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GRE Issue 45: Competition For High Grades - With A Free Essay Review

Prompt: “Competition for high grades seriously limits the quality of learning at all levels of education. Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.”

Nowadays there is a hot debate about what the education should focus and how to measure the quality of education. Some argue the grades could be the best tool to measure the quality, since students' scores could directly reflect the schooling. On the other hand, some experts of education and experienced teachers believe over-emphasizing the grades could hurt education's quality. In my view, this competition for outstanding scores does more harm than good.

There is no denying that sometimes the grades or scores could help a lot in the teaching. For example , students with good grades would feel happy, satisfied and confident which could encourage them to work harder. Students with low grades know that they should work harder to catch up. In other words, the scores of tests could be a indicator of one's learning. And it is also easier for authorities to evaluate teachers' performance and outcomes of teaching, since in many countries teachers get the pay based on students' performances.

However, to some extent, competition for high scores does hurt the education as well as the students.

In the first place, the education that is oriented solely to preparing students to achieve high scores on tests can be harmful to both individuals and the nation it is supposed to serve. A widely-recognized problem in Chinese education could exemplify this point. In Chinese, there is a term called gaofen dineng, which literally means high scores but low ability. It is used to describe students who score well on tests but have few skills that are usable in society. This term has been so widely used and accepted in China that it has already been regarded as short-hand to describe Chinese test-oriented education. For example, David Langue, former journalist of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, wrote the following in an article: Employers complain that many graduates lack the skills and experience necessary to start work immediately, particularly for foreign companies. Besides, Yang zhao, a full professor from the College of Education of the University of Oregon, has written in his book, Catching up or leading the way: American Education in the Age of Globalization, that during a fact-finding mission with the National Center on Education and Economy, he was told repeatedly by the general managers and human resources directors that the engineers from China, even the ones who had graduated from some of the best schools, lacked the required experience and ability despite their abundant book knowledge and high test scores. In addition, he pointed out in this book that many foreign employers believed that chinese employees lacked a sense of commitment and passion for their work, and creativity and the risk-taking spirit were also missing.

In the second place, the pressure brought by pursuing high scores could even result in increasing psychological and mental health. Since the competition in getting into better colleges among students remains fierce, an exclusive focus on test scores are putting tremendous pressure on young Chinese students. In an article by China Daily, China's official English newspaper, reported on a two-year study by researchers at Peking University, which found 20.4% of high school students in China said they had considered killing themselves at some point. Schools in China rank publicly students according to their grades and test scores. The ranking results are posted on the wall of the classrooms so that every student is aware of his or her grades and rankings. Parents who have high expectations would also communicate these expectations to their children, which also contributes to the high pressure that Chinese students bear. And then it is not hard to understand why so many students choose to resort to suicide to escape the pressure.

In summary, grades do help to examine the outcomes of schooling, but we could not ignore the negative consequences it brings about. Apart from that, we should think out what the society truly needs and what the education is about. Education is by no means just about taking tests. Educational institutions and teachers should also help students to grow, to care, to be passionate, curious, and self-confident. The task of education is by no means producing excellent test takers. The quality of a person is a total package of knowledge, ability, attitudes, perspectives, moral values rather than simply grades. The measure of the quality of a nation's education system should also take that into account.



The first three sentences of the essay are banal. I would recommend that you exclude such sentences in a timed essay, and get straight to the point.

In several places in the essay, you do not explicitly state how the claims that you make or the evidence that you present help you evaluate the original statement. For example, you conclude the second paragraph with a claim about how grades make it “easier for authorities to evaluate teachers’ performance and outcomes” but you don’t explain how that relates to the “the quality of learning.” In this case the problem is not too serious, because it is easy to see what you are implying, but as a general rule make your arguments explicit rather than implicit. So, for example, here you might add something like: “Because the quality of learning depends on the quality of teaching, it is important to have a reliable means of evaluating teachers’ performance; from this point of view assessing students by way of graded examinations may contribute to the quality of learning.” Now if you do make your argument explicit in that way, you might see that it doesn’t, after all, directly address the original claim, since the original claim was about “competition.” You could, however, claim that competition for high grades is just a consequence of a system of assessment that helps ensure the quality of teaching.

In your next paragraph you make the vague claim that competition for high grades “can be harmful to both individuals and the nation,” and then provide an example to illustrate the point. You should make the initial claim much more specific, rather than burying the specific character of the argument in the example. So the initial claim should be something like: “Competition for high grades tends to produce students who score well on tests but have few skills. For example, in China, etc.” The example, in this case, is much too long. Use the essay to demonstrate how you make an argument, and not to demonstrate your knowledge of a specific subject. You will not be expected to quote articles, and doing so won’t earn you extra points. You should try to focus a little more on articulating clear reasons for the position you take than on providing evidence to support your claim. And when you do provide evidence, make sure that the significance of that evidence is explicitly stated. For example, the last two sentences of your paragraph about “gaofen dineng” give evidence in support of the claim that Chinese students are ill-prepared for work despite their “book knowledge and high test scores.” How is that relevant to the claim that competition for high grades limits the quality of learning? (Obviously it is relevant if you think that the quality of learning ought to be measured by how well a student is prepared for work, but you don’t say that.)

You next claim that competition for high grades can have a negative impact on the mental health of students. Of all the paragraphs, this one seems the most tangential to the original claim about the quality of learning, but of course you could again make it much more directly relevant by specifying the ways in which the quality of learning might be linked to student health. Obviously a student who commits suicide is in no position to learn anything, but presumably you would want something a little less banal than that.

Your final paragraph makes a series of claims that seem to me more directly relevant to a negative evaluation of the original statement. Essentially, you are arguing that competition for high grades does limit learning because it focuses attention on only one part of education. If you cut back on the elaborate examples, you would have time to develop that promising argument.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: bepazhu


I am sorry. A word was omitted .

In the second place, the pressure brought by pursuing high scores could even result in increasing damage on psychological and mental health
June,03 2012


Thank you so much. I have leaned so much in your review. Thanks for your review.
June,05 2012

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