Do Schools Teach Students Not to Study Effectively

Students in Finland do not have to take standardized exams. During the first years of education, students normally receive verbal assessments and not numerical or letter grades. The decision when to start handing out numerical grades rests on each school. Children do not grow up counting points as measures of their achievement. It then becomes clear that the main purpose of going to school is to learn and not to earn high marks. This difference can have a dramatic impact on the not just on the attitude of the students but more importantly, on the true learning accomplishments of the students.

Placing emphasis on exams and grades can shape how a student manages his or her time and attention. A focus on scores places certain dates throughout the school year as more important than the rest. Reviewing for exams can become more important than being actively engaged in each and every lecture and classroom activity. The same holds true for projects and reports. Without paying attention to spacing evenly the tasks required for these activities, there is a strong tendency to squeeze all of these into the last minute. Procrastination and cramming are not the worse outcomes, however. The scores in exams may not reflect the bitter truth, but on a deeper level, students may in fact be failing to learn.

In the most recent issue of Child Development, the flagship journal of the Society for Research in Child Development, there is an article that examines the effects of sleep deprivation on student's performance:
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The entire paper can be downloaded from
Learning in school is an everyday task. Tests inadvertently distill the school year into a few dates. Emphasis on grades conditions the minds of pupils to a pragmatic view on schooling. What really matters becomes reduced to a small fraction of the time the student spends in school. There are many more hours spent inside the classroom but what determines the final outcome happens only during the exam or in a submission of a final project. What happens along the way is lost.  The above study is important for it also demonstrates that it is counterproductive. 

There are other reasons why Finland's schools may be performing better than schools in other countries but with certainty, a misplaced emphasis on grades and exams is one reason that can hold back a school from fulfilling its potential to become a genuine place for learning.