Words by Katie Porter

I’m sure everyone has received a mark in the past which either exceeded – or fell short of – their expectations. Especially while studying at university. Take a moment to consider how it made you feel. Did receiving a lower grade than you had hoped motivate you? Alternatively, did it lower your self esteem, make you feel like you wasted your time and effort, or lower your self confidence in your abilities? Everyone deals with feedback, both positive and negative, completely differently. It only makes sense that this would be the case, considering that everyone learns differently as well. Marks are therefore, evidently, easy to get bogged down in, with it being especially easy to fixate on the number rather than the feedback.

It has been clinically proven that student performance is often hampered by mental health issues – they inherently limit their degree of energy, focus, consistency, mental capacity, and enthusiasm for their studies. According to such research, the combination of clinical depression and anxiety can strengthen the link between depression and poorer grade point averages. According to similar research, the decision to drop out of uni altogether has also been associated with depression. 

In speaking to now graduated former Sussex students, I asked them; ‘Did positive feedback or negative feedback or results on assessments motivate you more?’. On the whole, the consensus seemed to align with American sports commentator Vin Scully’s famous claim that “Losing feels worse than winning feels good”. We might experience rejection as something we never want to feel again, and in doing so lose the drive to try again. Grades, especially when given as isolated numbers can often feel like an evaluation of our abilities, removed from the nuances of us as individuals. 

In order to avoid basing your self-worth on your academic or professional achievements, there are plenty of other options. Embrace your intrinsic value as a human being, taking into account that a numbered grade does not define your current, past or future abilities to flourish. Recognize that each person is unique and that only you can offer a unique personality, taste, interest, or experience. You have the capacity to bring value to whatever space you visit since only you are able to express ideas or opinions from a particular vantage point. Since there is only one of you, you have so much to contribute to any community (including your university community). It may sound cheesy, however every student learns, grows and flourishes differently, and all students are innately valuable due the individual perspective they offer.

Constructive criticism is hard to receive, no matter how resilient you are. I hope the takeaway here is that rejection can often be taken personally, but to prevent this, try to use your happiness, or disappointment with feedback as fuel for the future. Also trust that you are one of many successful people to have received negative feedback. Following this passed flurry of marking and feedback, do try not to get caught up in past failures, or let them hinder your future successes. This is, of course, easier said than done. Speaking to teachers to build on feedback, as well as utilising the mental health services at Sussex, might also be useful to you in feedback season. Visit the ‘Mental Health’ section of the Student Hub for more information on services available. 

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio

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