Grades don’t indicate either intelligence or effort.

The glorification of grades rather than intelligence is nothing new. It exists because academic institutions and teaching institutions can celebrate grades, even if such celebration holds some students back and/or denies opportunities to highly intelligent students. In my essay, I suggest that grades do not indicate effort or intelligence.

One of the biggest reasons why grades do not indicate intelligence or effort is because many questions in exams rely heavily on memory. The fact is that students with the best memory are often the highest achievers with regards to exam tests and grades. Students who are able to remember the most are often students who score more highly, but this doesn’t mean that student is better more intelligent. (Gardner, 1994)

Testing problem solving skills is almost impossible. The IQ tests that groups like Mensa run are highly flawed because testing problem solving skills is almost impossible to do correctly. The tests that people are given during IQ test are nothing like the real tests that people are given in real life. If IQ tests were accurate, then people would not be able to improve their scores by practicing IQ tests, and young children would not be able to generate very high scores. (Guskey, 1994).

Emotions and tiredness greatly affect academic performance, and the fact is that many students are frequently tired or emotional. Things such as luck seem to play a heavy role in what grades students score. An unlucky student may have missed a night’s sleep just before a big exam, or may have seen a family member become ill just before a big exam. Luck also has a role to play during the teaching process. For example, students who are lucky enough to work under good teachers are more likely to score better grades than students who work under terrible or frequently-absent teachers. In addition, a student in a class full of hard workers will do better than a student in a class full of disruptive people. (Lounsbury, 2013).

Good test takers will typically do better in exams. There is a great deal of reliance on good test-taking skills. Students who are typically bad at taking exams may still be highly intelligent. Such people may also be very good at academics, but they fall down and fail because they are not good at taking tests. Learning how to take a test should not give a student a better chance of scoring well because if it does, then it suggests that the teaching/learning process is flawed. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 42)

School and academics are geared towards a feminine gender with much of the process involving reading and regurgitating whatever has been read in his or her own words on tests and essays. Girls are doing far better than boys, which suggest that the academic system is severely flawed, unless somebody is saying that men are less intelligent than women are. (James Popham).

Many geniuses had bad grades in school. If grades were a true indication of effort or intelligence, then almost all geniuses would get great grades and do really well in school. There are many examples where people who are highly intelligent have done very poorly at school. (Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 88).


It is clearly obvious and evident that intelligence and effort is not something that grades can indicate. The fact that students who try are more likely to get good grades is somewhat of a blurring issue. It leads to the assumption that if all students try then all students will do well, and if all students do not try, then all students will fail. This is obviously untrue, and the matter of intelligence is not clear or easy to understand. There are clearly many ways of testing for intelligence, but relying on grades alone to judge somebody’s intelligence will not work.

Cacioppo, John T.; Petty, Richard E. Children’s beliefs about intelligence and school performance.

Freeman, D. J., Kuhs, T. M., Porter, A. C., Floden, R. E., Schmidt, W. H., &Schwille, J. R. (1983). Do textbooks and tests define a natural curriculum in elementary school mathematics? Elementary School Journal, 83(5), 501­513.

Gardner, H. (1994). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice. Teacher’s College Record, 95(4), 576­583.

Guskey, Thomas R. “Making the grade: What benefits students?.” Educational leadership 52.2 (1994): 14.

Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 88(3), Sep 1996, 397-407.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 42(1), Jan 1982, 116-131.

Lounsbury, John W., et al. “Intelligence,”Big Five” personality traits, and work drive as predictors of course grade.” Personality and Individual Differences 35.6 (2003): 1231-1239.

James Popham is a UCLA Emeritus Professor. He may be reached at IOX Assessment Associates, 5301 Beethoven St., Ste. 190, Los Angeles, CA 90066

Contributors Bio

Contributor photo Lona Glenn
Los Angeles
Lona graduated from Los Angeles City College. While being a lecturer in several high school institutions Lona founded an online educational project Tutorsclass.Read more
Contributor photo Maria Castle
Davis, CA
I studied education and currently work as a tutor for school-age children. I've worked as a volunteer in many different international social projects and as a camp counselor every summer.Read more

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