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Academic Anxieties at LUMS


Educational settings provide opportunities for socialization and the development of peer relationships. Positive social interactions contribute to a sense of belonging and support, which are essential for good mental health.

However, from the lens of a university student (that will be none other than me), the academic environment created by educational institutes is one that comes with high pressure and stress.

Let’s talk about LUMS specifically, (though I know for a fact that there not much difference in other institutes either).


LUMS follows the relative grading system (something that everyone seems to love, including myself) but the kind of competitiveness it creates is deeply upsetting. Why is it that I am not only praying to get a good score but also for everyone else to not so that mine can materialize into a good grade eventually while others don’t matter? Why is it that someone else getting good marks is not means of inspiration anymore but that of anxiety? I thought we left this behind in school but maybe not. In an introductory level class, on seeing students sharing notes with each other on the class WhatsApp group the instructor reminded them of relative grading and how this help can lead to them suffering at the end, essentially deterring many from repeating the same in future.


It was only in one of the courses that had an absolute grading system that I saw what good, communal leaning can do. The instructor encouraged study groups so before every quiz students uploaded their notes on a google doc and helped one another prepare better. That is one course that I still remember concepts from even though I might never use them in future. Perhaps, it can be argued that this system is preparing us for the future in a way better than anything else as professional lives also involve such cut throat competition.


Not only the grading system, but the way everyone has to contribute in class discussions with our CP component is also a bit absurd. When in school, students used to speak up when they genuinely had something meaningful to say that could contribute to the ongoing class discussion but here that’s a rare sight which makes it a little sad. “CP wars”, as many call it have taken over and we just have to survive. The class becomes more about making a “CP point” and the anxiety that surrounds it, and not about paying enough attention in class to know what the conversation is.


There is another pattern that I have discovered in many courses where people with the most CP, often don’t do as well in mid-terms and finals (no evidence to support this so we’ll just consider this to be a random statement). Just so we are clear, though I have nothing against anyone who engages in these “wars”, I have been one of them until before this semester as we want the grade. I do blame the system though.


When you walk around the campus, especially during mid-term or finals week, it’s full of sleep deprived students with sunken eyes on their third cup of coffee trying to meet their deadlines. Many end up at EMS as well since the lack of care for oneself translates into deteriorating physical health. Their self-worth is defined by grades and CGPA (again, this includes me too which is unfortunate) which is extremely disheartening and a sad reflection of the systemic pressures ingrained in our educational systems.

It's time that we reevaluate the toll of systemic pressures on mental health and redefine success beyond mere grades (easier written than acted upon).

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As students, all of us can relate to everything that you've said in your blog. I feel like every student goes through the same experiences, of course each of different intensities but all along the same lines. You blog makes me realise that this is happening everywhere around me so it is okay to just stop and take a deep breath and look around when I feel like I am alone in this. I also feel like we need to say this a little louder so that the administration knows that it's not us, that is the problem but rather the toxic culture that the institution propagates that leaves no choice but for us to be part of the toxic…

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Great blog! While I do agree with many of the points you have made (including the need to view education in terms of "communal learning" and as something that is beyond one's grade and CGPA), I have a different opinion on the relative grading system. While I understand that it promotes the culture of not wanting to help others for the sake of attaining one's own benefits, I also think that in terms of managing stress, one's physical health or the "toll of systemic pressures on mental health", the relative grading system works better than the absolute grading system. For instance, if one of my quizzes don't go well, with a relative grading system, I can keep myself calm or…

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I definitely believe that institutions should re evaluate their agendas and prioritize a focus on learning outcomes rather than just grades. They should explore diverse assessment methods that evaluate problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creativity, and practical application of knowledge.

Relative grading system, will undoubtedly lower grade inflation, but I feel that the negative effects will be more pronounced.

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Mariam
Mariam
29 nov 2023

I feel this so, so much. As someone who has debilitating academic and social anxiety, I've felt my own anxieties affect my academics, to the point that it works the other way around too until it becomes an endless cycle that's insufferable. Coming to university, class participation was my biggest challenge, or should i say nemesis. I've definitely worked on my speaking skills throughout the years, however, I feel like I've been left behind when I hear my peers bringing up coherent and strong points so effortlessly and confidently. I've missed out on so many cp points that could've bumped up my grade, but alas, the education system goes hand in hand with the capitalistic structure of not being accommodating…

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Contestando a

sorry to hear that, I can completely relate to you. The way CP adds to my anxiety in every class and then at the end of the semester when the aggregate of all components is calculated, is frustrating.

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Your blog post offers a candid and relatable perspective on the stress and competitive atmosphere prevalent in university settings, especially at institutions like LUMS. The reflection on how the relative grading system fosters a sense of competition rather than collaboration among students is particularly thought-provoking. It's concerning that academic environments, which should ideally encourage learning and intellectual growth, can sometimes inadvertently promote anxiety and unhealthy competitiveness. The example you provided about the difference in student behavior and learning in courses with relative versus absolute grading systems is telling. It highlights how assessment methods can significantly impact the learning experience and peer interactions. The communal learning approach in the course with absolute grading, where students actively shared notes and helped each…

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I agree, it is essential for more holistic approaches to be adopted, ones that do not compromise the student's mental health.


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