As a teacher, I have observed students for many years. Over and over again, students are more stressed over test grades than any other grade, and this stress is caused by a lack of perspective. Tests are not the most important grade in a typical course; in fact, they are often not given the most weight. Yet tests are what cause the most stress, the most procrastination, and the most abandonment of students.

Worry Over Nothing

Let us take a typical course, where the grade consists of tests, homework, and either a project or lab (many have both). Furthermore, let us assign a weight of 40% to the test grade and a weight of 30% to each of the others. Finally, let us say there are four tests, each worth 100 points. How valuable is an A on a test over a C?

Since the test grade is 40% of the course grade and there are four tests, that means each test is worth 10% of the course grade. On a common grading scale, there are 20 points difference between an A and a C. Therefore, an A on each test is worth 9 points of the final grade while a C on each test is worth 7 points. The total difference between an A test average and a C test is average is 8 points of the final grade, which is not even a full letter grade.

Yet students will worry and worry about each point on a test. They will work on a single test problem at the expense of other work. They will get physically ill over test grades. And yet the test average has only a small impact on the overall grade.

A Better Approach

Now don’t get me wrong. You should do your best on tests and get the grade you need to meet your goals for the course. But recognize that in most courses, the test grade is not the most important factor of your grade. The daily work, the homework, the in-class work, the labs, these carry the most weight in typical course.

So how to approach tests properly? First, decide what grade you should target. Do you really need an A, or would a B or even a C be high enough to get the course grade you want? Second, evaluate the material so that you know where you are strong. Which type of questions are easy for you, and which are hard? Focus on the material where you are strong. Make sure you answer all of the questions in your strong areas, which means you may need to skip some questions until later.

Final Results

Getting a good grade in a course is a balancing act. You need to work all the areas of the course, not just the tests. And definitely you should not let the tests determine your attitude for the course. You can do better by playing to your strengths than by focusing on your weaknesses.

Author's Bio: 

John Steely is a certified life coach concentrating on personal and professional development. His site Steely Services provides information on personal development topics. John shares his love of classics in his Monthly Classic program of free books.