I just need some academic direction/advice

  • #1
Hey guys,

I am pretty much at the end of my academic rope. I enjoy math and what it can do, and I have taken a keen interest in physics as well. I am a Dual Major in Mathematics and Physics. All of my general education requirements are done and pretty much all of the classes I am taking are core major classes.

Please read over the following and give me some advice/direction.

I am very good at grasping overall ideas, and how to apply concepts. I can think of options to solve math problems very quickly as well. However, its the applying the equations to numbers that throw me off. I can sit down and write out every trigonometry, algebra, and a few Calculus theorems/formulas/identities without even breaking a sweat. I even can set up the equations by plugging values and begin to solve the problem, Yet when I get down to actual numbers and solutions I lose my train of thought, I panic, and if I am taking a test, it's over before I finish. Most times it feels like I just tried to take a two day class in ten minutes.

I also suffer from ADHD and I am going to have that certified (again, documentation is out of date) with my school by Fall. However I am stuck because I failed my Pre-Calculus class this Spring. I desperately needed to take Calculus I this semester. It's a pre-req for two Physics classes I needed to start in the Fall.

Screwing up this class has literally set my academic career back by almost two years due to several of the Physics classes being offered on Alternative years. This semester has been horribly rough on me.

My goal is to attempt the Pre-Calculus CLEP on Tuesday and still enroll in the Calc I Class by May 9th.

I really could use any feedback/help you can give me. I have always struggled with good grades in school, but I do understand the material. I can sit down and work almost any problem given to me with enough time and get the right answer.

I know getting re-certified for the ADHD by the school is the first step, but even though I am going to get that done May 10th the school can't make it official till the start of Fall 2011. I have no idea what to do till then!!!

For the record I DO want to learn this. Not just cram it, but learn it, apply it, and get familiar and comfortable with the material enough to stop second guessing myself or panicking during the solutions.

I have seriously considered dropping school altogether. I am 28 and I have worked hard career wise and academically all my life. Lately I just feel that the harder I work, the less I get out of everything.

One of my physics professors has repeatedly asked me not to give up. He tells me I know more than I put on my tests and that I just need to stick it out. Interestingly enough even my Pre-Calc teacher told me this as well. That he was sure I knew more than I was putting on the tests however he had to go with what was on the exams, not what I could do on the spot in his office. I understand and respect this but I feel as if I am being punished for knowing something that just don't come out of my jumbled up brain fast enough under pressure!

If another student asks me a question about a problem, I can quickly pull out a piece of paper and explain to them how to solve the problem, correctly. Yet when I have to do it for myself on the test nothing at all comes out. Just jumbled up equations and a huge mess. I actually tried to solve a simple cosine problem on my last exam using the quadratic formula, which was absolutely stupid. I could have just pulled out the cos x and simply factored the remaining problem(actually came out as a perfect square). I knew as soon as he gave the test back what I did wrong when I looked at it. I literally felt like an idiot.

Oh well, I am rambling. Sorry to dump all of this here on the forum, but I really have no one to talk to about this.
 
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Answers and Replies

  • #2
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3,286
What you seem to describe looks a lot like test anxiety or something of that sort. Maybe you should see a psychiatrist for such a thing.

Normally, if there are people who don't perform on a test, then I would say that they just don't know the material well enough. But I don't know if that's the case with you, since you say you can solve problems easily outside a testing environment.

Why is it that you screw up your tests? There must be a reason to it that you did not yet describe here... I'm not qualified to diagnoze anybody, but maybe seeing a qualified doctor would be the first step.

However, getting certified with ADHD or whatever disorder is useless. It's the therapy that the doctors give you that will matter. It won't matter that the university knows that you have a disorder. YOU will have to work hard to overcome your disorder, you do need to realize that.

You say that you just need some more time to solve a problem. But that would be quite bad. Later employers won't cut you some slack just because you have this and this disorder. You really need to overcome the disorder
 
  • #3
I think you should just stick it out until you start taking higher-level classes. They are far more proof oriented and will play to your strengths. Things will get better, not worse.
 
  • #4
jtbell
Mentor
15,643
3,690
Definitely get checked out by a doctor. In the US, colleges and universities are required to grant reasonable accommodations for tests, for students who are diagnosed by a medical professional as having specific problems in a test-taking environment. Occasionally I get a note from our provost's office at the beginning of a semester, about such a student, authorizing me to give him more time on tests, allow him to work in a separate room, etc.
 
  • #5
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Sounds like you have test anxiety. The only way you can really "shake" this is practice, and patience. I used to get very nervous before some tests(and still sometimes do). It sounds easier said than done, but really just don't be nervous. Sure, a lot may be on the line, but you know that there is no point in being afraid.

I actually did this strategy before my last tests, and plan too for finals. Assuming you feel as if you are as prepared as possible, go into the classroom at least 5 mins before the test starts. Review all of your notes/problems one last time(especially the fine details) to soak up the last bit of information possible. Then, if there are any formulas/concepts/rules that you feel like you have a hard time remembering, repeat them over and over again in your head until you get the test, then write them on the test right when you get the chance so you don't have to remember them anymore. But, here's the most important part. Stay as calm as possible. As my professor was passing out the last test I took, I literally closed my eyes at my desk, cleared my thoughts, took many deep breaths, and reassured myself that I could do this. You must have confidence in your abilities. I know its not very reassuring when you keep messing up on tests, but you must convince yourself that you know the material better than most people, and you are going to show everyone just how much you know.

Testing also requires another skill, which is time management. In my classical mechanics course, the tests are only 50 mins long, and there are usually 5 or so questions. This isn't really enough time for anyone to work out 5 problems, but you just have to accept it. If I come to a problem that I can't figure out how to start within 5 minutes, I move on to the next one. Its even more likely that if you move on to the other problems and are able to solve them, you will be more confident and can approach the one(s) you skipped again with a clearer mind.

One last bit of advice. If you finish all the problems you can and still have time left before the prof says "alright turn 'em in", review all of your answers and see if they make sense. For example, if you are integrating sin(x) from 0 to Pi you have -cosine(Pi) - (-cosine(0)). Read out in your head this evaluation very carefully because there is a lot of room for a quick mistake. cosine(Pi) is -1....is it? think about every part of this solution step by step very carefully, and you should be golden.

It would really be a shame to see someone give up school because of the tests when they claim they know the material. This seems like a personal problem completely, and you have to really handle this issue yourself. All we can do is give advice.
 
  • #6
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Very good post, nlsherrill!! I'm happy for you that you could overcome your anxiety!!
 
  • #7
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If another student asks me a question about a problem, I can quickly pull out a piece of paper and explain to them how to solve the problem, correctly.
This sounds a great deal like me. I am fortunate enough to have a good set of like-goaled friends and we try to review before every test and take the same courses whenever possible. Whenever we do this, I usually act as the "professor" and go over all of the problems and help to explain it, and it helps me a great deal because not only do I get the practice, but the others can tell me if I am making a little mistake, or put me in the right direction if I lose my train of thought.

I find that it really helps me to work out problems and explain them to others while doing it. It helps to keep me focused on the problem, and it works through some of the anxiety I get from public speaking. This also helps me cope with anxiety on tests.

This works so well for me in fact, that I enjoy talking to myself (in my head of course) as if I were explaining how to solve a problem to someone else while working on a test. It sounds simple enough, but the practice of systematically talking myself through the problem has made all of the difference for me. Perhaps that is something that you should give a try when you are working out some homework problems or something. I am no fantastic mathematician, but this has helped me comprehend questions under higher-stress environments, better understand the material and be able to explain it to others, and keep a 4.0 GPA (so far at least).
 
  • #8
I have decided not to give up. I am going to slow down though. I am going to go down to a part time student (two or three classes) per semester. I already have an appointment scheduled with a psychiatrist to examine the issues I am having. I will see what comes of that. I do believe I need to start "talking myself" through the problems on the exam. Even though I withdrew from the semester the Math instructor still invited me to take the final. I am going to go take it Tuesday and apply everyone's suggestions. At least then there will be no pressures of a "grade" and maybe then I can actually take time to analyze my thought processes during an exam.

I will post back Tuesday night. Thanks guys.
 
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  • #9
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One last bit of advice. If you finish all the problems you can and still have time left before the prof says "alright turn 'em in", review all of your answers and see if they make sense. For example, if you are integrating sin(x) from 0 to Pi you have -cosine(Pi) - (-cosine(0)). Read out in your head this evaluation very carefully because there is a lot of room for a quick mistake. cosine(Pi) is -1....is it? think about every part of this solution step by step very carefully, and you should be golden.
.
Yeah, especially when the answer is requiring an algebraic formula. A quick way to check if your answer makes sense is to substitute extreme values into your formula to see if they violate common sense or axioms.

I'm no science major, but let's just say you were asked to derive a formula for the amount of radiation coming out a surface of area A. If A approaches 0, your answer should also approach zero. This approach saved me quite a bit of marks in my last stats exam.

And like many above have said, you seem to be suffering from anxiety. All of us suffer from test anxiety, bipolar mood swings and attention deficits to different extents, so it really is up to you to learn to manage your mental side.

I used to be a poor test-taker with mediocre grades but I've since developed a highly personalised set of preparation, pre-test and during-test habits that helps me maximise my performance in tests.
 
  • #10
Now what to do?

I believe I am going to take two classes this fall. However, I failed my Pre-Calculus. I actually ended up just doing a full semester withdraw to save whats left of my GPA. The past academic year was horrible for me, if you can even call that. I have fixed a lot of things that were once hindering my learning ability and time availability to study.



I am teaching myself the Pre-Calculus. I am hoping, if I can learn the topics that have been giving me difficulty, to approach the Math Department Chair and respectfully ask that I be allowed to continue into Calculus. (I don't need the credit hours to graduate, I DO need Calcs 1-3 and Diff Eq. I have exactly 60 days to review the PreCalculus and make my case to the Chair, I really want to be able to go in there and be an encyclopedia of Pre-Calc and able to work any reasonable problems he gives me. I must be in Calc One to take any more Physics classes at the University. So, I am considering reviewing the first two-three chapters of the current Calc Text to get a head start as well. I am currently reading the Physics Text Book so I know what we are studying next semester and have at least read through the material.

My main areas of difficulty are understand exponents (should be simple, right?), logarithms, and exponential, no matter how many problems I work (or attempt to) I am unable to wrap my mind around them. Which sucks, I really want to grasp this material, but my patience with myself is about over on this. I have put literally countless hours into studying this class over two semesters. One semester was a Audit Class, to expose myself to the material first, and then the actual semester next. I can work one or two of the above topic problems, get the jist of what I am doing, and then work dozens more without too much confusion. However, the next day, don't ask me to work the problems, even the same ones, I forget how. I have to be looking at the rules sometimes, but then I can solve with no problem. Does anyone else have this issue?

I don't understand taking the logs of both sides, or why log or natural log are even important, what they do, why they work, ect. I can't remember these things unless I understand their place on the food chain of mathematics. I had extreme problems with vectors, but I think that is because we had three guest instructors during that chapter and it takes me half of a semester to adjust to an instructors teaching style unfortunately for me, plus I was prepping for the final during that week as well.
 
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  • #11
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My main areas of difficulty are understand exponents (should be simple, right?), logarithms, and exponential, no matter how many problems I work (or attempt to) I am unable to wrap my mind around them.
Something that sometimes works for me which may or not work for you is to not try to think too much about what is going on. What I do sometimes is to think of math as a word game involving just changing the squiggles on the page, and solving a math problem is like solving a crossword puzzle in which you make one set of squiggles match up with another set of squiggles.

I have to be looking at the rules sometimes, but then I can solve with no problem. Does anyone else have this issue?
Yes. Fortunately in most of the math classes I've taken, you are allowed to bring in a 8.5x11 inch sheet of paper in which you are allowed to put anything you think you need for the test. You learn to write small.

I don't understand taking the logs of both sides, or why log or natural log are even important, what they do, why they work
Here is a quick lesson.

What's 10x1?

What's 10x10?

What's 100x10?

What's 1000x10?

What's 100x100?

Now you instead of multiplying everything out. One trick is to just count the zeros. 10 has one zero. 100 has two zeros. If you multiply them out you get 1000 which has three zeros. You you've turned a multiplication problem into an addition one.

It would be nice if you can do this trick with something that doesn't have an integer number of zeros. It turns out that you can. You can think of "2" as a number that has 0.30102996 zeros and "5" that has 0.698970004 zeros.
 
  • #12
I also suffer from ADHD and I am going to have that certified (again, documentation is out of date) with my school by Fall.
Are you taking any medication for your ADHD?
 

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