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MIT student blogger Paul B. '11

What Though the Odds by Paul B. '11

A survival story.

It’s official: my first semester at MIT is over. After finishing four finals in three days, I packed my bags and headed back home to South Bend. By the time you read this, I’ll have been home for over a week – but as far as I can tell, not much has changed. And yet, at the same time, everything has. Including me.

A lot can happen in a semester, especially a semester at MIT. In retrospect, I realize that – in spite of reading the blogs, in spite of talking to upperclassmen and alumni, in spite of going to CPW – I really had very little idea of what college life is like. People talk a lot about the “transition” from high school to MIT. But the word transition implies some sort of slow, controllable change.

Let me tell you something: when you get to college, change is neither slow nor controllable – it’s a process that you barely realize is happening. Growth comes in spurts and spasms, and it can hurt. The transition is not a straight line, it’s a step function. And sometimes all you can do is just hang on.

Academically, I had a bit of rough time this semester, and the main reason was 8.012. At this point, you may be wondering (understandably), why did 8.012 make me so miserable…and for what matter, what is 8.012? Well, let me give you a little background.

As part of the GIRs (short for General Institute Requirements, a set of classes that everyone must take, or pass out of, in order to graduate from MIT), most freshmen take some sort of physics their first semester here. The vast majority take a course on classical mechanics called 8.01. Basically, 8.01 takes your typical college physics class and gives it a uniquely MIT twist called TEAL, which works for some people…and simply doesn’t for others. (Karen has more to say on this topic.) For those who don’t like 8.01, or who don’t have quite as strong of a physics background, there’s an alternative class called 8.01L, which covers the same material as 8.01 but at a slower pace.

And then there’s 8.012, the accelerated version of 8.01, occasionally called Physics for Masochists…and for good reason. Even before actually coming to MIT, I had been warned about the class’s notorious difficulty. As if that weren’t enough, my parents, who have always been incredibly supportive of me and all my academic endeavors, expressed more than a little surprise when I told them about my decision. Their main point: why would I want to put myself through such a difficult class so early in my academic career, particularly when I had no ambition to be a physics major? “Well,” I replied, “I think I have a pretty good preparation in physics from high school; and, besides, I really want to challenge myself this semester, to find out where my limits are.”

So I signed up for 8.012, and – at first – life was good. I loved the professor and his lecture style, I liked my TA, I did well on all my problem sets. And then, just when everything seemed to be going so well…I failed the first test. I had never failed a test before, but this time, I absolutely blew it. Looking back, I know where I went wrong. I had a basic grasp of the necessary concepts, but I couldn’t apply them to save my life. In other words: although I understood the fundamental physical laws, I was completely lost on the details of actually solving the problems. (I also completely blanked on how to do simple harmonic motion, which turned out to be crucial. Live and learn.)

Needless to say, this did not bode well for me. Do you guys know what fifth-week flags are? Basically, they’re an official sign that you’re struggling in a course – and, well, I got one in 8.012. At this point, being flagged was basically a formality, but it definitely solidified my understanding that this was pretty serious. I talked with my professor, my freshman advisor, and my parents at length about whether or not I should continue in 8.012 or drop down to regular 8.01. The unfortunate caveat: I had only two days to make my choice.

Thinking back to those 48 hours, when I was in the middle of making a decision that could potentially impact the rest of my academic career at MIT, one memory stands out particularly vividly. I remember running into one of my good friends who was also in 8.012, and going with her as she picked up an Add/Drop Form to switch into 8.01. As she took her form, she persuaded me into taking a blank form as well – just in case I decided to switch.

The irony of the situation? She had done far better on the test than I had.

Ultimately, I decided to stick with 8.012. I wasn’t happy with my performance on the first test, but my problem set scores were strong, and I was determined to turn things around. Call it a curse, but I’m actually a very stubborn person at times (although I generally prefer to use the word tenacious), and I wasn’t willing to give up on 8.012 just yet.

So I got working. I re-evaluated a lot of things in my life – how many extra-curriculars I was involved in, how I was spending my time outside of class, how I was preparing for 8.012 itself – and I made more than a few adjustments. I started going to my professor’s office hours, I began to ask more questions during my recitations, and – most importantly of all – I ended up becoming part of a regular study group. Because our problem sets were due on Friday, we met every Thursday night at ten o’clock, like clockwork, and didn’t go home until we’d worked out every problem together. Central to our success was the fact that we didn’t simply share answers amongst one another. Rather, we actually worked with each other to make sure we all “got” every problem, from beginning to end, so we understood not just the solution, but the process behind it.

Fast forward to the middle of December. The second of our two tests had come and gone, as had our big project. (My study group and I tested the “urban legend” of whether or not a penny dropped from the Empire State Building can kill a person below. Our conclusion: yeah, it’ll hurt. But kill you? Not likely.) Although the numbers indicated I was doing better than I had – and you know how we MIT students love numbers – I wasn’t in the clear yet. One challenge remained: the 8.012 final exam.

To put it bluntly, I studied harder for that test than I ever had in my life. I used every resource I had or could find on the Web. I took previous semesters’ exams, I worked through problems I had missed on old problem sets and tests, I read and re-read the book. When exam day came, I sat down to take the test knowing I had prepared as best I could. For the next three hours – yes, final exams at MIT are three hours long! – I worked as quickly, almost feverishly, as I could to get down as much 8.012 knowledge as I knew. The final was…difficult, to say the least. But strangely enough, during the exam, something…rather extraordinary happened. For the first time all semester, I actually felt like a physicist. I was making connections that I had never before thought possible, solving problems in ways I wouldn’t have believed I was capable.

When I walked out of the exam room, I honestly had no idea how I had done – whether I had failed or passed. But I couldn’t help but feel that I had achieved some sort of victory. When I think back on the past semester, that sensation is one of the memories I treasure most. I know it’s a paradox, that I would want to remember such a taxing experience. It’s sort of like the dual meanings of IHTFP: sometimes, it’s the worst experiences in your life that matter the most.

Ultimately, this story has a happy ending. I survived 8.012. I still have that Add/Drop Form I mentioned, and I plan on keeping it until the day I graduate…a memento, of sorts. Due to the Pass/No Record policy for first-semester freshmen, I won’t know by what margin I passed until I return to MIT, at which point my advisor will personally reveal my secret grade. Whatever my final grade, though, my official transcript will always bear the simple, modest letter “P.” And that’s good enough for me.

Ultimately, though, this entry isn’t just about me. It’s about all of us freshmen here at the Institute: my comrades, my peers, my friends, who struggled with me and alongside me – not just in 8.012, but in all the classes MIT has to offer. I also want to take this opportunity to thank Caroline, Laurie, Stunes, Michael, Mark, Jenny, Jedediah, Itaru, Maddie, Rob, Beebe, Bob, Tanya, Josiah, Clara, and all the others who helped me along the way. Even if you never read this, I want you to know that you guys are my heroes – the real heroes of 8.012. Without you, I know I would never have passed.

All that said, I got a lot out of 8.012. I walked into the class with a strong grasp of single-variable calculus, plus one year of basic experience with mechanics and E&M from high school. Despite my difficulties, I walked out with a much more thorough understanding of mechanics and Newton’s laws than I had ever thought possible. I still remember learning about momentum transfer (a.k.a. “how rockets work”) as one of the first lectures where I truly “got” something, even though I know I’m never going to be a rocket scientist. Thanks to 8.012, I got my first taste of what “real physics” feels like. Because ultimately, it’s not just about solving problem sets, but looking at the world and discovering models, equations, solutions. That’s pretty special, and in fact that’s why I fell in love with science in the first place.

If you choose to take 8.012 – and I would highly encourage all of you to consider it – you almost certainly will be challenged. But that’s not a bad thing, in my book – the entire college experience is about challenging yourself, after all. And 8.012 is not impossible. You don’t need multi-variable calculus or differential equations to beat it – although your work will be harder if you don’t have a solid grasp of single-variable calculus. What you really need is to be smart, adaptive, and (most importantly) willing to work. Ultimately, 8.012 is designed to be rigorous…not to break you in half.

Because when you get right down to it, there’s really no simpler way to put it: MIT is hard. And the transition can be difficult. But that’s part of the reason Pass/No Record exists – to help ease that transition, to tone down the stress (but not the workload!) of the first semester. These past four months have, without a doubt, been the most challenging of my life – and the most rewarding. I’ve learned more about multi-variable calculus, biology, chemistry, and – of course – physics than I ever thought possible. And, perhaps even more importantly in the long run, I learned what it takes to survive at MIT. At least, I think I did. =)

As we head into the New Year, I want to wish all of you the best of luck on your applications. Wherever you find yourselves in the fall of 2008, I know you have the power and the potential, not simply to do well, but to excel. When the world kicks you down, get right up and kick it back, because life is too short to worry about what could have been. Learn from the past. Embrace the present. Look forward to the future. And, no matter what else happens, always – always – live your dreams.

100 responses to “What Though the Odds”

  1. OmarA says:

    Sounds like a lot of fun.

  2. EV says:

    Paul, what a great entry. Really an inspiring piece of writing. I faced similar challenges in High School when I almost failed an advanced chemistry class – but I came back running, acing it.

    Now, with the application finally out of my head (I’ve been thinking, breathing, wondering and writing about MiT for about 10 months), the feeling I’ve got is great.

    Not because of my essays, or my recommendations, or my grades. Not because I believe that I will be accepted into the Class of 2012. The numbers I face tell a different story – If I ever get in, then I’ll have to knock out at least 20 other applicants.

    But I’ve done as much as I could have done with my application. There’s really not anything left for me to do, other that waiting. I will try and think of other things, try to get some fresh air and relax with my friends.

    I wish all applicants, international or domestic the best of luck, and a happy new year!

  3. Oasis says:

    Someone above: “Congrats on surviving.”

    I couldn’t help but smile at that statement. It’s true, but at the same time…you know. =p

    I’m impressed with your tenacity for 8.012. Kudos to you. smile Hope you’re having a nice break – happy new year!

  4. Muz says:

    Lol, “Congrats on surviving” was the first thing that popped up in mind. But what you did was darn impressive. I would’ve dropped the subject in your situation. Actually, I wouldn’t have taken it at all.. I’m wary of anything accelerated raspberry

    I could recall a few times doing something like that. I got a C- for my high school ending exam, but an A on the actual thing. And for practically every math subject I did in college, I did so poorly in the semester that I needed full marks in the notoriously difficult finals to score an A.. and I’d get either an A- or B-, lol.

    It both interests me and worries me that I’m hearing so many stories of survival in the first semester in so many universities lately. All from people whom I expected to dominate raspberry

    Happy new year to everyone! smile

  5. anonymous says:

    Do you think having taken MV/Diff Eq before taking the physics class would have helped? Curious as to your thoughts as to whether it was the physics that hung you up or the math needed to do the physics…

    Congrats on surviving and learning from the experience! Gotta love that firehose…

  6. Sanja says:

    Hey Paul, congratulations! :D

    Btw, I hit the submit button!!! :D Yay for me :D

  7. anonymous 2 says:

    hey guys….
    i am really bad at these essays…i have not even finalized them yet…….tomorrow is the last day to submit it right? or do we have to submit is before midnight today????
    plss help with this…and is there any common problem that pops up when submitting part2?

  8. Paul says:

    Thanks everyone. =) Regarding my preparation for 8.012 – I suppose should have made this more explicit in the entry itself ^_^ – I took AP Physics B my senior year of high school. My teacher was quite simply amazing, and I did very well in the course. Unfortunately, due to a combination of scheduling issues, I was unable to sit for the regular or take make-up Physics B AP exam, so I have no idea how I did there. (Then again, I knew MIT didn’t award credit for the Physics B exam, so I wasn’t too upset.) That being said, my high-school course focused primarily on memorizing and knowing how to apply formulas…whereas, in 8.012, formulas are of limited (if any) use. So my high-school course was a good foundation, to the point where (some of) the things I learned in 8.012 looked a little more familiar – but by itself, it wasn’t enough.

    As far as my mathematical preparation goes, I took multi-variable calculus (it’s called 18.02 here) concurrently with 8.012 – and, really, that helped immensely. Regarding differential equations, you need to know how to work with them in a very limited sense, but you never really solve any per se. So a better knowledge of differential equations probably wouldn’t have helped me.

    Again, I should have made this clearer, but my particular trouble was the physical concepts themselves, not the math behind the physics. The Physics Department recommends, and I completely agree, that you have “mastered” single-variable calculus before taking 8.012. This generally means testing out of 18.01 and into 18.02, via AP credit or some other method. (Having a little familiarity with vectors can also go a long way.)

    Finally, if you’re already wondering whether to take 8.012 over 8.01, I’d say you need to have three things to really benefit from 8.012. The first is a solid familiarity with basic physical concepts – Newton’s laws, gravitation, kinematics, energy, etc. The second is a strong mathematical foundation that includes calculus. And the third is loving physics enough that you’re willing to really, wholeheartedly commit yourself to what is one of the most intense classes freshmen will ever experience.

    Great questions, everyone – I hope this helps clarify things. One of the most enjoyable parts of my job as a blogger is getting to give pre-frosh and prospective students advice on classes. Once decisions are released (!) and the new freshmen get closer to choosing their own schedules, I’m sure the other bloggers and I will be putting together entries on the various ways to tackle the GIRs. In the meantime, though, you can check this awesome entry by Keri.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Do I have to submit my application before midnight today (12.31) or tomorrow (1.1)?

  10. Kim says:

    I took AP Calc BC junior year and got a 5 on the AP exam. Should I go ahead and take 18.02 or just take 18.01– although I did well in the class, it has been a while since I’ve done calculus and I’m not sure how much I remember.

    What kind of curriculum is in each class?

    Keep in mind that I have absolutely no interest in being a math major.

  11. Paul says:

    The application deadline is, technically, 11:59 PM on January 1, 2008…give or take a few hours for different time zones and whatnot. Even if you’re technically over the deadline by a small margin, MIT isn’t going to not read your application just because of that. Although you really should hit that submit button now – or as close to “now” as you can manage!

    @ the anonymous international above: 760 is quite a respectable score for the Physics SAT II. Either way, though, remember that scores are only one part of the application, and not even the most important part. smile

  12. help....... says:

    dear paul,
    i know this is a stupid question but i just wanna make sure soo…
    the deadline for the applications is 1st jan….so we should submit it before midnight tomorrow or today??
    please help………

  13. archimedes says:

    Paul, that is really great that you learned “what it takes” already! Bravo! Sometimes I guess we have to learn our lessons the hard way.
    Happy New Year, Australia!

  14. Snively says:


    Before Midnight today, good luck!

  15. Snively says:

    And by today, I wholeheartedly meant tomorrow!

    Another good luck!

  16. Paul says:

    @ help: Looks like I answered your question as you were posting your comment. wink Just to reiterate, the deadline is 11:59 PM on January 1, 2008 – a.k.a. “midnight tomorrow.” Best of luck! smile

    @ Kim: Personally, my advice would be to take the credit for 18.01 and head into 18.02 – especially if you don’t want to be a math major. Without a doubt, you need to have mastered most single-variable concepts before you can learn multi-variable calculus…so I might recommend looking at the OpenCourseWare for both subjects (18.01, 18.02) and seeing how much looks familiar. Those sites will also give you syllabi, which will explain the curricula of both classes far better than I can here.

    Even if you have forgotten some of 18.01, it’ll probably come back to you pretty quickly. However, if you want to make sure you know single-variable calculus at an MIT standard before progressing onwards, a common solution is to take the 18.01A/18.02A sequence, which reviews single-variable calculus at an accelerated pace in six weeks. The last six weeks of fall term cover the first half of 18.02; then you complete the second half of 18.02 either during IAP or the first half of spring semester. A few fellow freshmen in my fraternity took 18.01A/18.02A, and they seemed to enjoy it. More info is available from the Math Department.

  17. laetridelfo says:

    How*twitch*am*twitch*I*twitch*supposed*twitch*to*twitch*describe an end-of-the-world experience in 500-600 words?!*twitches uncontrollably*

  18. Solstice says:

    So, are you going to take 8.022 in the spring?

  19. Shannon '12 says:

    @laetridelfo- It’s possible if you’re concise. You can do it. We can’t help. smile

    @Paul- I was refreshing my RSS feeds this morning and as soon as I saw “What though the Odds,” I just thought, oh, must be Paul. I have to admit, I was expecting some sort of Notre Dame reference, though.

    Congrats on 8.012, though I might have already wished you that. Eh, even if I have, it deserves two.

  20. carmen says:

    I took calc bc as a junior and am taking multi-var calc now. But I bombed my AP exam (forgot my allergy medication), is there a diagnostic test for me to take to place out of 18.01? or do I have to pay the extra $60 to retake calc bc this coming may. Please advice! thanks

  21. Morgan '12? says:

    Congrats on the pass, Paul!

    and @everyone who hasn’t submitted, good luck! Right now i’m pretty glad I submitted back in October. Can’t wait for March!

  22. Paul says:

    @ Shannon: Haha, it is a reference to the fight song. Sorry to disappoint by not making it more explicit. =)

    @ Solstice: Mm…good question, I’ve been trying to answer it for myself for quite a while now. Ask me again in a few weeks. wink

    @ Carmen: Sorry to hear that! The choice to retake the AP is up to you, but MIT does indeed offer advanced placement exams (they’re called Advanced Standing Exams here) for several subjects, which you can take during Orientation. Later in the year, there’ll be a “Class of 2012” site with a lot more info on all this sort of thing. For now, you can learn a little more about them here.

  23. Marc says:


    And Paul, it’s awesome that you stuck with it even though you were having trouble at first. I admire that sort of thing.

    Would you recommend 8.012 over 8.01 then? And what kind of background in physics did you have?

    –Marc R.

  24. Udit says:

    Happy new year to all

  25. swagnik says:

    that was very motivating paul
    happy new year to all and wishing you all the best

  26. Omar '10 says:

    Congrats on surviving.

    MIT is definitely challenging and that’s one of the ways it makes us grow and change faster than we imagine at first. It’s good to reflect on this during breaks so we can actually come to terms with everything that happens during the term.

    Happy New Year! I hope you’re enjoying break. smile

  27. Edgar says:

    As always, grand words of wisdom that I am sure a great deal of first year students can sympathizes with. Nice job and congratulations on your great achievements!

  28. Noelle says:

    Wow that was pretty inspiring! It’s lovely to hear stories of how students are able to overcome their struggles and then reflect upon them. Happy New Year!

  29. Michelle '12 says:

    8.012 sounds like an epic battle, I’m in awe of your pass. Thanks for the entry!

  30. '11 says:

    regarding the question about SAT II scores; I got a 640 on math II and a 760 on bio and I got in just fine. I don’t think standardized testing scores are as important in the application process as say, the essays, which let the admission officers get to know who you are on a much more personal level.

  31. Kai says:


    That was how a blog should be. Really enjoyed the look into the life of a freshman.

    It sounds like 8.012 is one heck of a challenge but I really like how you mentioned that you had a group of people going through it with you. That is key.

    Just finished my app. Now I just need to go ace the SAT and ACT. Stoked!

    Happy New Year everyone!

  32. Anonymous says:

    @’11 : you’ve given me hope. and possibly made my day…!thank you! and thank you paul! amazing post always smile

  33. Pam says:

    Paul, congrats on your success! I just wanted to say that reading this post was very insightful and hit home for me. I was in a similar situation fall quarter in a college honors abstract calculus course- complete with failing the midterm, spending the day before the Add/Drop deadline agonizing over what to do, beginning to learn how to work *effectively* with others on the proofs, and studying my heart out like no other for the final. It feels comforting to know that I wasn’t alone.

    (And I’m so excited about MIT!)

  34. MJ says:

    Wow that was truly inspiring especially for someone who wants to take 8.012 when he gets into MIT (hopefully) two years from now. From your description the class sounds horrendous but ultimately rewarding. Right now I have Kleppner’s book and I’m working through it but it seems even understanding the physics isn’t enough preparation for 8.012. Anyway great post and I’m glad you finally succeeded in the end.

  35. Desmond says:

    Winners never quit and quitters never win.Bravo! Paul but I think a few encouraging words to your friend would have placed her on your train.

    Fellow applicants: In the raving storms of life, and struggle for success (whatever that means to you)not everybody gets on the safety boat at once. And if you don’t get on the first,the second might pick you up. And the second may have much more candies.

    All I’m saying is as you put your final touches, put your souls in it. Give it your best. Thats all thats required of you. and the rest…

    As for me I’ve done my best and I believe tomorrow isn’t just bright but blazing. Best wishes.


  36. Nihar says:

    Great post Paul!
    Sometimes I think of you as a very wise,old man disguised as a college student. Your words are truly an inspiration. I dont think anyone could have put the rigors of life at MIT into such a motivating perspective as you did. Kudos to you!

  37. Sara says:

    Wow, congrats Paul! Not many people would have stuck with something so demanding and challenging! And as if your words weren’t inspirational enough, Desmond – that was an awesome post.

    And random question but, I gave my school the required forms and such to send to MIT but they haven’t been processed or checkmarked off. They don’t need to be by tomorrow…hopefully…or do they?

  38. Paul says:

    Thanks, Desmond. Actually, whenever I ran into that friend during the semester, she would always tell me how much she loved 8.01 and how much she was learning from that class. So I’d say she ended up doing very well for herself. smile

    @ Sara: MIT’s January 1 deadline is a postmark deadline. It’s not that surprising the boxes aren’t checked off, as there’s a lot of paper that the Admissions Office has to process right around now. smile As long as the necessary forms were sent to MIT by Jan. 1, you’re fine.

  39. Dave says:

    I had a similar experience. Thanks for sharing smile

  40. Sara says:

    Thanks Paul!

    And I forgot to say Happy New Year!!!!

  41. Anonymous says:

    i got a 640 on math 2 and a 760 on physics :(

    is that too pitiful for mit?

    i’m an international student but i’ve done the APs for phy B and calculus AB and i got fives on those but my SAT 2 scores suck :(

  42. Hunter '11 says:

    Great post, Paul =)

  43. Anonymous says:

    I’m kinda in the opposite boat. my scores are spectacular but my essays kinda suck…will I still get in…or does MIT not really like robot children (but seriously both of my parents are doube Es and work for the DOE so I’m pretty much half robot half tool of the system…although I do enjoy metallica and reading anti-establishment novels such as johnny got his gun)

  44. Hank R. says:

    Alright, let’s put these test score worries to death. If you don’t know, I’m currently a freshman at MIT. Here are my pertinent test scores.

    SAT CR: 780
    SAT Math: 630
    SAT Writing: 690
    SAT II Math II: 590
    SAT II Math I: 640
    SAT II Biology: 680

    ACT English: 33
    ACT Math: 29
    ACT Reading: 31
    ACT Science: 29
    ACT Composite: 31

    So as you can see, my math/science scores weren’t all that great and I was accepted.

    So seriously, stop worrying about it.

  45. Anonymous says:



    Put those numbers away. AWAY. Away, I say!!! *runs screaming horrified to a more sane website*

  46. Anonymous says:


    I heard the average for the first test was in the 40s
    and the average for the final was 58!!
    that is one scary number since everyone in the class are already best of the best!

    Congratz! Doesn’t it feel sooo good after you realized that you really survived it?
    Have a great year next year!

  47. carmen says:

    thanks Paul! looking forward to the class of 2012 website! I am going to assume the advance standing exam is free and avaliable to me, and just forget about APs.

  48. Paul says:

    Hank, it’s a good thing I know you, otherwise I would be forced to delete your comment.

    In all seriousness, though, admissions is not about the numbers – it is about <a>the match</a>, pure and simple. In the eyes of MIT’s admissions readers, you are not defined by your scores, but by the sum and total of your experiences. Everything matters, and although I know scores seem to loom very large in the college admissions scene, they are really just one small part of “everything.”

    My blog has very few rules, but one of them is that I don’t do “chances.” Because they simply don’t work.

    In other news – I’ve updated the entry slightly with thoughts on what I “got out” of 8.012 and some tips for prospectives or pre-frosh thinking about taking the course. You can find these new reflections in the third and fourth paragraphs from the bottom. (Summary: I learned a lot, you should think about taking it too.)

  49. jandro says:

    @any current MIT student

    do you all actually feel like you’re working all the time, or do you actually have some slightly reasonable amount of time to chill. i just got in EA and i’m planning on going, but i’m definately not a genius so i’ll probably be spending a lot of time studying. i have no problem with working really hard as long as i have some decent amount of time to do other things..

  50. anonymous says:

    @ hank
    i really really thank you for posting those figures here. i have scores a little better than those but tehy are not the best according to me. but there must be something really good in your application and your essay that you were accepted. i request you to give us some tips regarding that if u would like to. how did you make your application pleasing.
    and i admire your cr score truly..

  51. Jing Jing says:

    Wow Paul congratulations… good job with not giving up. How did you ever find time to write those blogs earlier this year when you were so busy?

    Also did you know your study group buddies before the course or did you guys just decide to get together one day?

    Lastly, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

  52. E says:

    Damn, this application’s killing me RIGHT NOW.
    Name any essay or short answer in my application and I will tell you why I hate it.
    I’d sure wish Ben or Matt would answer some of our questions before the deadline – though..

    But hey, if there’s anyone who need a vacation when you look at all the work they’ve got ahead: Enjoy your break.

  53. OH NO says:

    An application error occured at approximately Mon Dec 31 07:30:51 EST 2007 (com.bea.wlw.netui.pageflow.UnresolvableForwardException).

    If corresponding with MIT about this problem, please include this message. Thank you.

    I just submitted part 2 and now THIS came

  54. Aditi says:


    it says part 2 has been processed but it isn’t ‘ticked’

    and yeah

    that error message

    i should ge do hara kiri :S

  55. E says:

    Try to log out and then log back in. That should do it.

  56. Aditi says:

    yeah i did

    it worked raspberry

    i HATE my application, especially the essay….oh well…too late..

  57. Dan C. says:

    Paul I like how you put what the exam felt like. “I actually like a physicist”. That’s how I feel when I took my test on all of mechanics in AP Physics. It’s that feeling of how everything is connected, and when the epiphany finally strikes, it feels so good.
    I had a similar experience the last marking period in AP physics. I wasn’t used to doing work for science of math classes, as long as I paid attention in class, an A came naturally; however, launching right into AP without any background in physics was bit of a surprise. After the second test, I realized I would have to do all of the homework to catch up to where the rest of my class was (They had taken mechanics before.) In the end I got a middle B, but most of all, I felt like a physicist and enjoyed doing the problems.
    I also like the explanation gave for why anyone would take 8.012 (I hope I can take it, it sounds fun). If you have the pass or no record option, why not see where your limits are; it’s better freshman year because you don’t get a grade, and you can set your goals from how hard the class was. I think the whole entry gets at the essence of challenging yourself, and getting right back up if you fail. It’s the only why to see how far you can go.

  58. Anonymous says:

    Ok. Paul or anyone who can help, do the recommendation letters also need to be postmarked by the Jan 1 deadline? because I just recently got them back from my teachers, but then I just realized the post office is closed Jan 1 (today), so I will have to post them tomorrow (Jan 2). Will they even consider me for admission since I missed the deadline? I’m sooo scared right now…(stupid post office) I have this same problem for most of my other colleges too.. :(

  59. Cody Dean says:

    Awesome blog! Glad to hear you survived MIT physics! I do, however, have a question. I am interested in visiting MIT at the end of this school year, but I am a sophomore. Is it acceptable to visit as a sophomore? If so, do visitors generally bring their parents, or stay alone? Any information is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks so much, Cody Dean
    [email protected]

  60. Paul says:

    @ Jandro: The answer to that question can vary depending on when you ask it. wink Seriously, what I mean is that the workload varies tremendously throughout the semester. Some weeks are great – say you have just one problem set due and no tests, so you have a lot of time to relax, socialize, or maybe even (gasp) get ahead in your studies. Some weeks are mediocre, you have a few assignments but nothing horrible. Other weeks make you feel awful, you have something due in every class, you haven’t studied for the test yet…and so on.

    I think this is true for any college, really. The workload may be especially challenging at MTI, but we manage. As Snively said – socializing and exploring Boston are just two of the many ways MIT students keep ourselves sane…along with playing sports, participating in extra-curriculars, building disco dance floors – stuff like that. It’s not all fun and games, of course. To repeat something Derrick said earlier, since I think it’s a rather profound way of looking at life, everything has an opportunity cost. You can’t do everything, and sometimes you have to make sacrifices to do well in your courses – to find a balance between work and play, in other words. In the end, it usually works out all right.

    @ Jing Jing: In the work-play balance, I consider blogging to be part of my “play.” smile

    Well, to be honest, my study group sort of just happened one night. Four or five of us ended up in this one classroom somewhere off the Infinite, and we realized we were much better off working together than alone – so we kept coming back. wink And, of course, we’d also invite more of our friends. I ended up meeting quite a few people through that study group. smile

  61. Paul says:

    @ Anon: It would have been preferable to have sent it in before, but you should be okay. I would suggest sending the admissions office a quick email to make sure. smile

    Cody: When you say “visiting MIT,” I’m going to guess you mean taking the tour, listening to the information session, that sort of thing. In that case, sophomores are most definitely welcome. And most do bring their parents, yes – considering they’re usually the ones responsible for transporting you. smile

    If you’re referring to the overnight program, you can find more information here. Unfortunately, overnight visitors are limited to admitted students during March and April, so keep that in mind as you make your plans.

  62. Priya says:

    That was beautiful and inspiring.
    Congratulations, Paul!

    (Finally SUBMITTED, too!)

  63. Hunter '11 says:


    Though, throwing it out there, all of my SAT II’s were in the 600 range. That’s right, NO 700s ON SAT IIs.

  64. Hawkins says:

    Nicely done! Amazing post, and inspiring “tenacity”! =P For now I think I’ll stay away from 8.012, but we’ll see.

  65. Inshaf says:

    Paul you are awesome man.Thank you very much writing this and keep blogging as often as you can because I like your messages

  66. Hal says:


    I know this is not the best place to ask this but I’m really kinda panicking now…

    Anyway, I’ve read your entry and I’m really tempted to apply for MIT…I’ve got everything ready BUT! When I tried to pay online using credit card, the website keep telling me Credit Card number invalid! I just used the same credit card 5 minutes ago to pay for online payments for other college applications as well and it worked fine on other websites!

    Could someone please help me? Really desperate now as the time is drawing near…

    Thank you very much!


  67. milena '11 says:

    I don’t like physics, but I took 8.01 TEAL with Dourmashkin and it rocked. Seriously. Take it.

  68. Clara '10 says:

    Snively and Paul both answered this pretty well, although Snively neglected to mention that he’s also on the varsity pistol team.
    As for my own work-life balance: I’m on the sailing team, play viola in a chamber music group, and volunteer on the ambulance. I also passed 54 units this term (with at least a couple A’s). That still leaves time to cook most of my own food, spend time with my friends and boyfriend, bake chocolate cake every few weeks, waste time online, and watch a movie or two each week. And yes, I do sleep, maybe 6 hours per night average over the entire semester.
    On the other hand, if you choose to spend every waking hour on your coursework, that is also possible. It’s a matter of setting your priorities, and maybe every once in a while deciding that going out to dinner with your friends is more important than finishing a problem set.

  69. moni says:

    hey paul,
    your blogs are really awesome and helpful…
    infact you are the only one who responds to the questions we applicants ask so quick…thanks a ton for this.!!
    i wish u and everyone else a very happy new year!!!!!

  70. Anjaney says:

    wow…8.012 really does equal physics for masochists, but hey, we’re done with it!!! great job on passing that pain of a class paul! up for 8.022?

  71. Anonymous says:

    midnight today?

  72. paul k says:


    Congratulations! I read your post and was immediately brought back to my experience in the beginning of my junior year in ap calculus (yes, it was single variable, don’t judge!). Out of stubbornness (or tenacity as you called it – which I might have to start doing myself…), I chose to persevere as you did. I experienced all that you shared and I can second the fact that those feelings of weakness that are so trivial and even humorous in retrospect lead to real, indisputable growth.

    I wish you luck with the rest of your MIT career. Maybe I’ll see you next year?

    +paul k

  73. Anonymous says:




    how are we supposed to wait till april



  74. Paul says:

    @ Hal: I’m going to send this to your email as well, but you should call your credit card company right away. Perhaps the problem is that you paid for so many applications right in a row and the credit card company found it “suspicious.” (This happened to my sister when she was buying Christmas presents. D’oh!) Just keep trying. smile

    @ AB: RA decisions last year were released about noon on Saturday, March 17. I didn’t check mine for a couple days, actually…but, anyhow, this year’s release should be sometime around that date. I know it can seem a long wait, but trust me, you’ll find ways to fill the time. :D

  75. anion says:

    done!..and now..we wait!

  76. Caroline says:

    You put me first!!! *glomp* =D
    I wuv you too, Paul.

    ps. I wouldn’t have passed without you, either. =D

  77. kayla says:

    good blog paul! i’ve been checking this website every day hoping for a new blog and there NEVER is one. anyway, it’s awesome that you stayed in 8.012.

    i’m so scared about MIT. even if i get in, i don’t know if i can handle it. Physics C is getting hard, and i’m really starting to doubt myself. and i think ‘if i can’t even handle high school physics, how can i handle a school like MIT?’

    but reading your blog makes me want to go and pick up my physics book and try to learn everything i’ve been messing up so bad.

  78. Wow, I’m late on the commenting of this one..

    Paul, thanks for answering my question (though I know a few others asked it) at length. I definitely am considering 8.012 as a serious option. Despite the difficulty, it really sounds like it was worth it for you and ultimately like it was a cool class.

    So now the real thing I have to hammer out with myself for next year is whether I’d rather take 8.012 or 18.014 .. or, horror of horrors, both. Is there anyone out there with some 18.014 experience who can shed some light on the subject? Paul, didn’t you have some friends in 18.022 .. what’s that like? I like physics a lot, but ultimately I like math more .. so, its a tough call (luckily one I don’t have to make yet).

    Anyway, happy new year all!!

    ~Donald Guy

  79. Hunter '11 says:

    I hear Dourmashkin is amazing. But he’s in charge of the TEAL, right? So he better be good =P

  80. AB says:

    when will the RA result be out?

  81. Lina says:

    You write beautifully. I think that was the best blog entry I’ve read so far. It makes me want to apply to MIT even more.

  82. dan says:

    i got a fortune cookie on december 15(day i got deferred from ea) that said ‘remember 3 months from this date. good news is in store for you’
    so i’m wishing the results are coming out on march 15.
    i think it’s highly probable because from looking at previous years, results come out on saturdays, and because this year is a leap year, the 15th is a saturday!

  83. @dan:

    MIT’s “traditional” regular mailing date is Pi day, March 14.. so .. if you are talking online decisions.. could be.

    Good Luck ^_^

  84. Anon9'12 :) says:

    Congrats! (Though I think billions of people beat me to that… raspberry)

    Yaaaayyy!! PHYSICS!! Physics Physics Physics raspberry
    I can’t wait!

  85. Hank R. says:

    Oh, my fault. You can delete it if you want.

  86. Snively says:

    @ Jandro

    Absolutely! There’s tons of time to do really awesome stuff! I passed all of my classes AND went to Red Sox riots, saw a Broadway musical (Wicked, amazing), saw a standup comedian, had snowball fights (more on that to come), beat Mario Galaxy (twice-ish), wander Boston, went to the Museum of Fine Arts, and all sorts of other stuff. No worries, people at MIT have a bunch of time to do other things, otherwise we’d all go insane wink

  87. anion says:

    At the risk of making a useless post:
    Any news on the expansion of class size for 2012?

  88. Anonymous says:

    Happy New Year!
    I am an Ea admit and I have been looking at MITs AP policy. I took Physics C last year and got double 5s, but I know I could not work a rocket momentum problem (never could), though I could work most intermediate level physics problems( almost all double dot, all one dot, only some triple dot in Tipler – if you’re familiar with that textbook) problems – My main question is am I prepared for the next level of physics in MIT or should I opt to retake one of the physics courses?

  89. Tanya '11 says:

    Thanks for the mention Paul! The study group was a big help in passing.

    As to the mention of 18.022, I took both 18.022 and 8.012. I struggled a lot in 8.012, but fully loved 18.022, and to me, it was nothing in comparison with 8.012.

    Good job on passing Caroline!

  90. Michael L. says:

    As one of Paul’s 8.012 study groupers, my advice to those looking at taking 8.012: listen to Paul. He’s got his head screwed on straight. Everything he’s said is right on the money.

    (P.S. – also, when they say you have to “enjoy Physics” to take 8.012, they mean it. You can’t be apathetic towards Physics, or ambivalent towards Physics, or vaguely gravitated towards Physics; you have to actively LIKE Physics. I made the mistake of only sort-of-liking Physics, as well as the mistake of going in with no calculus-based Physics know-how, and I was miserable. However, I did manage to pass – take from that what you will.)

  91. rko says:

    Congrats on passing 8.012, Paul!

    I’ll offer my own story as well, one that perhaps will be frowned upon, but whatever. I dropped 8.012 after the first test, which I got a 28(!)/100 on. The pass mark for that test was a 30, and I was positive that with some more effort I’d be able to pass 8.012; however, I decided that I’d much rather spend my 15/hours of week of class time and psets doing other things, since I just didn’t care about Physics that much. I switched to 8.01 and breezed through; I hardly went to class (my online gradebook says I went to 8.01 five times, but I could’ve sworn I went six or seven raspberry), passed easily, and I think it was the right decision for me, because I had 15 more hours to do other things with each week.

  92. Paul says:

    Anon: Unless you’re planning on being a physics major, I would recommend you take the credit. Academically speaking, in the long run you’ll almost certainly gain more from taking an additional class later than from re-learning material you’ve already had. Also, the “next level” of physics at MIT is actually E&M, a.k.a. 8.02, which (given your double 5’s) you’re probably well-acquainted with anyway.

    rko: Thanks, man. I appreciate you sharing your story, it’s a good one.

  93. Spencer says:

    A big thanks to the two of you who posted your scores to ease our worries. Now i go crazy doing my U Chicago application!

  94. Anonymous says:

    Paul! Nice story!

    And, I hit the submit button yesterday! Yay!

  95. Anonymous says:

    My friend from MIT who also took 8.012 told me to read this post and I wholeheartedly agree. I go to a west coast school…let’s say it starts with an S and is located somewhere in Northern California lol. We had the EXACT same book for our honors physics class and let’s just say that “an introduction to mechanics” is a deceptive title lol. The problem sets are HARD…so be prepared to dedicate a lot of time for them. After the first test about half of the class dropped out. What’s left, however, are the people who truly love physics. At my school though, we didn’t have the pass/no record thing so it made me kinda wish i went to MIT lol. To give everyone a gauge I had a 5 mech/4 E&M and I came out with a B (thx to a really good curve) so it is doable. The most important thing is not to compare yourself to others (there were like international physics olympiads in my class) but to try to do the best that you can…and be satisfy with the results in the end.

    btw…does the authors of the book teach the class? cuz that would be really awesome

  96. Steph says:

    Congrats on finishing your first semester! Keep on going and good luck on the upcoming

  97. Paul says:

    Caroline, you make me laugh inside my soul. wink

    @ Donald: No problem! I had several friends in 18.022, most of whom found it pretty challenging. (One friend in particular tried to do both 8.012 and 18.022, but after a few weeks she switched into 18.02. She ended up kicking 18.02’s butt, actually. Especially with the GIRs, it’s pretty easy to experiment with the different levels available.) That being said, my general impression was that it’s a good course.

    As I’ve said before, the other bloggers and I are most likely going to be pooling our collective knowledge about the GIRs sometime down the line (anywhere between April and August) in a series of blog entries. The MIT First Year<a> site can also be invaluable. It isn’t ready for Class of 2012 yet, but you’ll still find the older material to be of use.</a>

  98. Sam says:

    donaldGuy — At the risk of oversimplifying things, I don’t think there’s any reason to ever take an 18.0×4 class. If you don’t plan to be a math major, then there are definitely better ways to spend your first semester than deriving the fundamental theorems of calculus. Take sailing lessons or something. If you do plan to be a math major, I still think you’d be better off taking 18.022 and getting a head start on your electives.

  99. Paul says:

    At the risk of stating the obvious, listen to Sam, people. He knows what he’s talking about.