Does Hard Work Really Equal Good Grades?
by Keynote Editor
“The only way to succeed is through hard work,” do you agree?
To many, the notion that success is a result of hard work is conventional wisdom. Our parents said it time and time again in our youth, and now, we say the same thing to our children: Study hard and you’ll do well in school, you’ll get a good job, and you’ll lead a good life. Experiences in our personal lives may have cemented this belief too.
To us, however, the success equation has another important factor.
Hard work + Smart work = Success / Good Grades
Say your child is struggling to do well in English composition. Because of this, her grades are stagnant at C5 or C6, and you’re afraid it might drop even further if she doesn’t soon improve. You suggest that she writes a new composition every day for the next two weeks before the next test to sharpen her skills, and she obliges.
When the test results are back, she finds that all her hard work in the last few weeks have gone to waste. Her grades didn’t improve at all – in fact, it’s gotten worse. How can this be? If she truly focused on practicing, surely she must do better than before. Actually, it’s shouldn’t come as a surprise. She could write three compositions a day, every day, and her results would still not improve.
Why? It’s because she’s been tackling the problem wrongly from the start. Composition, unlike math or science, has no standard right-or-wrong formula to be practiced. In order for her to improve, she has to expand her vocabulary, be careful with her grammar, understand various sentence structures and apply creative storytelling techniques. Constant repetition doesn’t work here, because the student is limited by her own standard of language at that point of time.
Will you attempt to take down a brick wall by continually throwing sponges at it? Of course not! You would drill and hammer the right spots, maybe even rent a tractor to ram it down. The same goes with studies – it’s paramount that you think about where the hard work goes, because it might not guarantee good grades if you don’t.
Here are four steps to work smart, to ensure your child’s determination bears fruit
1) Specify existing problems
Are there particular topics or sections that she is stuck with, or is she struggling to grasp the subject entirely? Is he making too many grammatical errors in composition, or is the story he’s telling not have an interesting enough opening, ending, or climax?
When a student receives his marked paper, he should take the opportunity to clarify with the teacher the specific places in which he can improve upon. That’s the first step to actual improvement.
2) Set specific goals
It’s important to have a target to move towards as it provides motivation for the child. We recommend using the S.M.A.R.T model for this exercise – where goals set are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
Remember to take into account the issues that your child wishes to address above. If poor vocabulary is halting progress in your child’s composition grades, a good example would be this:
“To achieve a 70% mark for my English composition SA1 exam, by learning at least two new words / phrases every day and applying them in daily conversation, and eventually in my compositions.”
3) Develop a strategy
There are different ways to tackle problems from various subjects, but these subjects can generally be classified into two types: Creative and Mechanistic.
Creative: English, Mother Tongue, Humanities (Essay writing, Inference questions)
Mechanistic: Maths, Sciences, Economics (Formulae-based questions, Definite right-or-wrong)
In our earlier example, we explained why repetition work will not help improve a creative assignment such as composition / essay writing. It will however, help to improve mechanistic subjects like math by sharpening your skills in mathematical concepts. It fosters the knowledge that if one applies a specific formula in a specific type of situation, they will get the correct answer.
However, for more creative subjects, the road to improvement might not be that straightforward. That’s when hiring an experienced tutor or mentor to guide your child might prove to be a worthy investment. In the case of essay writing, students should consult an expert (teacher or tutor) on ways to write better, and rewrite the essay based on their recommendations. This will help the student improve on their standard of language over time.
4) Build a system
Great! Our children have set their goals, and they understand the strategy that is required to see improvement in their studies. Right now – you have to work together with them to build a system. Specifically, a systematic way of achieving our goals with our strategy in mind. Here's an example:
Goal: To attain an ‘A’ grade for my English composition SA2 exam
Strategy: Because composition writing is a creative subject, I should consult my English tutor on how I can improve my language and content, and rewrite my compositions based on her feedback.
Day 1 – Spend an hour after dinner writing a new and original essay
Day 2 – Ask my English teacher to review my work, and comment on how I can improve the content of the essay. At night after dinner, I will spend 30 minutes making improvements on the content based on my teacher’s suggestions.
Day 3 – I will show my English teacher the improved version, and she can give suggestions on how to improve the language used. At night after dinner, I will spend 30 minutes making corrections.
Day 4 – I will submit this essay to my teacher to mark and grade, and repeat this system until I get an ‘A’ grade for my composition before the SA2 exam.
With such a system in place, the composition grades of your children will inadvertently improve, if they follow through with it of course. If you hired a tutor of that specific subject, it is easier to develop the system around when and how often your child meets the tutor. And, should your children not follow this system, you and the tutor should be there to motivate and encourage them.
Now, let the hard work begin
Don’t fall into the trap of false improvement, where parents are satisfied with their children simply “studying” or “doing work”. Just because they are sitting down and writing answers doesn’t mean that they’re grades will automatically improve. When it comes to your children’s grades, encourage them to work smart by following the steps above.
Only when the problems are identified, objectives set and systems in place, will the hard work of your child be effective in improving their grades. Remember, we’re not understating the importance of hard work, but rather, hard work without purpose or without thinking. So, yes – hard work does improve grades, but only when they work smart too.
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