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MIT student blogger Abby H. '20

chaos and an exam that I technically failed by Abby H. '20

irl deus ex machina

A fire alarm went off in the middle of the first 20.110 exam.

It was one of those times where I felt like the Simulation was glitching, except in a good way.

Half of the class was taking it in one room and the other half was taking it in another room and thirty minutes into the hour-long exam my room had to evacuate.

Great news for me! I had just gotten back to Boston on a red-eye flight and was feeling quite removed from my body for the first 30 minutes of the exam. I read the questions and understood that I learned how to answer them at some point in the past but my brain refused to give me anything to write. My eyes were so dry and I just wanted to sleep.

The only other time I remember feeling this tired was in high school. I went to an IB school, so I had to write a 4,000 word extended essay in order to get the IB diploma. I remember thinking (as many IB kids do) that maybe I should just not do it. I did it anyway, though, because part of being an adult is Doing It Anyway.

After the exam, I happened to share an elevator in Building 68 with a couple of grad students/post-docs who just so happened to be discussing the fire alarm incident and expressing sympathy for the students involved (without me even identifying myself as one of the afflicted). That was a funny thing to listen in on.

20.110 (twenty-one-ten) is the class known in regular people English as “Thermodynamics of Biomolecular Systems.” This class is hard on me not because the material is too dense but rather because I haven’t done calculus in two years. I’m Doing It Anyway. This is the class that I have been the most hardcore about taking notes in out of all the classes I’ve taken here so far. While I’m not so sure if my grades show that, my right hand sure does.

my hand with pencil lead smeared on the side

                                   featuring me holding the pencil weird because that’s how I hold it when I write

What’s more interesting than my weird hand is how the course administrators decided to deal with the fire alarm stealing our precious test time.

20.110 is designed to be graded out of 545 points:

100 points = Exam 1

100 points = Exam 2

100 points = Exam 3

45 points = the 9 highest homework grades out of 10

200 points = Final Exam

The powers that be decided that Exam 1 would be dropped from everyone’s final grade (even for the people in the other exam room). They graded our exams anyway and gave us a breakdown of how our grades would translate to the A-F letter scale. There was a separate scale for each room because we had unequal amounts of time.

Since some people did well on the exam, their exam scores WILL be included in the final grade calculation only if it makes their overall average higher. This is so that people’s hard work is not unfairly erased.

For those of us who did not do well even with the adjusted scores (join our army), the course administrators offered the option to complete a take-home exam. The grade on that exam would not be included in the final grade calculation. However, if a final grade is very close to a boundary (almost an A! or more likely for me: almost a B!), the score on the take-home exam will be taken into account and may bump you up to the next grade (but not down to the next grade if you’re just barely above a boundary).

Needless to say, I powered through that take-home exam. Calculus will not conquer me!