The opt-out was secured after several years of campaigning by studentsLouis Ashworth

The introduction of an opt-out has made class lists obsolete. You could spend hours scouring the list and adding up your classmates’ module results to see if anyone got a higher 2:1 than you, but ultimately, with so many indicating that they will choose to opt out, there’s no way to tell whether you came 3rd or 13th. This is a good thing.

Undoubtedly, many people in Cambridge came from schools with cultures of fierce competition, where after every assessment classmates would ask how you performed. The negative effects of this are clear; for the kind of people who apply to Cambridge, for whom academic success is incredibly important, this creates even more pressure to ‘be the best’ and constantly compare yourself to others. Tiny differences in marks get blown up out of proportion and, critically, improvement ceases to mean anything on its own; you may have bettered your previous mark by a considerable amount, but what does it matter when your rival in class beat you by a single mark? This kind of attitude, drilled in throughout your teenage years as you are constantly set in classes with a similar group of academically skilled individuals, is pervasive, corrosive to mental health, and incredibly difficult to escape.

The undue emphasis on final results runs contrary to the actual purpose of university

On a wider scale, this toxic competition and focus on a single letter grade above all else skews attitudes towards education as a whole. Instead of being encouraged to take risks by writing something original or coming at a question from a different angle, supervision work becomes about predicting and getting content for the generally limited set of questions that appear on that topic in exams, rather than engaging with the question organically. Instead of being just proud of the interesting concepts explored, or a unique line of argument, this all has to be justified by a number. The undue emphasis on final results runs contrary to the actual purpose of university. Education becomes no longer about developing into a creative and well-rounded person, but about who can play the Tripos system better.


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Exclusive: Cambridge will give students class lists opt-out

Claims that this kind of intense competition and breach of privacy are “just how it is in the real world” are patently false. Not only does no other university publicly display student’s results, even in A-levels, parents are not allowed to be given their children’s grades. The opt-out system does not reduce healthy competition – where you can choose when, or how much to participate – and student’s desires to strive for success. Had this been true, Oxford would surely have slipped down the university rankings when it abolished class lists in 2009. Unfortunately for the Oxbridge rivalry, this has yet to be the case. Those campaigning against an easier opt-out system are right to say that this will not end the prevalence of exam stress and mental health issues in Cambridge, but it is equally farcical to claim that Cambridge has so few incentives for competition that an opt-out will cause students going for a first to settle for a 2:2.

Personally, I found it a huge relief coming from a school where this attitude was prevalent, to a course where I have never once been asked for my marks. I opt out not just so nobody else can see my results, but also to prevent myself from focusing on the results of others. Ultimately, the joy one should hopefully feel upon opening one’s results should not be tainted by what anyone else got. Our generation is often criticised for being selfish, but this is one case where we could all gain from a becoming a bit more self-centred.

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