Jeremy Côté

Not Necessary

In mathematics, the terms “necessary” and “sufficient” have technical meanings. These terms come about when looking at two statements P and Q. If we say that P is sufficient for Q, then that means if P is true, Q automatically has to be true (P implies Q). On the other hand, if P is only necessary for Q, having P be true doesn’t mean Q has to be true (but the other way works, so Q implies P). If we have the P is both necessary and sufficient for Q, that means having one gives us the other for free. They are tied together and are inseparable.

The reason I bring this up is because I know some students have a tendency to “go overboard” in their quest for good grades. They will do anything to get the best grade, and anything less than perfect is unacceptable. This leads them to working more than everyone else, risking burnout so that they can get the best grades. If you’re a student reading this, you might recognize yourself in these words. I know I do.

The issue is that we’ve turned grades into a “necessary” condition to being considered “good” in school. This is dangerous, because grades are not under your total control. Yes, your work is what gets graded, but it’s your teacher who makes the final decision. Even in subjects where grading schemes are more rigid, like mathematics and science, your teacher is the one assigning your grades. As such, they are external factors that can’t be fully controlled through hard work.

Yet, we convince ourselves that we can control them. We turn the goal of perfect grades into a necessary condition to being a success. When this inevitably doesn’t work out, we then feel like failures. Worse, we might resolve to work even more, just to make sure it doesn’t happen again. This pushes us further into the cycle, creating an unattainable goal.

We need to stop looking at great grades as a necessary condition to being a good student. Sure, we need to work hard and give our best, but we should view that as a sufficient condition to being a good student. We can always give our best effort. That’s something we can control, since it’s an internal choice. Unlike getting perfect grades, it is realistic to say that we will do our best in every assignment and test we do. We have to learn that this is enough.

The beauty of this strategy is that we get to decide if we are a success. Did you do your best and worked hard for that last assignment? If so, then you can look at yourself as a successful student. Notice how this isn’t contingent on getting good grades. Instead, it’s about keeping your focus on aspects of your learning that you can control.

Remember, trying to control external factors in your life is a hopeless pursuit. It may work from time to time, but overall it is a losing strategy. Instead, apply your effort to things which you can control, like your effort. You will find that it makes you much more relaxed, leading to better work.