May 21, 2008
Posted in: Life & Culture
So I'm trying to figure out a matrix issue while studying 18.03 and, realizing I have very little idea how to do it, I let my eyes stray to the next problem. This may have been, subconsciously, due to the hope that I may understand the next question and not feel dumb. Unfortunately (fortunately?) before I got a chance to comprehend the next problem I saw the words "critical point." This reminded me of something.
While many are now completely done with their year at MIT, there are still hundreds of students that are knee-deep in finals (including yours truly). Finals at MIT are just like finals anywhere, tests that see if you remember everything from an entire semester. Like anywhere else, all of these tests are crammed into one week, and again, just like any other place, there isn't a lot of time to study between finals.
People describe an education at MIT like drinking out of a fire hose. That's because MIT shoves as much knowledge down your throat as possible in the shortest amount of time it can. An example? AB --> BC Calculus in high school is designed to take about a year and a half. At MIT the equivalent course is 18.01. It takes 3 months. If you're feeling really hardcore you can take 18.01A which shoves all of multivariable calculus in there as well, but graciously gives you an extra month. That's right, two and a half years of high school math condensed into 4 months. And then, at the end, a final.
This class is not a particularly cruel exception. Most classes at MIT operate at a very fast pace and leave the student feeling comfortable about a lot of different things at the end of the semester but not necessarily ready to solve any problem you throw at them. This is why finals at MIT are a whole new kind of special.
Many different acronyms have been invented for the word "finals," most of which are kind of crude and can readily be found on Facebook (I'll leave the legwork up to you) but all center around never having actually learned anything being tested. Realizing this the week of finals scares MIT students, causing them to frantically study and try to learn an entire MIT semester's worth of work in a day or two. The definition of "day" becomes very nebulous at this point as sweatpants and flip-flop-clad knowledge harvesting beavers roam from review session to review session, library to library (for the quiet more than for the books), completely unaware of the fact that it's 2 in the morning. Sleep schedules shift and get all wacky as life becomes more about learning than sleeping. Take a couple of examples:
Maddie '11, after staying up until 5ish studying for 2.001, gets about 3 hours of sleep, takes her final, and then falls asleep for 6 hours. She wakes up at 8, completely rested and effectively has just reversed her internal clock, ready to go just as the sun sets (luckily this had a happy ending, she was able to get back to sleep later and woke up at a normal hour, well rested and un-jet-lagged).
Michelle '11 decided just not to sleep before her 7.013 final, going at it after having been awake for over 24 hours. Her nap afterwards did the same thing as Maddie's, taking her right into evening and nocturnalizing her. The same thing happened to Jon '11.
So, "critical point," how does that fit in? It seems like every night for the last three nights, whenever I'm not studying I'm in some kitchen or lounge listening to a conversation about critical points. Unlike in math when you just set the derivative equal to zero, the critical points being discussed at odd hours of the morning are much more difficult to solve for. What are they?
When is it, that critical point, where going to bed is better than continuing to study? When will the benefits of rest overcome the benefits of studying? A number of factors come into play, but the general consensus is (although Michelle appears to disagree) that although sometimes hard to find, there always is a critical point and at some point you should just go to bed. I ask all of you to remember this going into your finals. I know it may not be as big an issue in high school, but it's certainly something you'll face at MIT, so it's best to start the good habits now before they mess you up here.
Now, I'm back to studying for 18.03. If anybody feels like they can effectively explain how to solve:
I welcome an e-mail or an IM. e-mail me at snively [at] mit [dot] edu or g-chat me at jzzsxm [at] gmail [dot] com. (yes, I've looked at the answer in the back, no, it doesn't make any sense to me).
Good luck with the rest of the year!