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LIFE STORIES You need good A-levels to get a good job, they say. But they don’t know what it means to be good at school. School is more than a bit of memorisation and discipline. School does something to the people who attend it. And only you can decide whether it changes you positively or negatively. This is my story.
I remember the euphoria I felt every time I got a good grade. But just as often there was also the disappointment when things didn’t work out as I had hoped. After all, I had worked so hard and got nothing (at least nothing pleasant) in return. What did the school allow itself to do? Not only was it the centre of my whole year’s planning, but it could directly influence my mood. Why was I doing this to myself? Was it all worth it?
“And last but not least, there is another tradition at our school.” When our headmistress (let’s call her Mrs Berger) said this sentence at the end of the graduation ceremony, I already knew what would follow and had to suppress a smile. Nine of us, 8 boys and I as the only girl, stood on the stage, already having received our awards for special student achievements. I had been presented with a DPG award for high school graduates from the German Physical Society, but that’s another story again …
“We have often honoured average marks of 1.0 on this stage in past years. There is no average grade of 1.0 this year,” Ms Berger now continued. “Nevertheless, we would like to honour three students who achieved the best school leaving certificate of this year with an equally outstanding average of 1.2.” She listed the two other very good students who had already received a small Hundertwasser pin in recognition of their achievements in the first round of report cards. Then she mentioned my name and the whole hall started clapping for me.
While Mrs Berger was still saying something about the pin, I enjoyed the moments on stage. I had never felt strange on a stage before and for a moment I was happy to have chosen such a striking styling with my red dress. I couldn’t stop beaming. It wasn’t about being top of the year with others (I never dared to dream that). But for those very minutes I had worked hard for eight long years, always striving for the best results possible for me. I had earned it and could be really proud of myself.
The feeling of a certain euphoria lasted for a while – even during the student’s speech that had just been given by two year members. Filled with many funny anecdotes, it was perfectly tailored to our year. One story in particular, which the speech came back to, will probably always stay in my mind: It was back in online music class when a classmate had forgotten to turn off his microphone and was now reciting the Ring Parable from Nathan the Wise in front of the whole class – instead of listening … Ah yes, Corona stories.
Sometime during the speech, my name came up for the fourth time that day: “A big thank you also goes to the greatest of all internet icons from our own ranks: Maja Ruprecht with her blog!” Again there was loud applause. I knew that word of its existence had already spread, but at that moment all the teachers present also learned about blogmaja.de and that made me nervous and happy at the same time.
Once home, I marvelled at my little Hundertwasser pin, my graduation certificate of course, and the free one-year membership to the German Physical Society – complete with exciting events and possible contacts to well-known scientists. It almost felt like it was my birthday.
My parents were overwhelmed that I was one of the best in my year. For me, it’s more like a cool side fact. Back then, when I transferred to the Luther Melanchthon Gymnasium, I never thought I could maintain my A average from primary school. But I managed to always be between 1.1 and 1.4 all those years. In grade 10, as I was slowly approaching the upper school, I realised: I don’t know how hard the upper school will be, but I can get an A-level under 1.5! – Here I am with a 1.2 and all I can say is: it was a lot of work.
Those who read carefully on this blog know that I was by no means studying 24/7. I found my passion in journalism again, I discovered photography for myself, I never lost sight of physics. Nevertheless – and I say this now without wanting to scare anyone – the weeks before and during the exam periods were among the most stressful of my life. The constant tension before the papers, all the knowledge in my head and not least the pressure I put on myself all contributed to this.
The last two years were a kind of crash course for me in “How do I motivate myself?“, “How do I learn most effectively?“, “How do I get through group work?” and “How do I beat exam anxiety?“, because the “I just learn by feel” method no longer worked. My schedule hardly left any gaps for spontaneous activities and I, who had usually enjoyed a day trip at the weekend, looked forward to nothing more than a few days at home without appointments. And although I kept telling myself: “Take it down a notch and do nothing for a day! You’re already doing the best you can!”, there was still that inner voice whispering, “There’s still something there.”
Many ideas for learning tips on this blog are based on those from the book “Die geheimen Tricks der 1,0er-Schüler” (The Secret Tricks of 1.0 Students) by Tim Nießner; a book I have never read in full, but definitely recommend. It contains many valuable aspects for school success that most people are probably not even aware of. But besides all the motivating words, it got me thinking especially with the following headline: “Anyone can get a 1.0 A-level“. Is that so? Or: Is an average grade of 1.0 even worth striving for?
I agree with the book on one thing: There are actually two types of A students. First, there are those who can do it easily – who have their “I can do that with my eyes shut” subjects and have read through their notes once in the other subjects and understood what it’s all about. And then there are people like me. Normal students with no special talents who fight their way to the top through ambition and hard work – people who have developed a certain motivation to get the best out of themselves and out of school.
In the past, I would never have said, “School and learning is a pain.” With my natural thirst for knowledge and a good grasp of things, I had all the important prerequisites to get through the lower grades well. As I progressed through the grades, I also found out that school is no walk in the park – especially if you want to be an exemplary student. More homework, more projects, more stress. The “I go to school because I’m thirsty for knowledge!” aspect was lost more and more. It’s a mystery to me that despite the time commitment, I never thought of just enjoying my life and being satisfied with good rather than very good grades.
I know a lot of people who say they could have easily achieved an A average, but preferred to enjoy their freedom – and don’t regret that decision at all. There’s nothing wrong with that. I myself knew early on that I wouldn’t need an average grade for my studies. I didn’t have strict parents who expected certain results from me.
The only person who expected good performance from me was myself. And I could not exhibit this inner demand on myself. It was always there, driving me on, despite all the disappointments and lost time. And I am ultimately grateful to him. Because there’s no better feeling than being able to say, with a great A-level certificate in your hand, “I did my best.”
With this article, I want you to ask yourself an important question: 10 years from now, when you think back to today, will you still be satisfied with your current achievements? If you can answer “yes” one hundred percent, you should continue to do exactly what you have been doing. Then you have already made your decision and are happy with it. But if doubts arise in your mind – and I don’t mean doubts that your parents or friends have put in your head, but doubts that arise in yourself – you should change something.
But don’t start blindly learning something just to calm down your guilty conscience (short-term motivation was never a good idea). If you want to make lasting changes, you need a drive, or rather: you need YOUR drive. Probably you just don’t see the point in school at the moment. Why do you need to know what onomatopoeia is or how to calculate with logarithms? Honestly, we all know that we forget most of what we learn in school in two years. But this is not about finding the meaning in the school material to be learned. It’s about finding out what personal added value learning itself brings you.
Finding the added value in learning – 3 ideas
1. Rediscover your curiosity. As children, we have a genuine interest in pretty much everything in the world. Why are tomatoes red? Where is Spain? The older we get, the more this curiosity seems to disappear. School often contributes to this as well. Who likes to study for a test? Instead, we should start learning for ourselves again. Out of pure interest. Of course, we are not equally interested in all the subjects taught. But isn’t there that one question inside us whose answer we’ve always wanted to know? And wouldn’t it be great to use our brains to deduce exactly that answer via connections from school itself, instead of simply googling the question? #selfthinking
2. Keeping the doors to the future open. The most obvious reason to study is that a good degree keeps all doors to the future open for you. The better your grades, the better your chances of achieving your dream job. In many countries, education is considered a status symbol and increases your social recognition. If you don’t care about society, look at it this way: people with more general knowledge often walk through the world with more self-confidence and open eyes, which has been proven to increase your attractiveness to other people. #achieveyourgoal
3. Grow personally. Moreover, learning is the easiest way to prove something to yourself. See it as a challenge to yourself to do one grade better in your next paper and reward yourself when you achieve it. Step out of your comfort zone and grow beyond yourself. Or as a friend of mine put it, “Learning shows that you can persevere with something even when you’re despairing.” You will realise: Learning is so much more than just schoolwork. Improve your self-discipline, your social skills in study groups and keep your brain fit. Who knows, maybe after two months of learning you won’t even recognise yourself anymore? #personalitychanges
Once you have found your personal drive, I can say from experience that the rest works by itself. You will go through your school day with more open eyes, you will start to look for methods to learn more effectively and you will notice that your motivation increases even more with the first successes. You will often have doubts and be on the verge of giving up because your plan encompasses more areas of life than you thought. But after a few months you will have found your own rhythm and developed a feeling for which subjects you are willing to put in how much work.
If I had hardly studied at all, I probably would have ended up with a B average, which wouldn’t have made me happy. Or the other way around: if I had put even more work into school, I might have ended up with a 1.0 average. But I realised that I was already at my personal limit with my learning load and I’m not a bit disappointed to have “only” a 1.2. A friend once told me: “No one will judge you for not having a 1.0 on your report card. Even with a 1.6 or 2.2, you can be very proud of yourself.”
Of course, a 1.0 is great. And it can definitely be done – either with a super genius or with hard work. Because if you’re willing to do it and you’ve mastered a few tricks (such as oral participation, time management, the right friends …), you can manage just about anything. But 1.0 is by no means necessary if you don’t want to become a doctor or a judge. It is important to set yourself ambitious but realistic goals.
Last but not least
No matter what stage you are on in your school career: Always listen to your inner voice! What do you want to achieve in your life and how can learning help you? If you are striving to do better, get out of your comfort zone and test your limits. Use the summer holidays to read literature or academic articles, organise your binders or revise old school material. But also relax and give your brain the breaks it needs.
And when you hold your school leaving certificate in your hand, be proud of your achievements. Forget terms like “Corona graduation class”. It’s YOUR graduation class. You have defied all circumstances, passed the biggest of all school exams and know that what is written on this paper is the result of your years of work.
Curious about what I took away from my twelve years of school? Click here.