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MIT student blogger Cam T. '13

Blogger Freebie #2 by Cam T. '13

And a plot twist!

Well, that was a crazy week.

If you’ve been reading the blogs a long time, you may have noticed a few trends. Every year, each blogger gets two freebie posts; for fall and spring semester, you can write about your schedule. Easy, over, done. However, the nature of MIT lends itself to one more blogger freebie. In four years of reading the blogs, I don’t remember ever seeing it advertised as such, but that’s what it is. It’s not a freebie in the sense that it requires little effort or thought to write about, but in the sense that MIT gives you the topic with little effort on your part.

Yep, I’m talking about failure.

Marcela has already written about 18.022; I’d like to elaborate a little on my experiences in that class.

The first test was altogether not that bad for me. However, it seemed that way at first. I walked out of it with a horrible sinking feeling, not wanting to talk to anybody. I thought it was fairly likely that I’d failed the test, even though I’d studied hard; near the end I took the time to figure out that I had barely completed 65 out of 100 points. I had been able to confidently complete at least some of that material, guaranteeing that I would receive points. I suppose that’s better than nothing, right? Either way, I walked out of Walker Memorial (one of the common exam-taking-areas) completely crestfallen. After a little walking around, I ran into a friend, a senior, who asked me what was wrong; I told him I thought I’d failed my first test, and he somehow refrained from smacking me (which I would’ve deserved; I was being ridiculous about the entire ordeal). Failing tests isn’t all that bad, around here, and completing 65% of the material isn’t all that bad either. However, even though people had said that to me, I hadn’t quite come to accept it, so I felt horrible. He cheered me up a little before I moved on in my mindless wandering.

Eventually, I decided to stop moping and do something about it. I had been considering dropping 18.022 for weeks, and taking 18.02 — a less challenging multivariable calculus course, the one that most freshmen take. I had been struggling since the beginning in 18.022, and everything seemed impossible; still, I wasn’t sure if that was how it should be, and I wasn’t sure how to make a decision to drop the class. I wandered over to the professor’s office — Professor Kemp — and talked with him about it for a few minutes. He was busy, but he told me not to worry so much; he had made the test too long, and very few people had finished. Since I was thinking about dropping the class, he offered to schedule a meeting with me later in the week to discuss it.

After that, I cheered up a good deal, and distracted myself for a few hours. I had an evening class, but I skipped it to make myself some comfort food; a steak and mashed potato dinner later, I was feeling worlds better. Finally, the grades came online. I was shocked: 65. Having barely completed that many points, I was more surprised than disappointed with my score. Soon after, I received an e-mail from Professor Kemp (also a great lecturer, with the unfortunate ability to write faster on a chalkboard than I can on paper) telling me that my grade was (slightly, as it turned out) above the class average, and that looking at both that and my pset grades, I probably had a B in the class. I was amazed; I almost immediately stopped thinking about dropping the class, and realized that I had to adjust my standards from what they’d been in high school.

However, that was the last test; all in all, it went fairly well, and is certainly not a story about failure. I did learn a lesson or two from it, but it is not the story of this blogpost.

The story of this blogpost can be summarized in a slightly-trimmed-to-500×23 screenshot:

…Err, yes.

And, just to be clear: on the first exam, the average was a 60, so a 65 was a decent grade. Two hours after I saw the above results online, Professor Kemp sent an e-mail to the class, containing the following:

The average on Exam 2 was 70%, with a standard deviation of 18%. Passing was 50%.
If you would like to speak to me about anything grade-related, please e-mail me to make an appointment, and I’ll be happy to meet you sometime this week.
Onward we go!
Prof. Kemp.

This places me squarely in the “failing” category; the average is almost twice my score, and I am close to two standard deviations below the mean. Some statistics (say, a normal model) would say that this places me in the 2.9th percentile for this exam. In a class of…. 100? Wonderful.

Hey, at least I get a blog post out of it, right?

I’m still not really sure what to think of failure, at MIT. Despite all my studying, my test average is now a 50.5 in that class, something that would’ve slaughtered me in high school; although I was not an A student, and not at the top of my class, (if memory serves) I don’t think I got a grade lower than a 70 on any test or quiz until my senior year. And this test was different than the last one; there was no panic-y rushing through the exam, looking for problems I could solve. This time, I sat there (much more painfully) for an hour and watched myself be completely unable to do the problems. 10 of my points came from the 10-point bonus question. This exam was not too long at all; that gave me a good 40 minutes of uncomfortable thought, exploring the same mathematical dead-ends over and over again. Can I still pass the class? Hopefully. I still usually feel like I can follow along, at least, in lectures, and I can kind-of do the psets (one of which I will be attacking as soon as I finish this post; they’re due Monday mornings, ugh). However, I may take Professor Kemp up on that meeting offer, now (I didn’t, after the first exam, because I did much better than I’d expected after walking out of Walker), and I’ll see where things go from then.

Now I know, and I really know — I don’t just hear people say it — that failure is something you’ll have to get used to at MIT. The fact that this wasn’t as crushing to me as my above-average performance on the first exam says that, at least a little, it’s something I’m learning to deal with (gasp, ending in a preposition; I wonder if a tacky parenthetical fixes that? meh).

However, my crazy exam week didn’t end there. I’m taking both 18.022 and 8.012; the extra digit indicates they’re “harder” versions of the standard freshman classes, Calc 2 and Physics 1, respectively. I would say that 18.022 and 8.012 are definitely my hardest classes. On Tuesday morning, I walked to physics lecture for the first time in weeks. We had a test coming up on Thursday, and so I thought I’d go to the lecture before the test to make sure I had been roughly keeping pace with the class. On the way into building 6, I joked with Christie and Paul, two other freshmen, that I hoped we could still recognize people in the class; it’d been a long time since any of us had sat through a lecture.

With nothing but a laptop under my arm and the clothes I was wearing, I walk into the physics room.

Christie: “why does everybody have papers on their desks?”

….oh, dang.

I took my 8.012 exam completely cold, not having been to lecture in (two) weeks, and not having studied at all. I had little idea what the exam would even cover, and yet I walked in there and took it as if I’d prepared all weekend; at that point, there’s no use in panicking. I asked Professor Zwierlein (another *awesome* lecturer; my (fairly recent) lack of attendance has had only to do with the 9AM time slot for the class) if I might borrow a pencil, and he looked at me like I was absolutely mad.

An hour and half later, I walked out of that room and promptly burst into laughter. When asked how I thought I’d done, I said “between a 0 and a 90”; it felt like I had played some kind-of paper-based form of Russian roulette.

That night, I received the following e-mail:

Results for the second midterm exam are online – please click on the “Gradebook” link in the left menu panel on the 8.012 homepage.

Statistics for the exam scores are as follows:

mean: 71
standard deviation: 20

There were two perfect scores (100+10 bonus).

And the following results (out of 100 points, even though it says 110):


So, you can’t win them all. But you can at least win a few :)

Now, that 18.022 pset.

Till next time,

Oh, P.S.: I may have sprained or broken my foot yesterday; I have an x-ray tomorrow morning. Either way, blog posts may be about things closer to my dorm room, for the next few weeks.

…Oh, and I’m pumped to go to 8.012 lectures again, because I think we’re starting to study gyroscopes — score.

36 responses to “Blogger Freebie #2”

  1. JENny '13 says:

    i know exactly what you mean.
    this was gonna be a part of my freebie blog in fact, but i guess i won’t repeat the idea — lmao raspberry

    dude, 93?! congrats hahah

  2. Liz ('14?) says:

    oddly enough, the idea of failing because a class is so intense is kind of exciting.

    just curious – in what way is 18.022 harder than 18.02 – does it move faster/go more in depth? How big are the harder classes in comparison to the normal freshman classes?

  3. Lori says:

    tests are funny things like that.

    congrats on the win!

  4. This is a great blog. It helped me realize that failure is an acceptable necessity of life.

  5. Alex '14? says:

    This simply makes me want to go to MIT even more.

  6. Oasis '11 says:

    After numerous physics classes, I still don’t understand gyroscopes…really.

    …I’m really not meant for physics. =____=

  7. Piper '12 says:

    Carry on the good fight ^.^

  8. Nate ('14?) says:

    Dude, awesome! smile
    I haven’t even gotten accepted and I’m already freaked out about failing miserably if I get in…talk about completely unnecessary paranoia (well maybe not “completely”)

  9. '11 says:

    5.111’s trivial

  10. Janet says:

    Uh oh, how did you injure your foot?

  11. Luiz says:

    Well done on your Physics test! Your performance reminds me of an eerily similar situation I went through this summer.

    I took a Calc 2 course at Wichita State, and one day I walked into a test over series. I scribbled away whatever came to mind; I didn’t very much confidence on my answers (I wasn’t very good with mathematics involving sigma back then). After I turned in my test, I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders (as there was nothing more I could do about it).

    Two days later, I walk into class, anxious to see my score. My head was buzzing. I kept running this thought through my head: “All you need is a 70. That will drop your grade, but will still keep a good cushion.” My professor walks by, slips a thin piece of paper upside on my desk. When he finished handing out the pieces of paper to all students, he announced, “On the paper I just handed out, you’ll find your current overall grade, and your grade from test 3.” I hesitate, then I finally turn my piece of paper. I looks like this:

    Test 03: 93/100

    I stare at it for a little bit, then my head goes: ??????

    While I love getting good grades, I really don’t like earning them like this. Too much suspense for me.

  12. Cam says:

    Liz: I have actually little idea what makes 18.022 different. I know that it’s supposed to be Calculus 2 “with theory”, but I have no idea what that means. I think it means we spend a lot of time doing more conceptual calculus rather than just intregrativing and derivatating problems. Of course, that’s probably not just what they do in 18.02 — I have no idea what they do, so it’s kind-of hard for me to compare. Any other bloggers got pearls of smartness to offer here? (err, wisdom)

    Janet: Mmm, we don’t like to talk about that.

    Luiz: I actually felt like I knew the material pretty well, though — I think I earned the grade I got. However, I like being more prepared than I was.

    Chris: For some reason, I love checking scores online. Also, did you know that this year when admitted students log in to check, we’re doing it 90s-style? There’s just going to be a big, multi-color flashing, scrolling pop-up banner that says “WINNER! CLICK HERE TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE”.

    (just kidding)

  13. VAL ('14?) says:

    Wait… so we can check our admission status online? Will they still be sending out paper letters and tubes? Thanks.

  14. Yeah, when should we expect to be notified on admissions decisions?

    Also, I feel we worry too much about tests, what’s always been the most important thing is the experience getting to the test and taking something from what happens. After all, in the end it’s just another test and I think it’s more important to just try your best and try not to stress out about it.

  15. Piper '12 says:

    @ ’11 — A class’s trivialness is highly dependent on your background.

  16. Leah '13 says:

    @ Liz:
    I’m in 18.022 and my roommate is in 18.02 so I can try to explain the difference between the two. I think that in 18.02, in each class you learn new concepts and then go over examples of how to apply the concepts in different ways. In 18.022, we spend part of class learning a concept, but then go through a rigorous proof/derivation of the equations we learned rather than spending more time practicing applying them. I think the exams in 18.022 are less straightforward and require more figuring out of which concepts to apply in which situation.

    I think 18.022 is good for someone who already took multivariable calc and wants a better understanding of the proofs of why things work, or someone who’s really interested in math and able to understand new concepts quickly. Hope that helps!

  17. Kiwi says:

    I had a Physics test and a calc test the same week. I spent far more time studying for the physics then the calc. I proceeded to fail the physics test while the class average was somewhere in the 70s and pulled a 95 on the calc test that had a class average in the 60s (I think I got the highest grade in the class).
    I’m glad to see that I am not alone in all of this.

  18. Oasis '11 says:

    ^ Nothing still beats checking SAT scores online.

    GAH that was heart-attack inducing, since the numbers just POP UP after you enter your CollegeBoard ID and password. I’m still traumatized.

    (or for that matter, checking college admissions online, like MIT’s online decision notification system…for everyone that’s applying this year, heh heh heh)

  19. Nissi('14?) says:

    Congrats on your physics test. I really do not like checking scores online. After what I read in the comments, I am really scared of checking my SAT scores.

  20. Oce says:

    @ Oasis ’11


  21. Val'14? says:

    You didn’t even bring a pencil and you got a 93?!
    Right on!
    I know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t prepared to see the scores and they just popped into my eyes. Hope I won’t be traumatized when I see my MIT decision.=P

  22. makesense says:

    gaahhhh!! SAT scores come in soon! I don’t know if online is worse than mail…but if anyone sends me a FAKE tube next winter I will seriously be mad!! haha

  23. Marcela says:

    Hey! Great post! And nice job on that physics test! I wish I could do that without studying… And yeah, 18.022… XP

    Looks like I used up my two “freebie” posts already… but I’ll probably end up mentioning 18.022 again at some point… (by the way, I didn’t even know that you were taking it too until now!)

  24. VAL ('14?) says:

    Wow… Am I the only one who doesn’t get nervous about SAT scores? I mean, I’ve only take the SAT twice (once in 8th grade and once on November 7th) and the SAT Subject Tests once (in October- 740 Physics and 750 Math II). I don’t really freak out over these. I mean, they’re already over with, and colleges don’t admit solely based on scores…

  25. F-13 says:

    That physics score must have felt like a million bucks. Congrats!

  26. Elias ('14?) says:

    No, I’m with VAL. Having taken exactly the same SATs…on the exact same dates[including 8th grade]…. O_______O

    I don’t find checking online to be particularly stressful. The stress comes in waiting for the scores. Postponing relief is just that: you either believe in yourself, or you don’t. In either case, better to be stressed about legitimate problems than to waste tome being concerned that you MIGHT have done badly.

    And well put VAL. I believe that the point that MIT [and other colleges as well] makes is that you will not get in on SAT scores. You may be kept out – so you should try really hard – but you will not be waved in because you can take a test really well [or not – your pain is appreciated Cam].

  27. VAL ('14?) says:

    @Elias (’14?): Hahah, woah. 0______0 I just hope I did better this time than I did then (1770). ;D

  28. Great post. Thanks.
    I like checking SAT scores probably because I am waiting too impatiently. So when I see that scores are available I’m kind of happy.
    I have a tactic to check my SAT scores. After I enter my user name and password, I put some sheet of paper on the screen not to see the numbers. Then I slowly slide the sheet to the right and let myself see first digits of the scores. After thinking for a while if it may mean good or bad, I slide to the left to see percentages. After thinking again and guessing what the scores may be I let myself see them. meh

  29. makesense says:

    I feel that it is perfectly fine to feel anxiety over tests like the SAT (even though I took it once). People naturally want to do their best in everything they do. smile

  30. Elias ('14?) says:

    @makesense: Anxiety over the test, yes. But anxiety over getting the scores back, once it’s over?

  31. makesense says:

    Slightly…just wondering what I scored, and knowing that anything could pop on the screen smile

  32. Anonymous says:

    @ Cam,what exactly are you majoring in?

  33. Elias ('14?) says:

    @VAL: Coincidence? I THINK NOT!


    Yeah…I scored in the same general ballpark (1970). I’m also hoping to have done [at least a little] better now. ^_^

    Not that I’m counting down to the any important web dates or anything…

    *ahem ahem*

    Oh and also, a correction to my above post…apparently time is now spelled ‘tome.’

  34. Gyroscopes, I am screwed!

  35. tree says:

    physics. Albert Einstein. Then, there’s me, who failed it.
    I do suspect though, that people who do well in physics are wired differently than others.
    this is before organic chemistry.

  36. D says:

    @ Cam- Congs on the Physics test!

    Speaking of organic chemistry, are all freshmen obliged to take the class? It is one of my courses (A-level) and I can honestly say that I think I hate it.
    …Oh, one more thing: what do you actually study in the humanities?