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Distraught and dismayed

  1. Nov 17, 2009 #1
    Let me preface this with an apology for ranting and whining.

    I attended a reputable junior college in the area. I made all "A"s in Cal I-III and Linear Algebra. I transferred to university this past spring. I'm currently in Differential Equations.

    My first exam I got a 72/90 (8 problems). Of the 18, 12 of these points came from one problem that I did not get to. I ran out of time. Half the class was still around when time was up.

    The second exam I got a 61/80 (7 problems). The professor said the grades were lower. The highest grade was a 69/80. It's not like I don't know what the hell is going on. I certainly do. I made a stupid and certainly evitable error in several problems and the points added up.

    The professor does not curve.

    Obviously, those are utterly pitiful ratios and I am disgusted with myself. I don't see how my exam dropped 15-20 points from junior college to university. I'm also working 20 hours a week now. I basically didn't "work" while at junior college. Now, I have 25 hours worth work each week including driving and lunch. I'm taking 3 classes right now, or 9 hours. I wonder if work has had any detrimental effects on my academic performance. Also, my classes are only going to get harder. If I cannot even do well in DE then how the hell am I going to do in the rest of my upper-level physics program?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 17, 2009 #2
    What's going on is that you are in a different world where the philosophy is different.

    It looks to me like you've done pretty well. I'm being serious here. If you are making a 61/80 when the top score is 69/80, then you should go out and celebrate.

    Yes he does. Unless he wants to fail everyone in the class, you'll get a decent score in the end.

    Not obvious. I think they are pretty good. He probably posts class rankings. See where you are, and as long as you are somewhere in the middle, you are doing ok.

    Because you've gone out of the minor leagues and you are in the majors, and the rules are different. This is the way that university tests work. In high school and community college, the tests were easy enough so that you could feel as if you knew all of the material. In universities, they make the tests so that it's obvious that you don't. If anyone in the class got anywhere close to perfect, it's a bad test and the professor can, would, and should make it harder.

    Don't try to get a perfect score. The whole point of these tests is to make it clear that you *can't* get a perfect score. It's in part to teach you how the world really works. Just don't get too discouraged, and keep swinging. You'll miss most of the balls coming your way, so you need to feel good about the one's that you hit.

    There's always something you can do better. That's the whole point. You should go into the test knowing that you won't make a perfect score, and come out of the room ready to review the marked test to see what you got wrong and what you can do better. And you can always do something better.

    From the numbers you've mentioned, you are doing OK. You just need to get used to the fact that the testing philosophy in upper division is *very* different than in lower division, and you need to get used to it. Yes, the classes will get harder, but if you are consistently getting perfect scores on tests, that means the classes are too easy.
  4. Nov 17, 2009 #3


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    There's a story one of my math professors loved to tell (and hopefully I'm not butchering it too much).

    When he was in college -- taking an engineering course, I think -- there was one particular course that had an exam fairly early on. When the teacher handed everyone's corrected tests back, he saw that he had only scored 17 points out of 100! (or maybe it was more) And the teacher had even scrawled a note on it: "come see me after class."

    Well, he was worried out of his mind. It was obvious he was in way over his head, he was embarrassed, and dreading the conversation with the teacher....

    Then when he saw the him after class, the teacher said something like "Are you sure you're in the right class? You got by far the highest score in the class -- maybe you should be taking something more challenging...."
  5. Nov 17, 2009 #4
    Haha. I'm a bit incredulous about that one. :tongue:

    Twofish, Hurkyl,

    I can understand why they'd intentionally make the exams more difficult to really see what the students know and stretch their minds.

    The only solace I see right now is that I was fairly close to the highest score. Still, I remember another student in class asking another student if he curves, and they said he doesn't.

    Honestly, now, my goal is to at least get a 3.0 GPA in my physics major and math minor so I could have some chance of getting into graduate school.
  6. Nov 17, 2009 #5


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    I see two issues here.

    (1) You're applying high school-type self-evaluation to a university class. University courses are supposed to be challenging. How else will you ever know where your limits are?

    (2) You're basing your concern on the opinion of another student, who doesn't have any more knowledge about the professors methodology that you do. If you're concerned about your mark in the class, speak to the professor. All other information is scuttlebutt.
  7. Nov 17, 2009 #6
    If the topic marks on the exams are in the 80ish range or so I'd say the professor more or less has to curve as it shows he is making the exams a bit too difficult for even the top students. Your scores I think are very respectable. Don't get so down your self and resort to saying you hope to get "at least a 3.0" from the sounds of things you have a few semesters at least left, more than enough time to vastly improve.
  8. Nov 17, 2009 #7

    Thanks for all your thoughts. It's certainly eased my mind a little and perhaps prepared my outlook for the rest of the program. Still, I'm going to put more effort into knowing the material even better for the next exam. I'm around the middle of my junior year. Because of the limited availability of the classes and what not, I'll have exactly two more years (Fall/Spring) left.
  9. Nov 18, 2009 #8
    In one of my chemcial engineering classes last semester the professor made the tests insanely hard and only maybe one or two people out of 60 finished the entire thing. The averages were usually around a 60-70. The professor said he would never curve. Everyone was pretty much freaking out and a lot of people withdrew because they thought they would end up with a C or a D in the class. In the end the professor did end up a curving, I got an A- in the class and my actual scores were no where near that. I think he was just telling us that to weed out some of the weak ones and to make everyone try much harder. I liked the testing format since it was always a challenge and it forced the students to study much more. Maybe your professor has a similar strategy.
  10. Nov 18, 2009 #9
    Perhaps. The professor has an abysmal rating on ratemyprofessor, so I was a bit weary going into the class. However, he's actually a good professor (Rice Ph.D). You can tell he's really passionate about mathematics, too.
  11. Nov 18, 2009 #10


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    He may not curve. Have you asked if he scales or adjusts grades? Curves are a very particular type of grade adjustment.

    Then again, there are people like me who simply do not adjust grades in any way. I know how much of my exam I expect students to know to be competent to progress in their program, and set that as my cut-off for a C. The grade distribution falls into a pretty natural curve after that. I also make my first exam the hardest; it scares them into working hard, and then I back off on difficulty near the end of the course when I know they're studying hard anyway.

    The thing I don't like about curving is that students have no reasonable way to judge their performance or what grade they might receive in time to decide to do things like drop the course or get extra help.

    So, basically, as was mentioned above, the only way to really know for certain how you're doing and what you need to do to improve is to go talk to the professor!
  12. Nov 18, 2009 #11
    It happens.. In my Engineering college they did not curve. Below 70 was an F.

    I remember in my Dynamics class (Mechanics) we started with about 25 in the class.

    After the first months there were 6 of us left. There was a weekly test that 60% of your grade was based on. Half the class failed the first couple and left. No one got A's, it was brutal. 3 questions (problems) each. A minor error got you a BC / C off the bat. Bigger errors on any question and you failed the whole thing. I took my BC and called it good.
  13. Nov 18, 2009 #12
    I might go see him tomorrow after class. Typically, I have a macroecon class which prevents me from talking to him after class, but it's canceled tomorrow.
  14. Nov 18, 2009 #13
    They wore you guys down with attrition it seems.
  15. Nov 19, 2009 #14
    This is the freekout of a typical overachiever :)
    Being an overachiever is a great thing, but do not fall into the common illusion that grades determine your worth as a scientist. They most certainly do not. You have no reason to be disgusted with youself, believe me. I am overachiever myself and have experienced what you are experiencing many times. It's tough, and it makes you question your competence. But that little voice in your head that's telling how much of a failure you are is telling you lies. Do not let your lack of self confidence ruin a potentially fruitfull career as a physicist. The worst thing that can happen is that you fail, and if you trully love physics, you will find a way to achieve your goals despite this poor grade.
    Good luck to you. And don't worry, one D- is not going to kill you. Learn from it and do better next time.
  16. Nov 19, 2009 #15
    I definately agree with that statement. I got a D freshmen year in Calc 1. Solely because I had the college is going to be as easy as high school mentality and it was a 7 AM class that I rarely woke up for. I learned from my mistake, started taking things seriously, and ended up getting an A in Calc II, IV, Linear Algebra, and Diff Eq.
  17. Nov 19, 2009 #16
    Junior colleges should, if they are to serve their students, try to match the course difficulty level of area second-tier universities. But, it is not so much the course content that is the issue, it's the ambience at good universities. You need to be able, and willing, to hang in even when you are at the very bottom of the class. Sometimes, you may need to kiss the feet of a top professor (and wash his car and walk his dog) just to get a D- but so what? If you go there for a good education, the grades will come in time. Just remember, a "C" from MIT beats an "A" from East Paducah Agricultural and Catering College every day of the week.
  18. Dec 2, 2009 #17
    Well, yesterday morning in class we found out our last regular exam is tomorrow morning! I was hoping maybe it would be next Tuesday, but I guess it's a dead week before finals. Whatever.

    I'm studying right now. There are small parts of two sections he barely covered in class. No homework was even assigned for those things. I frankly don't know the material. I just barely skimmed over part of one section. I figured I should go over the sections we actually spent time on and turned in homework, right? Am I being a bit risky? If I don't do well on this exam...well, I think you guys know how I feel - considering the comprehensive final is in just under two weeks.
  19. Dec 3, 2009 #18
    Had the exam this morning. Had a "DUH" moment when doing a Laplace transform problem. I had to do partial fractions. For some reason, it was ingrained in my head that s^2 - 4 was an irreducible form, so I put Bs + C in the numerator. :frown: I lose so many valuable points this way.
  20. Dec 3, 2009 #19
    I use to make similar mistakes. Things I was kicking myself for after the exam. The only way I found to fix it and prevent myself from making mistakes like that in the past is to do an insane amount of basic practice problems until all the little stuff was drilled in for good.
  21. Dec 3, 2009 #20
    Well, I do the assigned problems in the homework. The thought even crossed my mind that this may be a perfect square, but I didn't actually do the algebra to double check. I just kept the assumption that it was an irreducible factor. :rolleyes: I think I naturally tend to over-complicate things when doing exams so I sometimes confuse the fairly straightforward problems, like this one was.
  22. Dec 3, 2009 #21
    I am very similar, I still do it a lot of the time. Sometimes I will look at a problem for 15 minutes and then it will hit me and I realize how simple it is and that I thought way too much into it. The I run out of time and don't get to finish the test. I think I just get nervous and second guess myself or something, I found that doing a lot of extra problems helps though.
  23. Dec 3, 2009 #22
    Hm. I'll have to try that. I also only briefly skimmed over the Laplace stuff because some of it was on the last exam, too, so I wasn't sure how much would be on this one.

    Yeah. It's very frustrating, man. It was very detrimental to my last two exams. I hope I did better this time. The first two exams were out of 90 and 80, respectively. This one was out of 105. I wonder if it's out of 100 with 5 bonus points, or it's still percentage-based.
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