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How important is fall of freshman year?

  1. Nov 2, 2009 #1
    Hey guys,
    I am a freshmen mech engineering student and so far I have been really disappointed in my college performance. I am on an academic scholarship that I need a 3.0+ to keep, which I thought would be no problem at all. However, I don't know what I am doing wrong. I just took a math test, calc 1, and am pretty sure I got no more than 50%. I did great in AP calc and got a 5 on the test, but now it is more geometry than calculus. I am 'hoping' to get a B in the class, which is still a stretch, I most likely have a C- now. I study the material, do the homework, attend lectures, but still can't get higher than 70's on any test. What is going on???? Furthermore, my programming class is not going well at all either. I have always been great in school and this is quite a wake up call. I do not know what more to do, I am generally intelligent so I would think if I worked hard it wouldn't be a problem. Does anyone else have this experience? I know it is only going to get harder, so what does this mean?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2009 #2
    See my recent https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=351178" in a related thread. This calculus course is extremely important for you as an engineer, because you will use it basically every semester for the rest of your 4-year academic career. Like I mention in the post I linked to, I struggled with my first physics course and was able to pull through. What you have to do is learn about many different study methods and design a plan to fit your needs. Create a method to your studying so that you don't just sit down and stare at the book. Have goals when you sit down to study. Say to yourself that today I am going to go through sections such and such, actually read the text, work out the examples in the book, do the relevant exercises, etc. A kind of under appreciated piece of advice is to be neat in your work. Try to be as explicit with your notation as possible, including all equal signs, labeling functions and equations, etc. You'll be surprised at how much this can help.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  4. Nov 2, 2009 #3
    In my experience, your first year of university is really meant to allow you to figure out what you actually want to do with your academics. Engineering and science first years usually take a wide array of general courses for this specific reason. That is not to say that the actual material isn't significant - it is important in that it serves as a foundation for the next level courses and also helps you 'learn how to learn' (hope that makes sense).

    For calculus I would suggest doing tons of problems, every single day (assuming this class is more on computation than theory). Learning the theory is important but most quiz/exam questions will be similar to the ones in your textbook. You must train your mind to think 'mathematically' and this is done by making sure you understand every point in your notes and doing different kinds of examples.
  5. Nov 2, 2009 #4
    One other thing is to look at the way the test is set up. Where I went to school, the teachers set up the tests so that no one would get anything more than 60-70%, but the final grades were heavily curved. The reason for this policy was to teach students humility. You have a room full of people that had never gotten less than 90% in a math test in their life, so setting up the test so that they couldn't get close to perfect is intentional.
  6. Nov 2, 2009 #5
    See this is the problem I am having. All of the other people I know have another teacher where it is mostly computation, I was under the impression that for engineering majors it was less about theory. However, my test today was almost all proofs. The ones that weren't proofs were problems that dealt more with problem solving than calculus at all.
  7. Nov 2, 2009 #6


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    You show a [strike]cynical[/strike] viewpoint of how some teachers design and grade tests. Often students score lower than they desire because of difficulty with some of the test items, for concepts and skills that are still new to students; the instructor expects students to read and follow instructions, while some students are still learning to adapt to this expectation...
    Could the teachers that you describe really have the intent that you said? If so, maybe this is realistic and (?)[strike]not cynical[/strike]. Designed for average 60-70% and heavily curved means what exactly? It seems to imply grading by students' performance statistics, applying a curve based on average or median and applying deviation quantities for letter grade issuance.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2009
  8. Nov 2, 2009 #7
    I'd just like to point out that some college professors do make tests that intentionally show a large differentiation in the class. A test I got back just today had a class average of around 60 (In a class with only 12 people), and no one was able to answer every question on the test. He said he was very happy with the overall performance of the class, because he could tell that everyone had a good understanding of the material. The professor has also already stated his intention to curve grades at the end of the course.

    Just one anecdote to show that twofish-quant isn't way off base.
  9. Nov 2, 2009 #8
    I highly doubt that your test was almost all proofs. Do you have an example? Besides, if that is indeed the way your professor is teaching you calculus, then you need to adapt to that. Also, why wouldn't a test deal with problem solving?!? What do you think calculus is? Calculus is not just taking derivatives and finding integrals. You will be worthless as an engineer if you can't problem solve.

    Also, my advice is to never ever concern yourself with the curve. You should try to get an A on the exam regardless of the fact that the expected average is 60% or whatever. There isn't a curve when companies are interview for jobs, and there won't be a curve if you actually get hired.
  10. Nov 2, 2009 #9
    Sometimes a 60% is an A. Also having high expectations is one thing. Having totally unrealistic ones is another.

    Absolutely not true. Companies both hire and rank people based on the curve.
  11. Nov 2, 2009 #10
    No it's not cynical at all. The teachers where I got my undergraduate physics degree (MIT) made it absolutely clear that there was no one that anyone was going to get anything close to 100% on the test, and why the tests were designed the way they were. If anyone got anything close to 100%, then this was considered a sign that the test was too easy.

    Yes. It's was how physics is taught at MIT. The other thing is that the grades were curved and things were set up so that unless you did something really bad, you were unlikely to fail the course. It's very similar to how the Marine do basic training.

    Pretty much.
  12. Nov 2, 2009 #11
    Well the point is to quit trying to play the curve. It is a sad fact that professors make exams in which a 60% is an A. This has happened only once to me and was during a graduate course. So that is definitely not the norm, at least in my experience.

    Also, in my experience, companies in no way hired based a curve, whatever that means. At least the good companies. If you weren't good enough for what they were looking for, then you weren't hired. There were many of my fellow undergraduate engineering majors who went without internships, co-ops, and even jobs because they didn't meet the companies standards. If a company is giving impossible interviews and then choosing the applicants who drowned the least (I guess that is hiring on a curve), then I would say that isn't a company you want to be working for.

    In general, it is a bad habit to be concerned with other's performances. There is a point in self-evaluation, but most students take it to the extreme where they're playing a game of what's the least I can do to get such and such grade.
  13. Nov 2, 2009 #12
    All the hiring meetings that I've done, you take all of the candidates, rank them on a list. Start calling them, and the person that says yes, gets the job. There's usually no shortage of people who are good enough, and if there is, you can get more candidates by increasing salary.

    It's pretty standard interview practice on Wall Street. Part of what the company looks for is how you react when you *are* given a difficult or impossible problem. Personally, I do well in these sorts of interviews because I *like* to be stressed at the edge of my ability.

    In business it's pretty essential. Businesses are graded both on a curve with group responsibility. If the people on your team aren't doing their job, then it kills your bonus. You are always looking across the street at the competing firm and thinking to yourself, how can we be better than them, and they are doing the same thing to you.

    Oh, that's not going to work in the "real world."
  14. Nov 2, 2009 #13


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    n!kofeyn tells us:
    That is one of the problems which students need to learn to counteract; and that description brings this topic back as titled, "Re: how important is fall of freshman year?"
  15. Nov 2, 2009 #14
    One rule of thumb is that if you are thinking about what the minimal amount of work you need to do to get a certain grade, you probably need to rethink your academic career plans.

    On the other hand, I have seen situations in which freshman simply overwhelm themselves with work at which point they have to triage work in order to survive. This is actually a rather useful skill in business.
  16. Nov 2, 2009 #15
    What's wrong with doing the minimal amount of work to achieve a desired grade? Seems more efficient than the converse.
  17. Nov 3, 2009 #16
    In my experience, it is impossible to find the 'the minimal amount of work to achieve a desired grade'. I've always achieved the best grades when using the motto of 'you can never be done studying' while I have done terrible in some courses where I just wanted a B and never see the material again. There are efficient ways to take courses (ie scheduling your study time, realizing when your studying isn't having an effect and taking a break and moving on to something else) but I find that this can only be done intelligently after hours of hard work and experience in the subject.
  18. Nov 3, 2009 #17
    Haven't read all the posts, but figured I'd put this factoid in. A friend of mine in his Junior year of Chemical Engineering recently got a 23/100 on his Fluid Dynamics midterm. Turned out to be a B... :rolleyes:
    I also question these "proofs" that you're doing.

    Learning Calculus with Analytic Geometry is fairly common (the norm I believe). Understanding on a conceptual level is important for problem solving. Anyone can plug/chug derivatives/integrals, but breaking down big problems into smaller ones and setting them up properly takes some thumping of the textbook against your head, and a palm painted black with graphite from doing problem sets.
  19. Nov 3, 2009 #18
    That works when you have time... but then maybe you should be taking more courses :smile:. I agree that it's very difficult to gauge though and the best way to do it is just study until you can solve all of the problems.

    Personally studying with a partner or a group was always best for me. It helps immensely to have someone there when you get stuck, and you'll learn more by having to explain things to someone else. It also helped me keep a better study schedule. I'd procrastinate when studying alone but wouldn't bail on a friend.
  20. Nov 3, 2009 #19
    For what it's worth, keeping this up through college worked out well for what I wanted to do. I wouldn't recommend it for someone focused on grad school in a certain field, but it was great for building a resume and maintaining a good enough gpa despite a couple of Cs early on. Then again it can also easily turn out very badly if you get sick or some such and fall behind.
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2009
  21. Nov 4, 2009 #20
    My motto is "study until the material becomes more or less trivial". That usually means doing the homework and paying attention in class; a couple of days before the test look over the material for half an hour to an hour. Then do it again tomorrow. Then look at it for an hour before the test. This usually works for me.
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