From the start of our educational careers, we’re expected to understand the importance of grades. They are key to indicating how we perform in class and if we are passing or failing. They can also provide a sense of relative accomplishment, like when we get a higher test score than our classmates. Grades can be powerful motivators for how we approach education. But are there times when we focus more on the grades we make than whether we are actually learning?

One learns from enduring the various stresses and demands of formal. In an ideal world, education for its own sake would be more than enough of a motive for a student to succeed. But we continue to operate under a system in which grades are the primary incentive for academic achievement. A student’s high school and college careers are almost completely defined by his or her grades, neatly presented as a grade point average (GPA). GPAs provide benchmarks for those we consider “exemplary students” through awards for Dean’s List and President’s List. While there is a certain level of skill and dedication required to make good grades, do they necessarily correspond to how much we really learn?

Consider, for example, the act of “cramming” for quizzes or exams a night or two beforehand. Trying to absorb so much knowledge in such a short time is not a recommended practice, but it remains a common last resort, especially during midterms and finals. Why do we spend sleepless nights poring over books, trying to memorize every single detail of topics we may not even find particularly interesting?

We do so because we want satisfactory grades, grades that help signify the types of student we want to be. Rather than focusing solely on the grades we make, we should give due consideration to exactly what we are learning and how we can apply this information going forward.

We must accept that grades only affect the scope of our education. Once out of college, the classes you passed or failed will be of little consequence. What is going to matter during this time will be what you remember and the relevance of this information to your personal, social or professional life. This is not to say that grades are irrelevant and should be ignored, but I think that the only way we can prepare ourselves for the reality of the world is to accept that grades should not be considered the absolute goal.

If we apply ourselves to academics with the intention to acquire knowledge, good grades should naturally follow. But by taking the easy route now and only applying ourselves for the immediate reward, we are only enhancing the challenges we’ll face the moment we leave campus.