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MIT student blogger Chris S. '11

H0sed by Chris S. '11

Psets, exams, and being "mediocre" at MIT.

So I was going to draft this entry last night (I went as far as typing “hosed” into the title bar), but then I decided to finish exporting my dorm’s i3 video, and then I lost an hour because of daylight savings (which was very exciting, by the way – I have never been in a country with daylight savings! – watching the clock on my computer go from 1:59 AM to 3:00 AM was exciting….okok I know I’m lame, sorry), so I never got around to it.

Just minutes ago, I logged on to mitadmissions, and there’s Jess with her tagline: “I’M HOSED.” and I’m like wow, I guess everyone’s pretty much the same then at this time of the year.

Although I can’t promise you an amusing survey, I can provide you an account of WHY we are generally hosed, though.

So some of you have been asking a lot about “psets” (by the way, it’s pset, not PSET. pset looks so much nicer. actually, everything looks nicer in lowercase. maybe i’ll stop capitalizing now, bwahaha.) Psets stand for Problem Sets, and they are the equivalent of the “homework assignments” that you get in high school.

Big differences between psets and high school assignments:
* There is generally very little busywork.
* They are comprised of mainly critical thinking problems, and the number of problems is generally significantly fewer than that of regular high school assignments (you might just get 5 problems, with a) b) c) d) e) f)…parts to the same problem – so in actuality you are doing like 20 smaller problems, but under the auspices of 5 major problems).
* You get an entire week to do a pset (or two weeks, in classes like 7.01x (Intro Bio)). But this generally doesn’t make a difference, because procrastination doesn’t stop once you’re a college student (often, it gets worse, lol).
* In many classes, they count for little to nothing in your final course grade. You know how your high school grade breakdown is like 30% tests, 30% assignments, 30% projects, and 10% participation? In most classes (not all, like psets count for a fair bit in 14.01 (Intro Econ)), your cumulative problem set scores won’t count for more than 10% of your final grade. The vast, vast, majority of your course percentage comes from exams and the final.
* They take much more time than high school assignments (18.03 psets are notorious for taking some people more than 10+ hours to do).

If you’re curious what a pset looks like, you can see a sample of a 18.03 pset here (as in, here, lol, not the picture – the pic is from 18.02 =p)

One natural question that you probably have, right now, is that if psets are worth so little in the long run, then why do people bother spending hours and hours to complete them? Ay, there’s the rub – if you don’t do the psets, then it’s almost guaranteed that you’re not going to do spectacular on the exams. And because the exams are worth so much, you should plan to do well in them, but if you don’t do the psets, then you can’t do well in the exams, and yadda yadda yadda.

Exams, similarly, are structured almost in the same way as a pset. You generally get 5 or so big problems, with more than 3 subsections to each problem. The difficulty is toned down significantly from a pset (of course, since you’re now doing it on your own on a time crunch), but the problems nevertheless remain challenging – and thus, each exam requires extensive reasoning and mental power. There is no such thing as “breezing through” a MIT exam, unless, of course, 1) you are a genius (like many people here), 2) you studied for an entire week for the exam (like other people here), or 3) the exam is predicable or easier (like some exams to introductory courses here – I’ve heard people say that 18.02, 8.01, 8.02, 5.111 exams are particularly easy, because they’re introductory courses…but I think they’re still not that easy).

Quite soon, after you begin taking exams at MIT, you’ll be introduced to the concept of “class average” and “standard deviation.” Since I’m just a freshman, I’m not entirely sure how the upper-level courses operate, but many introductory courses (for example, 7.01x, 8.01, 8.02, 5.111, 18.02) set the class average or writes exams so they predict the class exam average (8.01, 8.02 – since they have predetermined grade cutoffs) to be at the borderline between a B and a C. Course policies really vary from class to class, but it is generally safe to say that if you’re a few points below the average, then you have a high C. If you have one standard deviation above the class average, however, then you have an A. If you’re one standard deviation below, then you’re in trouble.

And this brings me to the point about “mediocrity”. At points, you would feel quite disheartened by your performance on an exam (especially one that you have prepared extensively for) when you receive your exam back, and it’s just one or two points above class average. Other times, you’ll feel frustrated about getting a C when you have studied a ton for the exam. But sometimes, I just feel like, simply, it’s not “high school” anymore. Exams are no longer something you can cram for in 2 hours and pull off an A – nor will you be able to do every single problem on a given exam. Yes, there will be times when the time crunch is so bad that you’ll have to turn in several blank answers because you don’t have time to get to those questions, and there are times when you’ll get a “mediocre” grade even if you poured your heart and soul out to studying and doing the psets.

Note that I always put “mediocre” in quotation marks, because I do not truly believe that anyone is a mediocre (in the everyday sense of the word) student at MIT. If you are here, you are a talented student that possesses potential, and MIT had recognized you as such (or they wouldn’t have admitted you!). Every day, I meet someone or I discover something that someone did that is truly amazing, and I’m encouraged and honored to be working or to be friends with these incredible individuals. Yes, you may be getting a C in Physics because you just can’t visualize forces or electric fields properly – but in the long run, you will discover your own niche and succeed.

Phew. That’s a lot about psets and exams, more than I intended. =p So why was I hosed this past week?

I had exams in 5.111 (chem), 14.01 (econ), 21F.703 (spanish), and 8.02 (physics) – all in the same week, one after another (monday, tuesday, wednesday, thursday). I am starting work on my UROP (more on that later!). I dropped 18.03 (differential equations) – because with my UROP, I’m going to be on 72 units, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to be on 72 units, for the sake of sanity. And I made my dorm (iHouse)’s i3 video! (i3 is the same as i^3, and is short for “Interactive Introduction to the Institute”. Basically, it’s a disc that will come with your registration package, after you decide to matriculate in May 1. The disc contains a 5-minute video introduction to each dorm.)

I wish I could post the video, but I don’t think we’re supposed to do it until the Housing Committee decides to publish them, so I guess it would have to wait. But it’s going to be awesome! Can’t wait until you all get here! woo! :)

Also, if I don’t post again before Saturday, best wishes to all with decisions. It’s what you’ve been waiting for, and it’s finally here! Inevitably, there will be great joy, and at the same time, disappointment and frustration. My best advice is to never give up on your dreams. If I did in high school, I wouldn’t know where I would be now. And in one short year (come to think of it, I only read this entry not even a year ago). Since then, I’ve gone to Spain with MIT, seen snow fall from the sky, learned what it feels like to host a SAT Prep program for over 300 kids, and is now beginning to experiment with the genetics of the organism that was the subject of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2002 (this is my UROP). I’m sure you will discover your own journeys, wherever you go.

And if you see something online the lines of, “On behalf of the Admissions Committee, it is my pleasure to offer you admission…” after you press the SUBMIT! button on Saturday, then I’ll see you at CPW! :)

Here’s another Taiwanese motivational song…haha =p

Yang Pei-An, “I Believe”

I want to fly until I am shoulder-to-shoulder with the sun,
The world is waiting on me for change.
I am never scared of letting other people see my dreams,
I can achieve all of them here.

Laugh out loud, let us be together
Who says there can’t be joy everywhere?

Throw away your worries, step forward boldly
I’m now standing in the limelight.

I believe in myself, I believe in tomorrow
I believe that there are no boundaries to my youth

In the beaches at sunset, the crowded streets at night
My own paradise is everywhere.

I believe in freedom, I believe in hope
I believe I can touch the sky if I try.

With you beside me, life is more exciting
Every moment is spectacular

I do believe!

[ps. You can actually see a lot of Taiwanese landmarks in that video…
0:15 = Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (or National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall), Taipei
0:38, 1:08 = Eluanpi Lighthouse, on the southern tip of Taiwan
1:31 = Tunghai University’s (in Taichung!) Luce Memorial Chapel, designed by I. M. Pei (MIT alum from ’40 who also designed the pyramids outside of Louvre!).
2:49 = Taipei MRT (Subway)
Various beach scenes = yes, those are beaches in Taiwan! and they’re warm-water too! all of them! =p]

I believe in you!

51 responses to “H0sed”

  1. OmarA says:

    Haha…MIT blogs are soo active today.

    So i dont get beat up: first i guess!!!

  2. Karen says:

    Daylight savings time isn’t exciting – it just messes with your brain! And, combined with the fact that I’ve decided to give up caffeine starting this week, MY four tests should be a load of fun as well smile

    I hope that your work/play balance works itself out. I hope mine will shift significantly in favor of ‘play’ starting Saturday smile

  3. Tina says:

    Daylight savings time is exciting!
    Especially for me (even if I don’t have it the first time here inthe States) because now there are “only” five hours ifference to Germany for a week. Next Sunay it’s six again :o(.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great post. Thanks. Do you know what happens to the “mediocre” students upon graduation? Do any of them get to go to MIT grad school? Are they doomed where US Med. Schools are concerned? Are they overlooked by companies who would prefer someone from State U. with a high GPA?

  5. Steph says:

    I hate losing an hour.

    Thanks on clarifying the psets. I figured they’d be really short but very time consuming.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Question: If I am taking linear algebra at the local community college, will I have to take it again at MIT if I get in???

  7. Anonymous says:

    nine nine nine nine nine nine nine nine nine

  8. Oasis says:

    @ Anonymous –
    I believe I’m not qualified enough to give an assessment of that. However, you definitely do not need to be #1 to get a excellent job after MIT. After all, this is MIT, in the end.

    @ Second Anonymous –
    Unless they approve your transfer credit.

  9. Anonymous says:

    i don’t know about any1 else but those words (“on behalf of the admissions committee…”) give me the chills

  10. nitiN says:

    sry for repost..^that was me lol smile

  11. Anonymous says:

    awww thank you for that entry smile i was really freaking out about the tests/psets but your entry just made me feel so much more optimistic about life smile

  12. bunny says:

    I think for sanity’s sake I’m going to have to not look at my text, copy it into a file, and grep non-revealing words for a few minutes to try and guess whether or not I got in wink A slow realization over a couple minutes would at the same time be more fun and less risk of heart failure xD

  13. Raina says:

    Even when you’re talking about being hosed and half dead from trying so save the world one pset at a time, you still manage to sound encouraging, upbeat, and excited – so much that I always feel happy reading your entries. I hope you did well on your four exams!

    And I still remember back when you posted 倔強 for us early admits. Needless to say, that song’s priceless now =)

  14. Keri says:

    “PSET” is horrible. “p-set” is marginally acceptable. “pset” is gold.

    Just sayin’.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Awww…I like this post. smile

  16. Libin Daniel says:

    Thank ya Chris.
    Getting Hosed at my own place as well, the difficulty level is toned down though.

  17. Anonymous says:

    wow the pset your working on looks really hard.

  18. Laser says:

    I’ve never heard of the term “hosed” before today when both you and Jess wrote about being such. I’ll have to add it to my vocab.

  19. Anonymous says:

    you dropped 18.03

  20. milena '11 says:

    That 14.01 exam raped me. I don’t even want to know what I got. But yeah, it’s fair to say that everybody was really hosed this week.

  21. Anonymous says:

    well then i’m certainly glad that my AP Calculus teacher gives a solid 2-4 hours of pset per night in my junior year of high school, along with the rest of my AP courses…

    judging by the information on this website, 72 units is a typical amount of units per semester for a double degree.

    with the UROP included, how did your schedule from day-to-day look?

    i’m curious to see how much sleep and free time that would leave for the average human being. not that you are an “average human being” in the least.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Can you show us a sample 18.02 pset?

  23. Paul says:

    @ Anonymous: Actually, 60 units (5 classes) is the typical number of units per semester required for a double degree. (17 GIRS * 12 units/GIR + 270 units)/8 semesters = 59.25 units/semester.

    And that’s not counting AP credit and IAP, which makes things somewhat easier. Granted, 5 classes per semester isn’t exactly easy at MIT, but it is doable…

    Hope you don’t mind me answering for you Chris. wink

  24. mit'11 says:

    psets are kind of fun if you understand what’s going on (partly)…

  25. Grace '11 says:

    aha no wonder you didn’t go to 18.03 recitation… =( there were like 4 people in class thursday haha

  26. Oasis says:

    @ Milena –
    YEAH!!! It’s like…excuse me, I haven’t seen min{x,y} functions before?! HAHA and it’s a HASS class. I think that’s the funniest part. I’m putting it as exploratory, because I think the grades for that class is going to be highly variable and I don’t want to get a nasty surprise after finals.

    @ Anonymous –
    Yeah, 72 is wayy too much. Just like what Paul said, 60 is sufficient, and if you do majors that only require 180 credits for a single major (ie. the non-engineering majors), double-majoring isn’t that difficult because there’s not that many required courses (and there’s a lot of overlap, for example, courses 7 and 5 if you’re doing premed).

    My schedule isn’t really that bad. If I don’t procrastinate, I can go to bed at 1-2 and wake up at 10:30. My classes get out at either 3 or 5, so you figure what I do with the rest of the time. Granted, now with UROP, I might get out at 7, but that’s a different story.

    @ Second Anonymous – Knock yourself out. smile

    @ Paul –
    Go straight ahead…haha. Sometimes I’m not so good at replying these comments…=p

    @ Mit’11 –
    Lol, I definitely agree. For example, I’m actually ENJOYING 5.111 psets because I understand EVERYTHING that’s going on…as opposed to some of my other ones. sigh. haha.

    @ Grace ’11 –
    Have fun with Tanaka-san! He rawks. Just like Sunny did, for 18.02 =D

    @ Bunny, all the way up there –
    I think the admission committee should reformat the online notification system so a big “YES!” appears and virtual confetti appears on your screen if you’re admitted. Then you don’t have to frantically scan the letter… Haha, I’ll stop making you guys nervous now, sorry. =p

  27. yukiko says:

    i like the ideas behind the psets.. thanks for info

  28. Isshak says:

    Making us less nervous ? Don’t even try, it’s not working ^^’

  29. Oasis says:

    @ Binga,

    I actually don’t remember what I was doing when I gained an hour from daylight saving. I remember it was cool being able to sleep an extra hour, but other than that…haha, maybe it’s because this time I was actually looking at the clock and it suddenly jumped forward an hour smile

    @ Paul,

    A lot of people worry about failing at MIT. The short and concise way to put it is that the actual percentage of those that are admitted into MIT but have to leave later because of academic reasons is very small. For example, the freshman retention rate for MIT is 98%. Again, it’s the same idea. If MIT admitted you in the first place, it’s like they consider you to be capable of succeeding in this environment. If you absolutely cannot do it, then you wouldn’t be admitted in the first place. Of course, the admission committee may be wrong in a couple of cases, but I think, judging by the numbers, it’s sufficient to say that most people handle it at the end. Also, there are extensive resources at MIT to help you if you’re struggling in academics. I believe anyone in ’11 can testify to the extent of help they got in office hours, through TAs, through friends…etc.

    @ Anonymous –
    ‘s ‘kay. I don’t think I want to be an engineer, anyway. smile

  30. Anonymous says:

    I visited MIT today, and also over the past few days I have been at Olin college, looking at the engineering programs offered there. I must say that I’m more impressed with the undergraduate education at Olin than at MIT. I found the lectures at MIT in which I sat and listened to the professors extremely dry and frankly boring. MIT being an institute of such greatness and depth, I was really surprised to find myself wanting to be more at Olin than at MIT (though decisions haven’t come out yet)

  31. Binga says:

    Well..u never blogged when u gained an hour due to daylight saving raspberry

  32. Shruthi says:

    That was probably the most meaningful post I’ve read here all day smile But it was a nice gesture Chris. Thank you, on behalf of all of us if I can say that smile

  33. Paul says:

    So, I can one of the smartest people my age in the world (hence being an MIT student), but because everyone is so brilliant at MIT, I fail? What happens then? Do I have to go back to State U?

  34. Roshini says:

    I always say that I do’nt have intersting stuff to blog or write about….and now I know how YOU have intersting stuff to blog about. You are in MIT…you are constantly in touch with intelligent, new, wonderfull and informative stuff, so you write such great blogs!

    Oh MIT, oh oh MIT!!

  35. Lauren '12 says:

    Omg, yeah. When I saw, “On behalf of the admissions committee, it is my pleasure to offer you admission…” etc, I FREAKED out. Literally: Read the first 1.5 sentences, called my mom, told my sister/friends at music school (where I was at the time), realized I never even finished reading the letter, went back to the computers in the library, and finished reading. The last sentence was something like “Stop reading this now and go celebrate,” which I thought was ironic seeing as it was too late for that! Haha. Anyway, yeah you sound SUPER hosed. Good luck with all of your tests!!

  36. Snively says:

    Which lectures did you go to?

  37. senna says:

    Hey Chris…

    I wonder, what was your acceptance rate last year? (I mean, how many colleges did you apply to and how many accepted you?)

    This question applies to other MIT students, too!! ^^ hee-hee..Thanks!!

  38. Nihar says:

    Just checked the decisions site…..


    Looks so intimidating even though Iv seen it before…..guess thtz because this time, its MY decision that going to be put up :Z

  39. SS says:

    Considering the fact that the pset isn’t even written in English… Yes, I know math is numbers, and numbers are universal, but those instructions completely went over my head.

    Four tests in one week! YIKES!

  40. Anonymous says:

    I I <3 vector calculus.

  41. Anonymous says:

    I love vector calculus smile

  42. Binga says:

    how can the clock jump forwrd by itself? o.0?
    is it like..centrally programmed or sthing?

  43. Judy H. says:

    O_____o >OO_____o >O<

    4AM studying *gulp* wow, I never stayed up that late for HW. Throughout high school, I usually finish everything at around 6-7 pm and then go practice violin and do other stuff. I guess that’s what separates MIT from high school.

    @ Chris S. : Oh no… you dropped Diff Eq…. I heart that class. Well, since your schedule is so busy… I guess it’s worth it… it’s a pretty cool class.

  44. Oasis says:

    @ Senna –
    I applied to 15 colleges. I think it’s enough to say that I got into MIT and I’m enjoying it a lot here! smile

    @ Binga –
    Yeah, most computer clocks are synchronized to a clock database on the internet…

    @ Judy –
    Diff Eq isn’t bad, it’s just 18.03 at MIT has these very long and extensive problem sets, and it’s eating up too much of my time just completing those problem sets. I just think it would be good if I deferred it for the future, if I want to take it again. It’s not a class that’s required for both Course 5 and 7 (chem and bio), and that’s basically what I’m looking at right now…who knows.

  45. swati says:

    its my heartiest desire to get into mit nd i definitely wil gt there one day.i wana saytht look i m getting there .it might take me a long wait of 4-5 years bt still the name only gives so much thrill & with each new day i wana develop something in me which makes me more n more worth mit.”i believe” to see myself in mit one the way nice poem

  46. Sceth says:

    What about ‘ p{} ‘ ?

  47. Gigi says:

    I didn’t know that admission decisions would be available so soon! (my mind kept thinking April 1st!!), so I’m in a :O :O :O state of panic right now.

    Thank you for your post! I’ll try not to be pessimistic if I get rejected. xP

    And I’m from Taiwan too! (or at least of TW heritage) Still have to go visit Taipei 101 though. :/

  48. Eric Hsu says:

    Hey, seems like you’re enjoying yourself there at MIT this year!

    College life seems so different from that of high school, and by the way you’ve described MIT, I’m more determined to enjoy high school!

    -Eric, MCA’09