Here is the big question, one whose answer seems quite easy yet logical, with a great deal of misconception: “What are the main purposes of grades?” “Do they really show the level of understanding and competence or are they just a system of numbers or alphabets created to applaud and rebuke students’ preparation for examinations?”

It is natural to assume that a student with As is intellectually better that one with Cs. But how true is this? The anonymousness of the answer to this question has caused a great drift in the realization that the core objective of learning is to understand and be able to apply the knowledge when needed; and not to just read and pass. Intelligence definitely comes in all forms, so does competency. And it is note-worthy that exams and grading systems do not cover even half of these forms. The Nigerian education and labour industry, although arguable, largely extol grades over competence thus increasing the number of individuals automatically tagged “ineligible” for higher degrees or job opportunities due to low grades. While the emphasis is on Nigeria, is the aforementioned phenomenon obscure in other countries, including the developed ones? Shall we then say that knowledge that is not adequately reflected in grades will most likely not see the light of the day?

Many students have been unfortunately pressured to the ‘la cram, la pour, la forget’ method of achieving excellent grades while constantly failing in their preparations for the real applied world. Many students fail because they take courses that do not in any way share attribute with their proposed line of study. Some even study subjects they might never need beyond examination. Why then would the grades from such a process be used to weigh intelligence? However, the education policy makers argue on the need for multi/inter disciplinary knowledge acquisition to uphold these acts. Ever wondered why that young man with a first class in his subject area struggles with task delivery when employed? Or of what importance is a big full tank of water without a tap outlet; or a loaded gun without a trigger? It is indeed an undeniable fact that grades do not directly reflect individual competence, and yes, there are numerous intelligent individuals who could function excellently despite their low grades. But then would you blame an employer for not shortlisting an individual whose academic record evidently projects insufficient knowledge? Would you blame the school who sets its rules to decline the application of a candidate whose previous academic transcripts grossly displays deficient knowledge? Unfortunately, transcripts may not be able to advocate for these individuals. While acknowledging these, it is thus pertinent to properly evaluate societal standards in order to strike a balance between these (intertwined) variables –grades and competence, and the outcome (perception).

Preparing for an examination simulates preparing towards solving real life issues. So, if a learner can dedicate his apt input in preparing for an exam and excels, it is almost totally agreeable to say that such person is most likely to do just as well in a real life situation. This is what the grades say! Learning is way more than just memorizing formulas and lines of words in a book just to reproduce it in exams. The same way, it is beyond getting an A. The ability to think innovatively and independently, applying what had been learned- that is the sweet fruit of education. Though grades may not be independently used to certify these abilities, they portray many other interwoven properties. And whether it shows how smart a student is or not, they still matter. Even if and when the world successfully devises a means to integrate grades and actual intelligence, it is still necessary that every learner is at his/her best. Students should be encouraged to approach learning through critical thinking and logicality to achieve both goals of good grades and eventual competence. These suggestions also reiterate the role of teachers’ efficiency and teaching methodologies in achieving academic success and building competent students.

Succinctly, low grades do not equate to an incompetent person, likewise, excellent grades do not ascertain a remarkable knowledge. But how does the society perceive this?


  1. It is always a controversial topic because it can rarely be discussed without sentiments.

    I don’t think there’s a strong argument against the opinion that academic grades affect the perception of competence. It’s not only a Nigerian thing. It also happens overseas, as the writer noted.
    There’s a reason universities and employers of labour peg requirements at a certain point (below which they don’t believe the applicant would be able to perform efficiently?). Good students do not necessarily make good teachers, but if you’re recruiter for an academic position in your university, would you welcome applications from people with no history of academic excellence?

    Personally, talking from my own bias I admit, I believe there may be a positive correlation between high academic grades and competence _in the same area of work_.
    That is, I believe, for instance, if you have high academic grades in medicine and surgery degree (which had both theory and practical aspects), I believe you’ll be more competent than someone with poor grades _when both of you become medical doctors and surgeons_.
    There will always be exceptions, but in such cases people with excellent grades will arguably turn out to be the most competent if exposed to the same working conditions and motivations.

    Examinations have been touted not to be the best test of knowledge. But I believe it’s still the fairest method we have yet. Students are taught at the same time, they are given the same material, they are assessed on the same day, under the same conditions, and the exams are marked following a strict schedule.

    Getting good grades in the exam is even an indication that you are competent _in that exam_. If you consistently posts excellent grades in that programme, it suggests you’re competent in that programme.
    If our curriculum prepares us for the outside world, then it should happen that an excellent student should be competent in the outside world.

    Remember that examinations do not only test our knowledge of a course, it also tests our attention to details, discipline, our ability to understand difficult concepts, our planning, reading and writing skills and some others that I can’t remember right now. But it does test more than our knowledge of the course. Therefore, having consistently excellent grades is an indicator that you’re doing something right.

    Although excellent grades do not automatically translate to high competence, and poor grades do not automatically translate to incompetence, it is seen differently by the society (most times with good reasons).

  2. Beautiful! While high grades may not truly equate to competence, it does show a certain level of excellence. But, in order for an organization not to miss out on, say, employing an individual who would have brought great progress to the company, or the society at large to miss out of experiencing true growth and innovation, good academic grades should not be their only standard for giving people opportunities..

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