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:
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!
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?”
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:
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.