Cow Beh Cow Bu

Grades, Status, Material Wealth: The “Relentless” Comparison Race to Achieve “Legit” Success



My grade becomes is my everything.

Having been a student for so many years before, there’s one thing I don’t get. Why are people so hard up over comparing academic grades? Or whether digging up each other grades are really that important? Are high-scoring grades also the only way to attain life’s success?

I still remember vividly during my primary 6 math preliminary results, 80-90% of the class cried because majority of us failed. I got 10/20/30+ over 100. I just stood there wondering why everyone was in an emotional wreck. It wasn’t even PSLE yet though it was near, and neither was it the end of the world. At that tender age of 11/12, our young kids are already facing the consequence of the heavy pressure and weight of having to excel academically. So from this example, you can tell the way students react to failure is a sign of a loophole in regards to the learning attitude of our local students.

If we have not learnt to fail, we have failed to learn. Because failing your exams is not something bad. It is a chance to be aware of, and allows you yo tackle your flaws so that you can work on it. The focus of learning should be more on the progress – making improvements in your studies, rather than letting the end result – attaining good grades, overshadow it.

And tuition has become a necessary norm. If your kid needs it, there’s nothing wrong with it. But if he’s already the cream of the crop, why are you still pushing for it? But I don’t blame the parents because since everyone is doing it for their kid, you naturally would also find it necessary as you would want the best for your child too, just like any other parent. I would call it – Monkey see, monkey do.

I want to know your grades, but I don’t want to tell you mine

Be it in secondary or tertiary, there will always be people who will re-enact the below be it through phone message or face-to-face:

Person X: What is your grade?

Me: Grade Z.

Person X: (Silence) / Change topic


Person X: How much did you get?

Me: Y marks. What about you?

Person X: Not so good. / Silence / Change topic

Dude, if you want to know other people’s grade because you want to compare, it’s alright, there’s nothing wrong, but social formality is – when you ask people and people reply, you should reply back too when they ask you back.

Because if you want to know people’s grade, you have no right to hide your grades. You shouldn’t ask, or even expect people to tell you their grade, if you yourself don’t intend to do the same. What is there to lose? Your status? Your safety? Grades are just numbers and alphabets. It doesn’t cost you your life.

It’s the same analogy as – you expect people to “open house” (invite people to their house) during CNY so that you can come to visit, but you yourself are not willing to do the same the following year. If you don’t want people to visit your house, don’t ask to visit people’s house.

Why are we so hard up over comparing grades with others, and not with ourselves?
And then comes the issue of comparison. It’s not only kids, it’s also parents. They want to know how much your classmates scored in their results. When you reply straightforwardly: Don’t know, don’t care either, they will ask: How come you don’t know? What you mean you don’t care?

Why do I not know? Why I do not care? Because I honestly don’t give a damn, so I don’t really ask my peers, unless it’s a situation to start a topic going with a friend, or when someone ask me, and I ask them back.

My thinking is as such – even if I know how well my friends do, yes, it does allows me to evaluate where I’m standing as compared to the general population. But, it doesn’t change the reality of my marks. And regardless of how others fare – be it good or bad, or the kind of peers I hang out with,  I should always strive to give my best. Also sometimes, not all of us are academically inclined. Thus, academic success should not always be evaluated by how we fare in comparison to others, but how much our respective individual grade is aligned to our own effort, growth, and individual capability compared to a previous attained result. 

Though I don’t give a s*** about how much my peers do either, I’ll be very happy to hear, and share my grades when both parties (you and me) are opened to do so.

If your intention of asking is just out of curiosity, it’s totally fine.

But to regurgitate again – if you’re the kind that ask just because you want to know how others fare, but you yourself don’t want to share how you fare, don’t query others in the first place. It’s basic respect – if you ask others and they answer, others also can ask you back, and they should rightfully get a valid answer. No, wait, they shouldn’t even have to ask. It’s basic formality  if you ask them for their marks, and they do share it, you should tell them your marks straight after.

However, if you did not even query, but the person wants to share with you their marks by themselves, then it’s ok for you not to share your marks back because you didn’t ask for their grades in the first place.

High academic grades = High flying job = Life success 

If we could only see pass grades as just basically – grades and not be so hard up over it.. but nope, it doesn’t work that way in Singapore. Local universities look solely at your O’level and JC grades as a main criteria. Your success in your adult life is also defined by your wealth, status, properties, and career in mainstream terms. And people link success to a high paying salary, and align high scoring of academic marks to the route of mainstream success.

But NO, there are different kind of successes. Your value as a person do not always have to adhere to society’s definition of mainstream success – big house, big car, high flying job. Those are just material properties you own, not what you are like as a person. And if you want to weigh yourself in that manner, so be it. But I wouldn’t want to realise that I have been chasing the wrong ideals only after half my life have already walked pass me.

How I define my life’s success in the future if I hope to work towards that direction – good health, being able to pursue my interest (happiness), stable relations, and job to support my family (relationship and financial stability)

In conclusion

Yes, I’m a student, but I’m not a grade. I’m not defined by a number or alphabet, and I don’t weigh my worth base on a number or alphabet others get in comparison to mine.

Yes, I’m a working adult, but I’m not a property. I’m not defined by how much material goods I own, or can upkeep. I don’t have to chase money and status, just so that I don’t lose out to the rest.

I view you as a holistic person, I don’t view you by solely your status, wealth, or grades. So don’t judge or weigh my value as an individual through narrow and skin-deep lens where you only aim to compete with society, and upkeep it’s hollow values.




Thank you Offbeat Perspectives for sharing this riveting commentary.
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