Half the stress of getting exam grades back is the inevitable grade comparison among classmates that is sure to ensue. Although it is human nature to be curious about how your classmates performed, ultimately, comparing grades results in awkwardness and negativity. If you find yourself realizing you did better than your classmates, you may worry you will make them feel worse by telling them your grade. On the other hand, you may compare with others and realize someone did better or that you performed significantly worse than others.
The solution is simply to stop sharing and comparing. College is riddled with enough stress without the additional strain of competing with every single classmate in your courses. Rushing to ask classmates how well or how poorly they did following an exam or assignment can cause you to feel inferior and make you doubt your capabilities and intelligence level. If you did better than your classmates, comparing grades may make you feel good at their expense. Do you really want to go out of your way to make your classmates feel crummy? Chances are if they performed poorly, they are already upset, and the last thing they need is for you to make them feel worse.
Comparing grades can contribute directly to depression. In “Psychology Today,” Deborah Carr wrote, “College mental health experts directly attribute much of modern young adults’ malaise to consequences of social comparison—comparing one’s own accomplishments, looks, athletic prowess, school grades or popularity—to their classmates and feeling that they’re coming up short, often with devastating consequences.” Depression and anxiety among college students is already a problem, and there is no need to add to it. Furthermore, comparing grades can turn your classmates from prospective friends to rivals. You cannot form an effective study group from people fighting to be the best.
Grades are important, but worrying about grades does not necessarily improve them. Your overall goal should be to learn, not to beat the other students or to have the top grade in the class. Positive growth comes from challenging yourself to be better than you were the last time, not from comparing yourself to the performance and abilities of others.
If someone asks you about your grade on a test or an assignment, just refuse politely and explain why you find grade comparisons unproductive. Tell them instead of engaging in this negative cycle of comparison, you have removed yourself from the needless competition. Point out that you want to grow and improve individually, so you have chosen to rise above and disengage from the destructive cycle. Next time your classmates gather around to compare exam grades, step away and focus on outperforming yourself.