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MIT student blogger Laura N. '09

Tests @ MIT by Laura N. '09

The class average is your friend.

So I know you’re all sitting at home, wondering, “Hey, what’s up with that dead guy having Veronica’s name written on his hand?! Was Veronica involved in that bus going over that cliff?? How?! And why isn’t it next Wednesday already?!” I know, I know, it’s all I can keep thinking about too. (Veronica Mars. Greatest show ever. Promise. Go watch it.)

Anyway, considering that this show is always in danger of cancellation, I bet it’s actually the second question on everybody’s mind. The first one is “what are tests like at MIT?” How did I know, right? I’m just so in tune with what you guys are all thinking. It’s like ESP or something. OK I’ll shut up now.

The real reason I’m writing about this is because it’s on my mind. I have three tests this week. Three! I think we can all agree that’s above the healthy limt of “zero.” So I figured now would be a good time to bore you all to death with an insider’s look on some more specific aspects of academic life.

The thing about tests is not really that they’re hard. They just kind of suck. You can spend three hours the night before making a completely awesome aid sheet for 3.091

…and then you go to take the test and you need exactly one piece of information from the review sheet. You take the whole test and you at least attempt to answer all of the questions, but you feel like you suddenly have no idea what’s going on. You understood everything from lecture but these questions are only vaguely related to the real world, and by the time you finish you just feel sort of gross about the whole thing.

Then you get the test back and you see your score and you’re like “aww I got a…


But then.


You look up at the board.


Wait for it….

Wait for it….

“Yes! I got a 66!”

Here’s what I’m trying to get across here. The work is hard. That’s why freshman year is pass/no record. (Failures don’t even show up on your transcript, it’s like they never happened.) Sometimes test questions have complicated twists, or mybe sometimes they’re asking you to combine two concepts in a way you never tried before. So there is a challenge. But at the same time, the grading is probably nothing like what you’ve experienced in high school. Test grades are generally curved, and everything is generally taken in context. I mean, hey, compared to the massive amounts of grade inflation I experienced in high school, my grades here are awful. But when you stop to realize that your grade was just about dead on with the class average…you realize it’s not a big deal. It puts things in perspective. It’s not like people here are stupid, so if the rest of the class didn’t break 70 on average, well then I’m not going to beat myself up over it.

Speaking of class averages, my goal in life for the next 24 hours is to actually beat the class average. (I have an exam in 18.01 tomorrow afternoon.) I highly doubt this will happn but hey, you gotta have goals in life, right? We get to have an index card sized reference sheet for the exam, so I need to work on that.

I leave you with this parting thought: stressing out over tests never helps anyone. Considering my track record in math, I figured I’d need reminding of this during my last 18.01 exam. So on the back of my index card, after writing in all the last minute derivatives that I never bothered to memorize, I wrote myself an important message in what I hoped were large, friendly letters:

11 responses to “Tests @ MIT”

  1. Psylochwa says:

    So if you don’t know an answer to one of your test questions do you just write “42”?

  2. Cool, you guys actually get to use index cards and reference sheets. But do they really help?

  3. Sam says:

    Psylochwa–In perhaps my finest moment at MIT, I wrote “I leave the rest as an exercise for the grader” when time ran out on my Real Analysis final.

    Ahh, Freshmen taking tests are just so adorable, with your little review sheets and your all-nighters and your study groups with snacks that you bought at Mac Con and your 67 class averages. Ah, memories…

  4. Are review sheets/index cards used in all examinations at MIT? or just at freshman level?

  5. April says:

    “So if you don’t know an answer to one of your test questions do you just write “42”?”

    …and if u do write “42” is it right?

    i love hgtg!

  6. Anonymous says:

    So if you got a 66 and the class avg is a 66.7, does this mean you recieved …about a 99%? Or is it more…66s are the C range, and the curve goes from there.

  7. Emi says:

    Do reference sheets help?

    Because whenever I’ve been allowed to use them in school, they dont help a whole lot…teachers usually find a way to twist the test around so you actually don’t get to use them.


  8. Stephanie says:

    Oh my goodness.

    I love that show. Veronica Mars. So awesome. I didnt start watching it until this year, when someone showed me the taped shows. and I’m so incredibly hooked. (oh, and I think the dead guy is the same as the guy she helped to light a candle!)

    waiting for the next one,


  9. madmatt says:

    I’m now awaiting the arrival of my Veronica Mars Season One DVD… wink

  10. Jessie says:

    “So if you got a 66 and the class avg is a 66.7, does this mean you recieved …about a 99%? Or is it more…66s are the C range, and the curve goes from there.”

    It might be, say, a B or B- rather than a C, but your latter statement is definitely closer to reality.

  11. thekeri says:

    Woo hoo! A 66!

    …I think the “Don’t Panic” on your index card may end up quite useful on many tests. Maybe it’s worth printing that on a corner of the card beforehand, or something like that. (Like stationery! Only… well, not.)