Musings on Everything

I muse, therefore I write.

On Achieving

Or rather, overachieving. There are many, many people in this wide world of ours who feel the need to outshine, to outperform everyone else. Their reasons vary. Perhaps they come from poor families, and getting the best grades and the best education available to them is the only way out of the mudhole they live in. Others do it because they have an extreme competitive drive. They absolutely cannot stomach the thought of someone, somewhere, possibly doing better than them in anything. So they spend days and nights slaving over their grades, grubbing for just one more point on that essay so that they’ll have a 98 instead of a 97 average. I’ve met people who fit into both these categories. But there is a third category: the group of people who are quite capable of getting acceptable grades, yet still kill themselves on a daily basis for grades that they could easily get without all the wasted effort. For those of you who don’t know what “acceptable” means, here’s a comparison chart:

  • A=Acceptable
  • B=Bad
  • C=Crap
  • D=Damn
  • F=F*** (hey, this blog is G-rated, all right?)

OK, back to the point. Namely, that every day I interact with people who walk in half-delirious from lack of sleep, rubbing their eyes, and proceed to go to six AP classes plus orchestra. These people get maybe 3 hours of sleep a night, 4 if they are lucky, and yet somehow manage to function as human beings (to some extent). And it hurts to watch. It really does. I’m looking at them, thinking to myself, “You are smarter than 90% of the human race, and yet you still needlessly torture yourself by doing this? Why?” Is it some insane competitiveness for grades? Could be.

But I think it’s really for another reason: these children don’t know when to stop. They don’t know when enough studying is enough studying. They always say to themselves, “Oh my god I haven’t studied enough I heard this test is tough from that kid who took it last year OMG OMG OMG AAAH!” But in reality, all they had to do was memorize a formula and do a couple problems to learn where and how to apply it. Simple, really. Or perhaps we are talking about history. In that case, would not 2 hours’ studying and memorization of facts be enough? For what is a history test if not information recall? 

“But wait,” you say. “What if the test is really so tough that I can’t figure it out at all without staying up all night?” Well, the only subject in which that could conceivably happen is math. All the other courses end up boiling down to, “Do you know it or don’t you know it?” If you don’t, you don’t. Whether or not you stayed up all night studying. I mean, maybe you memorized that fact that saved your butt at 3:21 AM, but most likely you didn’t. You memorized it at 8:53 PM, when you were still active. This is also backed up by scientific evidence, like this article here. Mostly, I’d like to look at this paragraph:

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that a function of sleep is to help consolidate the effects of waking experiences on cortical plasticity, converting memory into more permanent and /or enhanced forms. Marcos G. Frank, PhD., postdoctoral fellow says, “if you reviewed your notes thoroughly until you were tired and then slept, you’d achieve as much plasticity, or ‘learning,’ in the brain as if you’d pulled an all-nighter repeating your review of the material.” 

I mean, what else can be said? Pulling all-nighters to study really doesn’t help. It just makes you look  like shit in the morning (all right, all right, so the G-rated thing can be pushed a bit), doesn’t help your ability to remember information, and may actually cause you to perform worse due to lack of sleep. It just shows a failure to study efficiently combined with an irrational fear of underachievement. 


P.S.: I realize that some people have a schedule that doesn’t permit going to sleep before 12:00 AM, and they have my sincere condolences. They also need to learn time-management. Don’t spend the time when you’re not doing stuff not doing stuff. Study then.

Or maybe you have work. OK, awesome. Nice that you’re working. Stop working so much. Normally, I wouldn’t say something like this, but I say it because I know 90%  of you don’t need to work right now. You are living in an affluent suburb of Philadelphia, in a pricey area, median household income $100,000 a year, possibly higher. You are a spoiled rich kid to the rest of the world, whether or not you feel like one. It’s OK to act like one for now. 

And then there are some to whom this will be extraordinarily offensive or wrong or something, and you’ll IM me angrily in order to pick my argument apart. Please, don’t IM me. You’re free to post comments on the post, and I’ll answer stuff through that medium. Just a little thing, because I know this post’s gonna get a lot of flak. Tyvm.


Written by Sri

December 18, 2008 at 5:51 PM

Posted in Musings

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. You’re argument is fundamentally flawed; even the people with huge numbers of AP classes have on average 2-3 hours of homework a night. I sincerely doubt that anyone in the school has over 4 hours of homework every night if they actually worked during that and did not procrastinate. Usually, students sleep late because they stay up doing assignments that were assigned at least a few days before the due date. If clubs, dinner, and some time to relax take about 3 hours, then everyone should still have a whopping amount of time left to do.

    1. Don’t procrastinate.
    2. Don’t waste time when there is already stuff needing to be done.
    3. Immediately catch up if you fall behind in work, or you will become stuck in a vicious cycle where you’re always behind. (Weekends and holidays are good times to make sure you are caught up/ahead.)


    December 18, 2008 at 6:32 PM

  2. Okay so I actually completely agree with you on this one. You can achieve without being the best. Yes, I said it. YOU CAN ACHIEVE WITHOUT BEING THE NUMBER ONE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD. The rest of what I would want to say…well…you’ve said it for me.


    December 18, 2008 at 10:18 PM

  3. Well said. I can’t stand it when people complain about euro notes. Also, AP euro is definitely less work than honors euro, plus after you get past the AP test you have all this time to do basically nothing. (I mean there’s the debate but whatever.)

    I also can’t stand it when people with good grades complain about their grades. Example: There’s this girl that I know gets good grades. Made distinguished honor roll. Basically has same schedule as me, does same activities give or take a few. She gets better grades than me, is doing better in most classes, and yet every time I accidentally say “GAR I FEEL STUPID, WHY DID I NOT FIGURE THAT OUT?” after asking her about an AP packet I need to finish in 2 class periods, she flips out at me because SOMEHOW, she is still under the impression that I am a math genius. Which I most certainly am not and have never been. (By the way she is in my math class + grade. So by the same logic she is also a genius but does not acknowledge it.)

    Although I’m flattered she thinks I’m smart even though I’m just average or above average or whatever, it still bugs me that she won’t change her mind, even for a second. That she still worries about college, about tests, etc, even though she made distinguished honor roll and she won’t listen to me.

    Taking AP classes is not overachieving. It just shows that you want to learn…or at least it should. Overachieving is when you go half-insane trying to get every last point so you can get into some college that you’ll probably transfer out of in a year because it’s so demanding and you can’t stand another 3 years of even though it’s a prestigious college. In the end, it’s really not worth it.

    P.S. This comes from someone who rarely studies for anything for more than an hour at the very most and is barely getting her homework done, not due to a ridiculously busy schedule, but due to lack of time management/focus and ADD or ADHD possibly.

    Esteban/Resident Creeper

    December 18, 2008 at 10:43 PM

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