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MIT student blogger Marcela R. '13

On a Week of IHTFP by Marcela R. '13

An Exam Week story. Starring none other than 18.022.

Hey all, sorry to be absent for… what has it been by now… three weeks? That’s inexcusable for a freshman blogger! So I will have to make it up by posting much MORE often… it looks like some order might be coming into my life now so this may indeed be possible…

But… now there are a whole two months of MIT to blog about, where to start?

So you’re thinking about MIT…

You may have read about the opportunities available to you from the minute that you step onto campus as an MIT student, and perhaps that’s why you’d like to come. What goes on here is nothing short of amazing. Exciting. Insane. Definitely take a look at the main MIT site and other blog posts (you can even check out my first post, The Land of MIT).

Wonderful? Out of this world?

No, the question is…

Can you SURVIVE???

I lied. That’s not the real question. Even though it may seem like it.

The answer is YES, you can. People will say this a million times – but if you get into MIT, it IS possible. You can survive.

The real question is…

Will you be HAPPY (at least ~50% of the time)???

There’s a reason why MIT’s motto is IHTFP – “I Hate This F***ing Place” or “I Have Truly Found Paradise.” Most of the time, you’ll agree with one of them. Our emotions are usually at one of these two extremes.

When we say that “MIT is hard,” we mean it. You may have to rethink your study skills. Some people just never had to study before they got here. You have to learn to manage your time. This may happen at any college, especially when you move away. Suddenly you’re on your own. A million activities are thrown your way, a million possibilities for each minute, and you would go to every single one of them but there are only 24 hours in a day and you also have to get food and get done with everything early enough to get sleep – at least some sleep. MIT is just a liiiitle harder than most other colleges, so you have to pset and study too. (I actually believe that MIT is THE hardest college in the world, though someone said there’s another school in India which may compare… forgot what it’s called though =/)

We all have our reality checks. I mean, the overwhelming trend I’ve noticed at MIT is that everyone wants to take the hardest classes that they can even dream of passing. There really is a strong work ethic here. For the most part, the system (or the sanity that a few students seem to have) keeps people in classes based on their level of preparation for each course. For instance, most freshmen choose one of 8 flavors of math (18.01, 18.01A/2A, 18.014, 18.02, 18.022, 18.023, 18.024 – the 18.01’s are types of single-variable calculus and the 18.02’s are types of multi-variable calculus). I came in with Calculus BC and was able to choose from 18.02 (regular calculus), 18.022 (theory and challenging), or 18.023 (calculus with applications). (18.024 is a proof-based course that you can only take after 18.014). In my high school I was in the “honors math” sequence. I liked thinking about calculus and its applications – in economics, in general, in everything.

Well, anyway, the point is that I heard 18.022 once described as “honors math at MIT.” When I told my advisor I was interested in the class she said, “I don’t know. That’s a HARD class.” I guess the MIT freshman mentality was still in me, and I thought, “Wouldn’t I be wasting my time here if I wasn’t challenging myself? Won’t this help me be REALLY awesome at EVERYTHING having to do with math later in life?”

Fast forward a month to… OUR FIRST MIT EXAM WEEK EVER…

(Weekend before)

“Time to lock myself in my room and do nothing but 18.022 for the test on Tuesday!”
“Wait, there’s a chem test on Wednesday? Schrodinger’s equation… I can’t do that either, but what I REALLY can’t do is math. Chem after math… chem after math…”
“Oh crap I also have an 18.022 pset DUE ON MONDAY? Guess I’ll have to study everything else… tomorrow.”

(Monday morning)

“YES! PSET HANDED IN! I totally don’t know if what I did was right for half of them though. It would be NICE to get the PSET back BEFORE the test… not that that’s happening…

“Oookay, for the test. Who knows how I had time to attempt this practice test? Anyway, time to compare these practice test questions with the answers pasted on the door of our professor’s office… oh THAT’S how you do it, I still don’t get that, I calculated that wrong, I don’t get polar/cylindrical/spherical coordinates yet I’m so screwed omg, hey wait the professor messed this part up too… so he gave himself a 97…”

(later Monday)

“My recitation T.A. gave me entirely DIFFERENT answers for this polar/spherical/cylindrical coordinate question, let me check them… they’re still different… hey wait he graded himself AGAIN?”

(Monday’s facebook status)

“My professor got a 94 on his own test!”

(Monday at 8:30, at Sport Tae Kwon Do PE, trying to decide whether to leave after the first hour or stay for another)

Me to 18.022-er: “Hey, are you ready for the test?”

18.022-er: “No. No way. Are you crazy? Are you kidding?”

Me to other 18.022-er: “Are you ready for the test?”

Other 18.022-er: “I actually have the math test and a comp sci test tomorrow… and I haven’t really started studying…”

Me: “So…”

Other 18.022-er: “But I’m probably going to stay for the second hour. Are you?”

Me: “Ha, ha, hahaha!”

(leaves to study)

(Monday at 1)

Another 18.022-er: Hey, have you been studying? How much have you been studying? I bet you haven’t been studying Marcela.

Me: Hey! You can’t say anything. I’ve studied for at least 6 hours by now, by the time I call it quits at 3 it’ll be 8… I read the whole textbook chapters that cover what we’re doing in class up till now, I reread them this weekend, I bought notecards and wrote every single important equation or formula on them, I took the practice tests, I met with my T.A. to go over the last three psets…….. I think I’m ready…

(Tuesday at 1)

Another 18.022-er: You ready?

Me: Sure… You ready?

18.022-er: No. You ready?

Other 18.022-er: I think so…


(Tuesday at 1:55)

Professor: Hey, everyone, I’m giving you an extra five minutes!

(Tuesday at 2:00)


Tests: *handed up*

18.022-ers: …

18.022-ers: X X;;;;;;

18.022-ers: X X;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

(Tuesday at 5)

“OK, all right. It’s time to study CHEM. I’ve got to pass one test this week. I’ve got to do well on this one. Ugh I’m breaking my resolution not to cram… but I STUDIED ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT FOR THAT 18.022 TEST THING OMG AND I SPENT SO MUCH TIME STUDYING AND I CAN’T BELIEVE HOW MUCH OF MY LIFE I WASTED STUDYING AND OK Marcela go study for chem.

(Tuesday at 7)

Another 18.022-er: Hey Marcela, the results are online! Can you open them with me?

Me: OK!

Another 18.022-er: OK, let’s count!

Me: All right, 1, 2, 3…

Us: ……

Me: Oh.

Another 18.022-er: AHHH.

(Wednesday at 10:30 AM, I’m in the student center getting food before the chem (5.111) test at 12)

Me: Oh hey 5.111-er!

5.111-er: Hey!

Me: You ready for the test?

5.111-er: You know, I studied for days for that test, and I didn’t study last night because I had had enough. I think I’m ready.

Me: And what math are you in?

5.111-er: 18.02. Why? Oh, and by the way, I got a 100 on our last test. I think a lot of people got hundreds. It was a pretty straightforward test.

Me: …. X____X

5.111-er: Hey, by the way, do you know what time it is? You’ve got your calculator – maybe that has the time?

Me: Check it out, I don’t know if it does though =/ I’ve gotta study study STUDY…

(Wednesday at 11:30)

5.111-er: Let’s go!

Me: OK! Wait. Where’s my calculator? *looks in bag*

5.111-er: I’m sure it’s in your bag somewhere. Where else could it be? It’s not on the table.

Me: But I don’t seee it… Ah, all right, I’ll look later.

(Wednesday at 11:55)


5.111 TA – Here’s a calculator you can use… *hands me a scientific calculator*

Me: YAYYY… Wait… how do you multiply things by 10^10? And wait why are these numbers disappearing after I press add or subtract? Ahhh why is time passing so fast OK I’m just going to add up the powers of ten and multiply all the other numbers and then combine them and hope that I don’t make stupid mistakes or run out of time…

(Wednesday at 12:55)

Me: *rushed through the problems and just ran out of time*

(Wednesday at 1:00)

Me: NOW we get our psets back? And I FAILED this pset and I get it back NOW? Wow, I’m going to check ALL of these psets with my 18.022 friends from now on…

(Wednesday at 5)

Voicemail from 5.111-er from 2: AHHHH MARCELA I HAVE TWO CALCULATORS!!!!!!!

(Wednesday at 11)

“Physics prelab english reading english writing omg OMG I CAN’T TAKE ANYMOREEEE”

(Thursday at 1)

Professor: I owe you guys a BIG apology. That test was too long. As long as you’re doing well on the psets, don’t worry about it.

Me after class: Er I didn’t do too well on the last two psets… even though I just barely passed the test by four points (the passing grade was a 42)

Professor: Well, that might be a problem. You might have to devote more time to the class.

Me: I’ve been spending a LOT of time on the class. You don’t even KNOW.

Professor: Well, I would love it if you would stay, but if you want to switch to 18.02 you have to take the test they’re giving in an hour. It’s the last test that you can take to get into 18.02.

(an hour later, taking the 18.02 test)

Me: Wait how do you take the inverse matrix of a 4×4… and how do you maximize this with dot products… oh man I forgot everything in high school and we’re not learning this now and I’m going to fail this test even worse than the other test…

(after the test)

Me: *no energy or willpower to even say “IHTFP”*

(Thursday at about 7)

Friends: “Hey, want to play DDR?”

Me: “YES!”

(Friday at 12:30 AM)

Me: *gets back from DDR*

Me: *goes into kitchen*

TV which is on: *plays The Fugitive*


The Fugitive: *is watched*

Me at 3 – I can’t take another half hour. Bedtime…

Friday-Sunday: LONG WEEKEND!!!

Long weekend: Apple pie baking, sleeping (16 hours on Saturday), more movies, running a race for charity…

Me: *dreams “I have Truly Found Paradise…”*


So I ended up staying in 18.022. Before I was hesitant to ask for help, but now I work with pset groups and readily ask any and all of my friends for advice. And sometimes I can offer insights too. (Sometimes.) Perhaps this is the best way to go because:

1) First term is PASS/NO RECORD!!!
2) The class really IS interesting, especially once you start catching on =)

Will it apply in real life in any special way that 18.02 would not? Perhaps not unless you’re a mathematician… but still, it’s interesting. My goal is to PASS!

One thing I wanted to show you is that it’s important that MIT is the way it is – that we don’t just “work hard,” but we “party hard.” Partying doesn’t mean heading out to the nearest frat party every weekend (many people – but not all – do!) Partying means taking time to do FUN STUFF. Hanging out with friends and having a life. Forgetting about work for a little while to take the time to hang out with the amazing people that you meet here. Not every weekend is a three day weekend, and everyone has to study at some point, but you have to LIVE. Enjoy your freedom – those tests don’t matter in the long run (at least freshman year! XD).

Good morning!

23 responses to “On a Week of IHTFP”

  1. QA (14'?) says:

    Man, the MIT life seems really hard but believe me, once you love sth and you work for it, nothing is hard at all, it’s actually fun ^^, making it’s more challenging and potential to me. smile

  2. Kim '12 says:

    IHTFP a lot!

    I’m an MIT sophomore, and I can say that I feel hosed pretty much every day. But “hosed” means different things to different people, so let me put my “hosed” into perspective.

    I am taking 4 classes, namely 8.02, 3.091, 6.042 and a HASS. This adds up to 18 hours a week in class.

    Beyond that, I also attend various TA or professor-run office hours (where you can ask questions outside of normal class time). For me this usually amounts to:

    3.091: 2 hours
    8.02: 3 – 4 hours
    6.042: 5 hours

    so make that about 11 hours of office hours all said and done in a week.

    Tack on my 20 hour a week job.

    Then there is the homework… On average, I spend the following amount of time, reading, studying, and working on assignments:

    8.02: 5 hours
    3.091: 4 hours
    6.042: 15 hours
    HASS: 8 hours

    So, about 32 hours on homework per week, on average.

    This means that I usually have about 80 hours of my life pretty much pre-allocated.

    In a typical week, I find myself sleeping about 4 hours a night most week nights, and about 12 hours on Friday and Saturday nights. And I have to admit, it can be pretty exhausting.

    This week has been pretty bad. With 2 major exams (3.091 and 8.02), plus a mid-term paper to write for my HASS (and a horrible case of writer’s block), I have so far been getting about 2 hours of sleep a night. Actually, having stretches of back-to-back-to-back 2 hours of sleep nights has been rather common for me this semester.

    I consider myself to be relatively “normal”, when it comes student brain size. I was not valedictorian of my high school class, I did not have a 4.0 GPA or perfect SATs. I am definitely no genius… I feel like I have to study longer and harder than my peers, in order to keep up with things… and even then, I often feel like I am slowly losing ground. It gets particularly distressing when you encounter freshmen who meet each other and realize that they met before… at the international science olympiad, or other such major brainiac events.

    Today’s 3.091 exam is a good example. The exam was 6 pages long, and we had about 50 minutes to finish it. I had almost finished page 2 when I discovered that we had 20 minutes left. As it was, I did not completely finish the exam, due to running out of time. I am really hoping that I did not do too horribly.

    Sometimes, I feel like a p-type doped semiconductor… I am a normal guy in a sea of genius students.

    To put things in perspective, after all the time I spend on school and such, I am currently trending as follows:
    8.02: A-
    3.091: B+
    6.042: B-
    HASS: A

    If you are a genius, you will do great here. If you are a mere mortal (like myself), be prepared to experience 4+ years where IHTFP does not mean “I Have Truly Found Paradise”.

    -Kim MIT 2012

  3. Anurag '14? says:

    @s : Thanks. Just clarifying : This means that I can’t override the freshman Course limit with ASEs? So if I just clear my ASEs (and meet the GIRs), will I have nothing to do for the first semester except for being a listener?

    I have another question (actually ‘some more questions’), Can I double count my courses if I plan to double major? If I am willing to work, can I double major in two unrelated streams – such as CS and Linguistics/Philosophy (I’m a big fan of Prof. Noam Chomsky!) or CS and Political science? In case if I decide double major, can I take 5 years instead of four to ease the burden of satisfying both the degree requirements?

    And I’m just curious; is there anything such as a ‘triple major’ at MIT? I know, I’m plain greedy. wink

  4. anon says:

    you’re cool
    that’s all

  5. Marcela says:

    @ ’12 – lol thanks xD

    @ Anurag – You can take as many ASEs as you want – they don’t factor in the credit limit. ASEs are generally for the GIRs – Calc I, Calc II, Physics I, Physics II, Chem, and Bio. For non-GIR classes I suppose the requirements are different (those problem sets for instance…) – I don’t know as much about those though, you can listen to s or talk to/email the department heads to clarify what you need to do for those. If you, say, pass out of bio and physics and both maths, you just take the upper level courses for credit – not as a listener (unless you want to take MORE than four classes…)

    And yes, you can double count courses if you plan to double major, the course bulletin on the MIT site ( has more info on how that works. You might not be able to double count many with CS and Poli sci for instance, but those are definitely good combinations – linguistics can match up well with CS too, I’m pretty sure others are doing/have done it. There’s a 5 year program for getting a masters in engineering, I think that’s through course 2 – there are probably ones for the other courses as well, but you apply for those programs in junior year.
    I don’t THINK we have triple majors (insanity!), but you can have one or two minors. I’m thinking of double majoring and minoring or majoring and double-minoring, for instance.

    @ Kim ’12 – Wow! I’ve never actually added up all the hours… right now I’m taking five classes (5.111, 18.022, 8.01, HASS, and Terrascope) but I’m averaging lower in them… yay pass/no record =P It’s interesting because it seems like there are so many geniuses here, but if they are like most students even they are overworking to some extent because… they can =P And this isn’t always “Paradise” for us mere mortals, but hopefully it is SOME of the time… Anyway, thanks for sharing your experience =)

  6. Marcela says:

    @ anon

    Really? That made my day =) Thanks!

  7. Marcelli says:

    Wow! Accurate descriptions wink

  8. Emily says:

    Even if you pass out of 18.01, I understand that you’re not allowed to take 18.024 in the first term as it requires you to take 18.014. If one is really interested in pure maths and theory would it be silly to forfeit your credit for 18.01 by taking 18.014 so that you can follow MIT’s Honours Math Classes 18.024 and 18.034? I’ve heard that math-people with AP credit tend to go for 18.022 and 18.023 in the first term and don’t bother with 18.024.

  9. Sreyan says:

    Well im from India, its called IIT, the Indian Institute of Technology
    and yes it sure does compare!! :D

  10. Anurag '14? says:

    If I am not mistaken, MIT conducts standing exams in the beginning – my performance on which determines if I don’t have to take a few courses and get credit right away (assuming the ‘I’ here is admitted).

    How many courses can I be exempted from this way? Is there a maximum credit limit or something? Also, if you have already finished all the courses I was going to take before in the freshman year, or maybe some from the sophomore year as well, can I just appear for their exams and turn in their PSETS (for credit for that course) and study other courses ( for more credit) at the same time? Or will I be exempted from all of them if I do good enough on my standing exam?

    By the time I finish reading and typing, am I still first?

  11. s says:

    yeah, to clarify, ASEs don’t count in the credit limit.

    regardless of how many classes you pass out of, you can take a max of 54 units first term

    (or if you’re in Seminar XL or Terrascope, 57 units because those have their own classes)

  12. The MIT curriculum focuses on mathematical rigor as the only valid criterion for chemistry or physics, which should point at the new nanomodeling technique for atomic topology solved in quantum field theory by algebraic topology. MIT could afford the unopposed solution to the Schrodinger equation for one atom.

    Recent advancements in quantum science have produced the picoyoctometric, 3D, interactive video atomic model imaging function, in terms of chronons and spacons for exact, quantized, relativistic animation. This format returns clear numerical data for a full spectrum of variables. The atom’s RQT (relative quantum topological) data point imaging function is built by combination of the relativistic Einstein-Lorenz transform functions for time, mass, and energy with the workon quantized electromagnetic wave equations for frequency and wavelength.

    The atom labeled psi (Z) pulsates at the frequency {Nhu=e/h} by cycles of {e=m(c^2)} transformation of nuclear surface mass to forcons with joule values, followed by nuclear force absorption. This radiation process is limited only by spacetime boundaries of {Gravity-Time}, where gravity is the force binding space to psi, forming the GT integral atomic wavefunction. The expression is defined as the series expansion differential of nuclear output rates with quantum symmetry numbers assigned along the progression to give topology to the solutions.

    Next, the correlation function for the manifold of internal heat capacity energy particle 3D functions is extracted by rearranging the total internal momentum function to the photon gain rule and integrating it for GT limits. This produces a series of 26 topological waveparticle functions of the five classes; {+Positron, Workon, Thermon, -Electromagneton, Magnemedon}, each the 3D data image of a type of energy intermedon of the 5/2 kT J internal energy cloud, accounting for all of them.

    Those 26 energy data values intersect the sizes of the fundamental physical constants: h, h-bar, delta, nuclear magneton, beta magneton, k (series). They quantize atomic dynamics by acting as fulcrum particles. The result is the picoyoctometric, 3D, interactive video atomic model data point imaging function, responsive to keyboard input of virtual photon gain events by relativistic, quantized shifts of electron, force, and energy field states and positions.

    Images of the h-bar magnetic energy waveparticle of ~175 picoyoctometers are available online at with the complete RQT atomic modeling manual titled The Crystalon Door, copyright TXu1-266-788. TCD conforms to the unopposed motion of disclosure in U.S. District (NM) Court of 04/02/2001 titled The Solution to the Equation of Schrodinger.

  13. Anurag '14? says:

    @Marcela and s : Thanks! smile

  14. Shreya says:

    Boy o boy.

    You guys have it hard.

  15. Steph says:

    @Marcela: I totally understand what you’re going through. I did so horribly on my calc exam as well. I studied for all the complex and long equations and when I got the exam, it was all short/easy questions that I didn’t spend enough time on. I felt like such a idiot. This is probably due to my molecular/cell bio class. I spend an average of 20-30 hours a week on it (including the 7 hours of class/lab). Good thing I have people to work together with. Especially for my calc class. Hold in there. smile

  16. '12 says:

    yep, that sounds about right

    *pat, pat* it’ll be OK

  17. Marcela says:

    @ Emily – It is really up to you – I have actually heard great things about 18.014. I did not take it because I wanted to finish my math GIRs earlier so that I could start taking other courses earlier, but the class definitely gets rave reviews. If you love math and want a more solid foundation perhaps (I’ll tell you that a LOT of my 18.022 class has gone beyond Cal BC in high school – there’s a USAMO finalist, there are people who have already taken multivariate calculus in a local college…) then you might be happier with 18.014. 18.024 is pretty good for theory as well… but you can decide by talking to Professor Kemp (who teaches both classes) during Orientation before classes. Definitely ask people who have taken 18.014 as well – if you have specific questions about it I’ll find a friend and ask for you! =)

  18. s says:

    @ Anurag

    I think what you’re referring to are the Advanced Standing Exams (ASEs). As far as I know, there is no limit for the number of them you can take, but an ASE is not available for every subject.

    The ones I have commonly heard of are 5.111, 7.012, 8.01, 8.02, 18.01, 18.02, 18.03, and 18.06. For 18.03 (and 18.06?), you also need to turn in the problem sets to get credit for the class.

    If you take ASEs before the start of your first semester, they’ll be recorded P/NR and you’ll get credit for the course without enrolling in it. If you don’t pass the ASE, and the class is a requirement, you will have to take it some time.

    “an I just appear for their exams and turn in their PSETS (for credit for that course) and study other courses ( for more credit)”

    In general, nothing really forces you to attend class, as long as you do all the work and there’s no participation grade. However, there is no way to exceed the 54 unit limit in your first semester, so you would have to be a listener in any extra classes. If you get Early Sophomore Standing, there’s no credit limit in the second semester, though.

  19. Southpa says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t under stand what the Dale Ritter guy’s point is?

    Sometime I wonder if admissions tells the bloggers to talk about how tough life at MIT is just before the application deadlines to scare off less dedicated applicants. Maybe not.

  20. PC says:

    The Masters of Engineering is more of the IHTFP you’re experiencing now. 6 classes this semester, with impending doom (in the form of a group project and a thesis) in the spring!

  21. Tim says:

    IHTFP…that’s an awesome way to put it. I heard something about MIT having one of the highest college suicide rates in the country, too. Are most of those deaths caused by blunt trauma to the brain by Chemistry textbooks?

  22. Shravas says:

    Emily – The major options for people interested in theory are the 18.014 route which has already been discussed, 18.100 which is analysis and has two flavors, and 18.701 which is the first class in the algebra sequence. Of course, you can still be a math major without taking any of these classes and the vast majority of MIT students don’t, but I just wanted to point them out.

  23. abu ben adam says:

    I really like this place(MIT)