of time. Therefore it is not a constraint.
Though grading is not always perfect it is an opportunity to know your strengths and weaknesses. Grading as poor/good is a problem of binary thinking of the human beings which is somehow hard wired in our brain. Overcome your weaknesses.
Through intelligent reading you can acquire right knowledge which is stored in your long term memory. The more you use the information in your memory the faster you retrieve it. Intelligence can be improved by activating the working memory region of your brain.
Certain constraints of learning like social capital, family culture, and your appearance are not your problem. They are social problems. You should develop your social maturity to understand such problems in the relevant context.
There are certain constraints of learning which are self created. You can remove such constraints by focussing on what you do, distinguishing seeing and observing, being organised, listening attentively, not succumbing to immediate gratification, and understanding attention expectation.
Focus meditation will help you to improve your concentration and relax meditation will help you to relax your body and mind after a hectic work. Physical exercise like yoga is helpful to get a good body – mind coordination.
Last but not least, be determined to achieve your goal. Where there is will there is a way.