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Academic competition triggers stress, not success

Illustration by Talya Berner
Schoolwork is the main stress factor for students, according to the NHS. Students are academically pressured to do well both by their peers and their parents.

I just got the results from a math test. Everyone floods around me asking, “How did it go?” or “What did you get?” My friends make remarks like, “That was an easy test,” and I listen as they reveal their scores. I watch as they get a better grade than me. Even if it is better by just one point, I become frustrated. Somehow, the anger fuels me, and I study later that night, working just to tell someone I got 100% on the next test.  

People may say that competition can be an incentive to improve work ethic. However, the extent of constantly comparing your academic worth to others makes it easy for students to begin an unhealthy cycle of competition. 

School can be stressful while trying to maintain relationships, workload and manage free time. While some may argue that competition can be motivating, academic competitiveness drives stress, not success. 

In student life, stress is inevitable. Two-thirds of students are reported to be stressed about having poor grades, according to the Newport Institute. 

Many students associate their worth with the red letter on their paper, also known as,  “academic validation.” Academic validation is when your emotional values directly connect to your academic achievements. 

A study conducted in 2002 at the University of Michigan by Jennifer Crocker revealed that 80% of college students base their self-worth on academic success. The results showed these students to be more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.  

A lot of the time, it’s easy to think you are far behind academically when students discuss their grades and exams, adding unnecessary stress. According to Morgane Brading, a student at Laurier University and a Peer Wellness Educator, academic validation may stem from observing and discussing school with others in recent years. 

An example of destructive academic pressure is evident on social media. After doing hours of homework on a Friday night, seeing people complete homework in a sped-up 15-second TikTok video immediately raises the feeling of guilt. From experience, I have noticed texting my friends late at night and asking them what they have completed does not motivate me to do work, but actually, to do better than them academically. 

Another leading factor of academic stress is the need for students to impress their parents. A study from Arizona State University suggests students whose parents valued kindness more than grades perform better at school, refuting the myth that pressure to do well results in higher achievements. 

Sitting in math a few days after a test, everyone came in looking anxious knowing we were getting our tests back. The teacher announced, “Make sure not to share your score. This is for you and only you.” The second the paper touched my fingers, everybody tried to make eye contact with me, attempting to figure out how I felt about the number on my paper. Immediately after, one person blurts, “How did you do? Good? Bad?” Everyone else nodded along, waiting to hear what I said, even if they were at a different table. I was silent. Only one thought was tattooed in my mind, I hope my parents won’t be mad. 

No matter how I did on the test, academic competitiveness has detrimental effects on everyone. Being too competitive wrecks relationships, instead of maintaining them.

It can be hard to maintain relationships when packing your after-school schedule to make your résumé impressive. With the constant push of “doing things you love,” I have noticed how students only want to do activities to stand out from others, not what they genuinely enjoy. It is difficult to do what you love when your siblings are on three different varsity sports teams, and your friends play four different instruments while participating in many clubs. 

This school is undoubtedly college-driven — there is constant competition with how many extracurricular activities you do, leading to less free time and an unhealthy balance between work, having fun and spending time on yourself. According to John Hopkins University, school-life balance is a necessity for academic functioning, which can overall lead to a decline in academic performance.

Of course, aiming to receive an “A”  is motivating, but when do we cross the line between personal goals and simply competing to be better than others? Nobody wants to fail. However, when you receive a bad grade, it is easy to think you are the only one to do poorly because if half the class fails, only those who received a high grade will want to discuss it. Students sharing their best grades sets high academic standards for students to compete with, ultimately making it feel harder.

Thus, students must stop sharing grades and showing off work. We must break this cycle of competition and limit comparison. Rather than sharing grades with malicious intent and adding unnecessary stress, we could begin healthy relationships with our peers, celebrating each other’s successes. 

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About the Contributor
Talya Berner, Media Team
Talya Berner ('26) is a member of the Media Team for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.

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