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Born again student possible?

  1. May 12, 2007 #1
    Academic advice


    I just finished my first year of university. By the end of fall, I had a 3.4 cumulative GPA and I was not really that proud of it. My friend from back home, also at the same uni., was always an excellent HS student. But the partying atmosphere got to him and he got a GPA of 3.2-ish. I had always thought that he didn't apply himself in college and that was the reason he didn't do as well.

    But after this semester, I found that I made a few academic mistakes. Namely, I went from having a B as my lowest grade to now a D in linear algebra, and I got C+ in mechanics. This semester along with those two grades I got three A's in my seminar, advanced French grammar, and C++ programming, and a B- in calc II. My cumulative GPA went from a 3.4 to a 3.19 due to having earned a 2.94 GPA in the spring.

    I am saddened and disgusted by my mistakes, because I decided not to late drop linear algebra back when I thought I would end with a C in the class. It was an academic gamble that I would do well on the final, but I did not. So now I am stuck with the D.

    I don't party or outright neglect my studies. In fact, I spent a lot of time studying and did well in most of my classes, but evidently, I just could not seem to grasp linear algebra. I think it was the combination of a language barrier between the graduate student professor, and also my general study habits.

    But the thing that gets me is that I never party, and I am on the same academic level as my friend, who never studies. I'm not sure what to think of myself now. So next year I'm planning to devote even more of my time to my studies. At the expensive of my social life, I want to fully immerse myself in my studies. Does anyone have any advice to me?
    Last edited: May 12, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. May 12, 2007 #2
    Work smarter, not harder. You need to figure out why you're not doing as well as you think you should. All of the studying in the world won't help if you're doing it incorrectly. Maybe your university has a academic help center or something where you can ask questions about studying. Or, maybe its as simple as giving yourself more breaks or removing distractions.

    Good luck!
  4. May 12, 2007 #3
    High school is alot different from college, you have to be much more independent and not rely on professors to do well. I had trouble with linear algebra as well because my professor liked to rush lectures, the textbook wasn't great and was written in the 50s, and didn't explain concepts well when I asked him for help, he more interested in expressing his ego.
    Just because you never party doesn't guarantee that you'll do well. How hard did you study in your previous classes? For linear algebra, close to 6-8 hours/wk? You may have to see your professors more often during their office hours, try to ask friends in your classes for help, and give up part of your social life. If you're aiming for a 4.0, your studies definitely have to come first
  5. May 12, 2007 #4
    My advice is quite different from that others will probably give you. Please consider the following things.

    First, don't obsess over your GPA or individual grades. Grades are not the supreme indicators of knowledge that some people make them out to be. I know we've all been conditioned to think otherwise, but please at least consider the alternative.

    I don't know what country you're in or what institution you're in so I'm making some assumptions. You cannot and should not automatically assume that poor performance on your part is entirely your fault. The quality of undergraduate instruction, particularly in the sciences, is almost uniformly poor despite marketing claims to the contrary. As they currently exist, most science courses, particularly introductory courses, are designed to "weed out" students and discourage them from taking more courses in that discipline rather than to turn students into thinkers. It's disgraceful, and borderline fraud in my personal opinion. The best students succeed in spite of a faulty system rather than because of it. You must be open to the possibility that your linear algebra prof may be completely imcompetent to deliver classroom instruction. Remember that research credentials do not equate to instruction credentials, a popular myth that continues to be propagated.

    The other side of the coin is your own personal approach to education. Some don't need good classroom instruction, but they are the minority. Education has to be your top priority. If you do well in everything but one particular course, you should FIRST look at the nature of that course and how it differs from other courses. Physics is usually a great stumbling block for students because they have not been adequately prepared to actually study physics, a problem that goes back to elementary school. Physics and mathematics, like all other academic disciplines, can be learned and mastered. Also look at the competence of that course's instructor, but be careful in doing so. Talk with other students in the course to see if they're having the same problems. You may be surprised.
  6. May 13, 2007 #5
    It sucks, but if you never had a bad term you'd never be able to gain the kind of focus you need to do well consistently throughout college.

    I failed linear algebra the first time through. It was a combination of different things. I didn't devote nearly enough time to it compared to my other courses, didn't show up to class a lot (hence had no notes), and worked a part-time job that term. I let a lot of other stuff get in the way.

    The next term I retook it, quit my job, started showing up to class and taking decent notes, did all the homework and then some, and most importantly I showed up to office hours to ask questions.

    The point? Figure out what you need to do and do it. And don't worry about grades. You weren't the first to struggle with these courses and you certainly won't be the last.
  7. May 13, 2007 #6
    that does suck you stuck out a course thinking you would get a C but got a D. I took that same gamble but ended up with a C+.

    My homwork averages was a 98%
    My Project average was a 96%
    First midterm: 47%
    Second midterm: 33%
    Final: 53%
    Final average: 63%
    Grade: C+

    I love curves, I can honestly say I don't deserve a C+ in that class.

    My GPA is still a 3.63 but is slowly dropping every semester I'm not sure what it is but up until my Jr. year I had a 3.80 GPA.

    My advice to you is to not over study either, sometimes that will cause issues as well, you need some break time as well. I seem to study harder now than I ever did but seem to be doing worse.

    Even though people say GPA isn't everything, a GPA is what is going to get you that initial job interview. Without a HIGH GPA it will be quite hard to compete against other students. At career fairs when your resume is in a stack of 500 others, some big companies filter out GPA's lower than a 3.5 and don't even consider looking at them.
    Last edited: May 13, 2007
  8. May 13, 2007 #7
    Your grades are almost a carbon copy of my own undergraduate transcript. I cruised through first year with an 82% average (just enough to keep my scholarship), then nose-dived first semester of second year taking modern physics (85), electronics lab (82), ODEs (74), linear algebra (65), vector calculus (74) and an english course (90). The linear algebra class was an honours course and it was impeccably taught. I was somewhat shamed by my poor grade and I was also upset that my scholarship was pulled on account of my 78.7% average.

    My low grades were all in math courses and I was carrying an extra course that term. Looking back, I think I was simply overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do and I didn't have the time or the energy to absorb all the material I'd signed myself up for. I dropped honours in math, stuck with honours in physics and registered for a bunch of English courses to fill in the newly freed space in my program. I'm really glad I had the chance to take a lot of literature classes (the grades also doped up my GPA enough to get my scholarship back), but I now regret not taking more math. (I just finished a masters in condensed matter theory and it would have been nice to have taken group theory as an undergrad).

    I think the important question to ask yourself is whether you have understood the material sufficiently in order to complete subsequent courses which rely heavily on linear algebra. I struggled a bit with Quantum, but I don't think I was hampered in anything else. I got 68 in Quantum 1, Bs and As in physics classes and Bs and Cs in the remainder of my math classes (PDEs, and three complex analysis courses). Ironically, quantum went from my worst physics mark as an undergrad to my best physics mark as a grad student. So grades are a little arbitrary and a bad grade doesn't prove you won't ever understand the material.

    I know it is tempting to berate yourself for the poor mark, but I really encourage you to take a broader view. I once pointed out to my faculty advisor that I would have kept my full scholarship if I'd taken English instead of Physics, but he responded that I wouldn't have had such interesting - or decent-paying - summer jobs if I had switched majors.

    Work hard, but don't punish yourself by studying. If you find that you are still unhappy and struggling in a year and a half, take courses in something else you enjoy. Do the social activities you like in moderation. Take classes that are taught by good professors.
  9. May 13, 2007 #8


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    Have you any proof of this? Such a sweeping statement, specific to no one country, let alone institution, is very hard to take onboard!
    Is there really anything wrong with this? Ok, so introductory science courses are difficult, but such is the field! There's no point in setting easy courses, letting everyone pass, and then making the next years classes harder, as this will just waste a year! The fact is that there are some people who are not right to take, say degree x-- that's not going to change the later into a degree course one gets. It's more beneficial to the student, and the teachers, to realise that in the first year, than the second! Then, in the later years, departments can turn "students into thinkers."
    Again, where is your proof that lecturers aren't fit to lecture?
    It seems to me, that for one reason or another, you have a chip on your shoulder with respect to undergraduate teaching. It's not my place to make a comment as to why you may have, but I don't think it's good to be giving students the ideas that "the teaching simply isn't good enough" or "it's not your fault you've failed; it's the teacher's." After all, how often do you see your lecturer per week? For my first year modules, it was a maximum of 5 hours per week. You've got to be prepared to put the effort in in your own time.
  10. May 13, 2007 #9
    I'm assuming an American institution. I have no proof, since science isn't about proof. It's about evidence, and yes there is evidence that undergraduate instruction doesn't live up to the universitys' marketing claims. University faculty have agreed with me at every professional conference I have attended, off the record of course.

    I'm not advocating what you're saying in your third sentence at all. Students cannot be turned into thinkers unless they have been prepared. No one is capable of performing that feat.

    That is not what I said. I said that a research credential is not equivalent to an instructional credential. Research programs do not permit one to get instructional experience. Pretending to teach cookbook labs doesn't cut it.

    Completely anticipated remarks, and I will not take your bait.
  11. May 13, 2007 #10


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    Well, at least you've specified which continent we're talking about. I'm not from America, and therefore cannot comment on American universities and whether undergraduate teaching is good enough in these institutions

    No, but lecturers also get taught how to lecture. They are not simply employed over the summer and then thrown in to teach a class the first week of the year!

    What do you mean by "bait?" I merely made the point that students should not be told that the system is wrong, or that their teacher is not good enough, to compensate if they do badly in an exam. This is simply placing the blame elsewhere, when it is upto the student how well he does on an exam.
  12. May 13, 2007 #11
    Please cite one physics course description that includes anything at all about preparing and facilitating classroom instruction.

    Have you ever been charged with creating a course exam? Do you think it's just a random collection of problems? Sadly, sometimes it is.

    Rather than addressing the issue, you are automatically assuming something about a chip on my shoulder. We cannot and should not automatically assume that the system is perfect. It is not. The system has imperfections that create problems for students. As an undergraduate astronomy student, a physics graduate student, and a faculty member for fifteen years, I have seen many sides of this issue. You should not assume that just because the system works for some that it both works for everyone and is perfect.

    It's simply astounding at how both students and my professional colleagues always put the blame for poor performance on the students.

    To avoid the wrath of the admins, I suggest we continue this in private lest we initiate a urination competition or I get banned for heresy.
  13. May 13, 2007 #12
    Poor performance on someone's part may not be entirely their fault, but they're the one who has to live with it, therefore they're the one who has to make up for it. The fact that there are students doing well in the class shows that you can't blame it all on the instructor. And sitting here telling someone that it's not their fault they did poorly, it's probably just a bad teacher, really doesn't help them. It sends the message that there's nothing they can do about it, they just have to suck it up and deal with a low grade, when what they should do is examine their study habits, and make improvements where necessary.

    Also, your comments about undergrad instruction being terrible don't agree with my own experience (though I'm from Canada). On the whole my undergrad teachers have been excellent, with a few exceptions.

    This doesn't make too much sense if you think about it. To the department, more students = more money. Yes they make sure that the intro courses are challenging enough that everyone has a realistic idea of what further study will be like, but they don't actively try and discourage people from taking further courses. If nothing else, the courses are set up to generate interest in the subject, and encourage further exploration in the area.

    To the OP:

    From my personal experience, it is completely possible to turn around a poor track record.

    In my first year, I had all excellent teachers, and got an 8.8 (this was when we still used the 9 pt scale) average. In my second year, things weren't clicking for me so well, and my marks started to slide, this continued into the first semester of my third year, after which I decided something had to change. I decided then that I wasn't going to accept poor performance, no matter how much time I needed to put in. For the first month of the semester, I studied almost non-stop, and tried different methods of studying (reading or working examples, alone or with friends, etc.). After the first month or so, I started to figure out what works for me, so I just stuck with that, and didn't try the rest anymore. By the end of the semester, I had a 3.82 (by this time we've switched to 4 pt scale) gpa.
  14. May 13, 2007 #13
    Perhaps there is something wrong with the studying methods?

    I've seen many of my classmates studying by "reading books", and this, in my opinion, is not studying. One only learns math and physics by doing problems, deriving equations, and/or proving theorems.

    if you derive every equation presented in the physics book, every theorems that appeared in linear algebra, and do many many extra problems in the book, and still couldn't get an A, then you can blame someone else.

    Otherwise, just keep on working hard. There are some people who get straight As without doing a thing. But hey, life is not fair, in the real world, you can't expect to be equal to all the smart people out there. My philosophy is to suck out as much as possible from myself. Screw those smarter than you, screw those who party 5 times per day and still manage to get a A. Study as hard as you can and even if you failed to get an A, you would know that you tried your best and have no regrets.
  15. May 13, 2007 #14
    I feel your pain. This semester I took on the insane challenge of taking Calc II, Organic Chemistry II, Molecular Biology and some random Religion course. I focused all of my energy on Calc II and didn't take O.Chem and Mo. Bio seriously. I had D's in both courses in the middle of the semester and took the academic gamble of sticking both of them through. I attemped to stop studying for Calc and focused on the other courses. Well, things didn't work as I had hoped. I ended up with a D+ in O.Chem, my other grades haven't come in yet, but I can only guess that I didn't do so well in Mo. Bio either. Although, since I had such a great start in Calc II, I doubt that my poor performance in the very end really made much of a difference. Anyway, so what's the moral of my story? Maybe you took on too much at once. Try to take easy classes and one or two hard classes. A low GPA doesn't mean you're stupid. I consider myself to be pretty smart, but my GPA definitely doesn't reflect that. Your GPA doesn't validate who you are.
  16. May 14, 2007 #15
    First, thank you to everyone who helped me. You are all very helpful. I believe all of you are right about my situation. I know that GPA is only a number, and that it plays a role in employment and grad school, but I just don't like the idea that I'm not "up higher" than I am. But in any case, I learned my lesson. Next semester'll be a challenge...
  17. May 14, 2007 #16


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    dont be suckered by your friend who "never studies:. in college one of our favoirite games was pretending not to study in some course we knew very well, and tormenting somer conscientious student. in secret we studied our buns off.
  18. May 15, 2007 #17
    Are you interested in what you are studying? If so then read your textbooks with total disregard for the reading schedule of the class. Often a subject only becomes coherent if you take it in as a whole; if you are guided back and forth through the book by your interest then you will take in the whole more quickly then plotting along with assigned readings at the artificial pace of the semester.

    If you are not deeply interested in the studies, then make sure to have some friends as well.
  19. May 15, 2007 #18


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    The problem is probably on what the first reply had. Work smarter, not harder.

    Here are some tricks i do to get a good grade (btw i'm a engineering major):

    1) Observation, try to guess the "how" in the teacher and/or the school. I mean how does he looks at the material?, does he goes in depth?, is he shallow with the material?, is he clear?, does he stick to the syllabus?. The first tests up to the midterm should help you figure out this.

    The reason why i like to observe is to try to determine if i should study more than the usual for a subject. I've taken courses with very low pass rates with a said teacher, and i've been succesful, because i know i have to put a lot of work and study probably daily.

    2) Study How?. People think studying is just mindlesly reading the lectures or reading the textbook. Hey!, this depends on the subjects, is it purely theoretical?, is it math? physics? a flow-chart course?, etc...

    Well the reason is, you don't learn by simply reading a concept and believing you understand the wording, you have to PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE, and let me say it again PRACTICE.

    Another thing for studying, use your office hours wisely, don't go to the teacher with easy problems, i usually bring the hardest problems with an attempt. Almost always, there's always some way i overlooked. TAKE NOTE on what you missed and WHY. Remember this.

    3) I NEVER STUDY the same day of the exam!, why? because my brain is already full with the needed information from 2 to 4 days ago depending on the exam (The first tip usually helps me figure out how much hours i need to put in for a good grade). Studying too much just doesn't work!. The brain "freezes" just like your PC does when you run a lot of applications!.

    4) Treat yourself, after the tests you should go do something you enjoy. You deserve it for working hard.

    In the end, remember you have to find what works for you, and understand that getting good grades is a slow process (if by getting good grades, it means you are actually LEARNING). Another thing i like to point out, if that most of your courses are LINKED, and what you learn in one is needed in the other!, so try to actually LEARN, so the next course you'll have to only learn what the course teaches and not expects from you.

    Good luck,
    Last edited: May 15, 2007
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