The Desk

May 9, 2007

“A” Stands for Actualizing

Filed under: Career Advancement,Job Search — Yvonne LaRose @ 5:48 PM

Although this is literally the last week of school for many college students, it is also approximately ten days before admissions exams for Board certification or admission into some manner of professional school.

Many students are cramming last-minute details. They visit Starbucks or Coffee Bean or the library or any other place with lots of table space and few interruptions. Their focus is on getting the precise interpretation of the concepts according to the book, according to the professor’s lectures, according to their notes, according to the study guide.

A Finite Number

Their focus, accurately, is on earning an “A” in the class. While the focus is correct, they fail to appreciate that only 10 to 15 percent of the class will be able to earn that letter grade, if that many. The allocation may be as elite as 5 percent. Another 30 percent will be those who are allocated a letter grade of C. Then all the other grades fall into their categories and allocations. The point is, the number of “A”s that can be earned is finite.


The other important thing to conceptualize about earning an “A” in the class is being able to demonstrate that one has done an exceptional job of grasping the concepts as well as being able to apply them to day-to-day situations as they arise. Therefore, the cramming in order to know the precise, correct answer is rather futile.

But How Did You Get That?

It’s very nice to have the exactly right answer. But the more important issue is to know which principle upon which to draw in order to come up with an answer. In real life, there are few, if any, black and white, absolutely right or absolutely wrong answers. The right answer depends on the circumstances.

The other essential in getting to the right answer is the type of tools used to make the evaluation. It is also important to know which tools to use in order to get the answer and why those were used compared with something else. The classic example is the hammer in order to chisel a fine point. It’s important to use the right tool. Tools are made to accomplish certain end goals. Use the one not intended for the purpose and you get something quite different from what you wanted.

Finally, it’s important to understand why the answer was derived. Is there an alternative answer that will yield the same or similar results – or better ones? And then it’s important to discern which is the optimal answer.

The Ultimate Test

It’s very nice to go into interviews for internships or for the real job and speak of the admirable academic record, a grade point average of 3.9 or 4.0. However, we need to ask ourselves what those grade point averages and grades represent. If they are merely a regurgitation of the prose that came from the professor or the textbook, and they bear no connection to real-life applications, then they are merely characters on a sheet of paper. They’re meaningless. It would have been just as useful to have copied someone else’s work, letter for letter and word for word.

Why Test

Few have researched why schools and instructors test. It isn’t for the sake of moving a student along a progressive path to a destination. In actuality, testing began because an ancient Greek dignitary wanted to discover how well his son’s tutor was training the boy. Thus, the man told the tutor to devise a series of tests for the boy that would show how much he had learned and how well. If the boy did not do well, the tutor would have been fired.

Therefore, we should not look at tests as a student’s measure of whether they have passed the course or not. They should be used to evaluate how well the instructor taught the course. However in these times, we should view tests as dual purposed. They measure how well the instructor did in conveying the information, made it inviting and enjoyable, and succeeded in making the student curious enough to want to know more. And the student’s test is how well they can apply the learning to real world situations.

Walking into Real Life

So my graduating friends, be proud of the grades you have earned. The grades represent how well you instructor conveyed their knowledge to you. The true test is not your GPA nor how many As you earned in your student life. Anyone can earn an A. The real test is how well you can immediately and accurately draw on the right tool to aid your reaching the optimal solution. And the real test is how well you actualize the range of knowledge you have from your learning. And that is what you want to convey to a potential employer during your interview. How well you can actualize and deliver.



  1. Personal brand is also part of the interviewing package. How well the candidate can apply their knowledge is rolled into the brand.

    But this matter of actualization is one of the reasons I emphasize reading the newspaper, looking at situations we encounter is real life and seeing how the principles of what is being studied are applied to that situation. If you cannot apply the principles to real events, what, then, has been learned?

    And if the interviewer throws out a question about what would you do if you were faced with the situation in [pick a headline], no doubt the interviewer is testing how well the candidate can spring to life and reason through the situation.

    Yes, branding is definitely part of this.


    Comment by Yvonne LaRose — May 9, 2007 @ 9:04 PM | Reply

  2. GPA and letter grades are only one element of your Personal Brand. You must also take personality, appearance and differentiation into account when applying for jobs or colleges. Students need to focus on the whole package, their complete Personal Brand, in order to really succeed.

    Dan Schawbel


    Comment by shwibbs — May 9, 2007 @ 6:29 PM | Reply

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