From pretty much the beginning of primary school, I’ve been pegged as being one of the “smart” ones. In fact, I remember my year 3 teacher telling my mum that I was a “really bright child”. I had absolutely no idea what “bright” meant, but I knew that JK Rowling described Hermoine as it, so I assumed it was good. However, the older I got, the more I felt the pressure to hold on to that “smart” image. And that was hard, because I don’t consider myself smart. Or, to be more specific, I definitely don’t consider myself academic.
My Brain Doesn’t Get It…
I’m not gonna sit here and say that I don’t understand anything. I’d say that my mind is relatively logical, so I understand the basis of things. However, I’ve never been a natural academic. I think in school, people saw the marks I was getting and assumed it came easy but that was far from the case.
The first time I learn most things, they go straight over my head. My brain shuts down really easily and I literally have to force information into it. I enjoy learning new things, and I think people tend to equate that with smart. However, me learning of new things consists of being sat with my laptop, a million study cards, highlighters and fine liners, getting to the root of whatever I’m reading. That’s why I’ve always been drawn to English and creative writing. I was able to do something that didn’t involve displaying intelligence and instead relied on my creativity. This is the better half of my brain.
I think this reflected greatly during A Level French. I spoke recently in a video about how I love french but I absolutely hated the A level, but I didn’t go into much detail. Essentially, I had straight A*s in French from year 7, because I loved the language so I’d go home and study what I learnt for hours. I still did that in sixth form, but because I wasn’t being taught much in class and I didn’t understand it, there was only so much I could do for myself. This had a massive impact on my final grade, and a few people were shocked, but I wasn’t. French never came naturally to me. My grade just proved that my natural academic ability is not what people assume it is from my marks.
But You Get Good Grades?
And honestly, this is where the main problem lies. I came out of secondary school far more impressed with my GCSE’s than I anticipated. To me, my A levels show that yeah, I did pretty well. I definitely met my own standards, and did better than I anticipated. However, to those who consider me smart, they don’t look good enough.
I never expected to be the person to come out of school with 3 A*s. Therefore, when I didn’t get them, I wasn’t at all surprise. Yet, many people assumed that I’d be upset with my grades because they weren’t straight A*s. People had forced this academic label onto me, and made their own preconceptions which ended up affecting me. On A Level results day I went from being happy to questioning whether I should have done better. But, two years later I can step back and say that I don’t think that I should have done better. Despite what people seem to think, academia in no way comes naturally to me. I actually find it incredibly difficult to get my head around. I just work ridiculously hard constantly. So, even if my grades weren’t the highest grades available, I’m so happy with how well I did.
But In Uni You Still Do Well?
In Uni I have around 8 hours of teaching time a week. Therefore, I no longer have the “not being taught much” argument that I used for French earlier. However, it still doesn’t mean I’m academic. Yeah, I have 8 hours of uni a week, but I still spend around 7 hours a day (more if it’s essay time) on schoolwork. I print out and alter at least 5 copies of an essay before I hand it in. Exam season is spent cramming until the very last second. I have to start my essays so long before they’re due in order to get a good grasp on them. I have never been gifted with natural ability, but I make it work in the best way I can.
But You’re Smart Though?
Don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’ll accept being called smart over academic. I don’t have natural academic ability, but I would say that I’m smart in the way I work. I’ve spent probably around 7 years learning what works for me. I know how my brain best processes information, and how to structure my essays to get the best grades for me. There’s a difference between being academically gifted and smart in the way that you study and approach things. I am probably smart in this way, but that doesn’t change the fact that academia had never remotely come easily for me.
Being branded the “smart kid” from a young age had a terrible impact on the way I perceived myself. I knew how much I struggled and how hard I worked, but everybody convinced me that it came easy to me. I used to beat myself up over average grades, because so many people told me I was better than that naturally. It took a long time for me to get to grips with the fact that I’m not academic, and that’s okay. I will do the best that I can to get the highest grade for me. However, if that’s not the highest grade available, there’s nothing wrong with that. All you can do is your best, and my best is good enough for me.
Hope you enjoyed this part rant, part exploration into academia and the term “smart”! It was something a little bit different but I wanted to get it off my chest. Let me know what you think in the comments!
Lots of love,