So, MIT is hard.
I figured this out after I noticed that I’ve stayed up until 3am almost every night for the past week, studying for tests. In fact, right now I should probably be studying for my math test tomorrow, rather than writing this blog post.
The thing is, in high school, having four tests in the space of about a week was pretty common, and pretty manageable. I studied as much as I needed to and went to bed by11 or midnight every night. And there were a lot more tests in high school! But that, I think, is the difference: there are so few tests at MIT that bombing one of them could bring my score down almost irreparably. So while stressing out about trying to understand physics and chemistry, I also get to stress out about the consequences of not understanding well enough, and screwing up my grade for the rest of the semester.
It all started last Tuesday with my first MIT test ever, in 8.022, also known as “Physics II—Electricity and Magnetism, with Theory.” When deciding to take the class, the “with theory” part was the deciding factor for me. My AP Physics C class covered electricity and magnetism, but it didn’t use vector calculus, and my physics knowledge was fragmented. 8.022 is definitely helping in this arena. The test covered just 5 lectures worth of material, and it was worth 15% of the final grade! Each pset is worth only 2%!
Last Thursday’s test (“quiz”) was in 24.900, Introduction to Linguistics. This was probably the lowest-stakes of my tests this week: quizzes in linguistics are only worth 20% of my grade, and there are comparatively many of them. In fact, they’re apparently low-stress enough to be called “quizzes,” even though the one on Thursday was pretty substantial. By comparison, papers are worth 50%, but then this is a CI (communications intensive) class, so that’s to be expected.
Yesterday I had a 5.112 (Chemistry) exam, and it was the first test which really felt like an “exam.” Instead of sitting in our seats in a lecture hall, we had to report to Walker, where there were rows and rows of desks, or rather huge tables and individual chairs. I had so much room to spread out—which made it seem like I needed to spread out, which somehow psychologically indicated that the test was much harder than anything you could do sitting in a lecture hall, which was even more stressful. Of the 700 total points in 5.112, this test made up 100 of them (why don’t chemists use percent like everyone else? That’s 14.3% of my grade.)
Tomorrow’s my first 18.701 (Algebra) “quiz.” Unlike in Linguistics, this test doesn’t deserve the label “quiz,” because it’s a full-on test: there are only 3 of them for the entire year, and each counts for 25% of the final grade! (The other 25% being psets.) This test will also be in Walker, and of the four tests this is the one where I think I have the worst grasp on the material… wish me luck!
I’m also taking 18.S34, the Putnam seminar, but there are only psets in that class, no tests. If there were tests, though, one would probably be scheduled for this week. Fifth-week flags, or notifications to people who are failing a class, are coming up soon, and all of the professors want to make sure they have a somewhat accurate measure of students’ abilities before then.
Honestly, I’m probably overreacting to all of these tests. My physics and chemistry tests came back and I did better than I’d dared to hope on them. And even if I hadn’t, well, I’m a freshman! Under the pass/no record system, I can afford to make a few mistakes. Still, I’d rather not… so I should really study for 18.701 now!
But before I go, I just wanted to say, sorry for the more technical, less “look-what-awesome-thing-happened-to-me-lately!” theme of this blog post. Life at MIT is awesome, but on a fundamental level, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is, well, an Institute, and school is a pretty big part of life.
But yes, awesome things have been happening. You’ve probably heard of liquid nitrogen ice cream? Well, the trend of the week around here is dry-ice ice cream! It (arguably) works better than LN2, so long as you don’t eat any little chunks of dry ice!