Thursday, 18 August 2011

What's a Grade Worth Anyway?

Those in the UK will know only too well today was A-Level results day. For everyone outside of Britain... it was A-Level results day today, a day typically filled with images on TV of pretty girls hugging each other and consoling the one who didn't manage to get all A*s, and got an A instead... yes, that does happen. (For those not in the know, an A* is a super duper A. It was created because of how many people get As in their exams, to differentiate between those that are excellent and those that are almost godly in their knowledge.)

I wish luck to all the students out there with their results and getting university placements. The clearing process this year looks brutal and with so few places there are going to be a tonne of disappointed students. But I hope they know it's not the end of the world. With or without a degree there is no guarantee of a decent job or salary anymore, and I personally think it relies far more on your personality and experience than a bit of paper (though some will disagree). The universe is a funny 'ol place though, and I've found that even when all avenues seem shut, something turns up, especially if you don't give up and keep throwing yourself to the wolves time and time again. A bit like writers trying to get published really; you just have to keep throwing your work out there, no matter how many times it ricochets back to you with yet another rejection. It's hard but ultimately things seem to sort themselves out. The universe finds a way.

Girls hugging. The papers love these photos. Wonder why...

I don't envy students though; unemployment for 16 - 24 year-olds is the highest it's been in twenty years in the UK and many employers have made it clear they don't think degrees count for much. Sadly a lot of that is due, in my opinion, to the poor spelling and grammar of many graduates. Employers see that and, rightly or wrongly, count the degree as a whole as irrelevant. I'll admit here that I don't understand how it can happen; I went to King's College London and in my course we were severely marked down for any mistakes in those areas. My writing improved dramatically due to the feedback I got from my lecturers (a debt I can never repay), and it genuinely angers me to think that students are not being corrected. I appreciate that universities may feel it's not their job to do that as it should have been corrected in school and college, but I think it should then reflect in the grades students receive. But a graduate can leave university with a 1st or a 2.1 and still not be able to contruct a sentence properly. It's possible students have ignored the advice they've been given but I find it hard to believe due to the grades not being affected. Instead it seems that schools, colleges and universities are just not teaching literacy in a sustainable and beneficial way. I've seen it myself in CVs and cover letters from graduates; typos everywhere and clearly only a spell checker used to edit it. I'm not saying I'm perfect, I make mistakes as everyone does, but I can normally spot them, and understand what I got wrong if someone points it out to me.

For obvious reasons, as someone who writes and reads a lot, this upsets me. Language is such a powerful tool and it hurts to think that students are not being taught how to use it correctly, especially when it's being used as a reason to not employ them. It's just one thing in a long list of improvements that likely need to be made to the educational system. But there is something students can do about it themselves; buy books, read and ask. There's no shame in not knowing what a conjunction, a past participle verb (that confuses me sometimes!), or a definite article is. There's no need to rely on educators anymore; the answers are all there at the tips of your fingers. Viva la Internet revolution!

What about you? Do you think it matters to write accurately? Should employers be more flexible or are they right to want potential employees to have a good knowledge of spelling and grammar? All ramblings welcome.


  1. Yes, I do agree with you about the main point of your post - that of poor grammar. I'm restricted in what I ought to say right now in that I'm currently helping to recruit a graduate right now, so have seen a few CVs from graduates. And you would be surprised at the poor quality of both them, and the covering letters.

    I would say to anyone seeking employment, that their CV is the first thing an employer will see. It's your 'shop window' so you ought to work at it; make it presentable, without being fancy. At the very least spell-check and proof read a few times (and Word will Grammar check pretty well for you) - if you have the stomach get a friend to review it for you.

    And similarly with emails. People tell me that even though young people seem to speak in gangsta rap, when required they do know traditional English, and use that at school. Yet I still receive emails (from potential employees) with no punctuation; no capital letters; no formatting.

    In terms of the general "degree or not". I think a degree is a useful string to your bow. Typically it will demonstrate a discipline in learning above that required for school, and a certain independence. But your qualifications and your CV get you to the interview and no more. Once that starts, all are treated equal and you stand or fall by what and who you are. Hopefully your education and upbringing (and the interviewers!) to that point are sufficient to enable you to reveal your competencies.

  2. I think the world gives out too many As. It's a world where we all are made to feel successful and lumped together. And I think it's a big drag on the education system and individuality.


  3. Hi Scott. Have to say I agree - it always strikes me as odd that so many students achieve the top grades, though I don't doubt the students themselves work hard and feel that they've earned them. It does sometimes feel like no one is allowed to be average, and anything less than the best is considered failure. A dangerous lesson for anyone imo...

  4. I believe that proper grammar does matter. As 'writers' we should try to put our best foot forward. To me there is no excuse for mixing up homonyms (i.e. their-there,your-you're) and I'm astonished at how often I see it.
    My daughter was taught the difference between their/there/they're when she was in 5th grade. It's a sad commentary on our times that some young adults graduating from high school and universities can't even construct a sentence. It feels lazy, and that makes me worry for our future a little!
    Nice blog, very thought provoking post!

  5. Thanks Neeks, and of course I agree that grammar matters. One of the things my University lecturers fixed in my writing was my confusion of homonyms - I still do it by accident when I type fast but I'm aware of that and make a point of looking out for it. Just a simple thing of a lecturer pointing that out to me was enough to improve my writing for the future. I wish all students could have the same chance to improve.