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Grades don't correlate with a student's intelligence

Students should strive to gain knowledge over the course of the semester, but not just for the grade

gpa doesn't make you smart

"Even Einstein had bad grades." Illustration published Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

As the stress and horror of finals week encroaches on ASU students, many are frantically checking their grades and calculating their final percentages like their lives depend on it.

But, do they?

While good grades are important and should be something every student strives for, they do not necessarily correlate with a student’s intelligence. Students should worry less about their grades and instead care more about retaining the content they are learning and gaining actual knowledge.

David Thomas, a principal lecturer at ASU, said there are varying theories about intelligence. One of them is the entity theory of intelligence, which describes intelligence as being stable throughout someone’s life.

Thomas said there are also people who think just the opposite, and that a person can become more intelligent throughout their life.

"That's the incremental theory of intelligence, it means that intelligence is malleable and can grow if you use the right strategies and techniques," Thomas said.

While there are varying theories on what intelligence is and whether it can improve, you can gain knowledge throughout the course of your life. This principle should be the focus of education, not a person's grades.

In some countries, including Finland, schools do not even have tests, or if they do, there are very few compared to the amount that U.S. students take. So why do Americans value the letters on our transcripts more than the thoughts in our head?

Every student at ASU is preparing for a career and learning the necessary skills to do well in their desired industry. Getting an “A” on a test will not mean anything if you cannot apply the material you learned to real-life situations.

Just because someone gets an “A” in a class or is in Barrett, the Honors College, it doesn't define intelligence. Similarly, someone who gets a “D” in a class is not necessarily unintelligent, as there are other factors that play into grades.

Take Bill Gates for example, a very wealthy and successful man who dropped out of Harvard University two years into his degree and later became the co-founder of Microsoft. He is intelligent, and yet he did not have a college degree when he started his company.

Additionally, Thomas said motivation plays a big part in a person's grades. A student with mastery-oriented motivation approaches a class with curiosity and an interest in the subject, whereas a student with performance-orientated motivation does so solely from a grade standpoint.

"The counter to that is a performance-orientated motivation where you are much more concerned about grades, you don't really care that much about the material of the class," Thomas said.

If people spent the same amount of time working to ensure they retain important information as they did pulling all-nighters to cram for finals, they could become be more intelligent. Students should focus on developing their critical thinking and problem-solving skills rather than simply memorizing information for a test. 

A transcript only shows a student's motivation, dedication and work ethic — not their personality, humor, work or life experiences. While grades still matter and students should strive to get a 4.0, we need to stop weighing our intelligence through grades and instead recognize that intelligence comes in all forms.

Reach the columnist at or follow @a_sutherland10 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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