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Testing Perseverance And Perspective... please help

  1. Feb 8, 2019 #1
    I am an undergrad with a husband and 4 kids. I work, tutor, work in a lab... all on top of my classes. I do really well on homework (and I really enjoy sitting and deriving with my white board) and I do well on our weekly quizzes. I stay above the average mark on everything... except exams; I test far below average on midterms and finals. This term is Thermo and stat mech. I’ll be lucky to get a C in this class, which is so disheartening. It’s also stressful since I am in school for my family, not just myself.

    Does anybody have any career/academic advice? I would like to pursue a master’s, but even continuing in school seems pointless when I do poorly on exams. Also, knowing the difference in grading between grad and undergrad makes this whole venture so daunting. I don’t want to quit. Any real world professional/academic advice that any of you may have would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 8, 2019 #2


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    You have a lot on your plate. Managing all of this, getting good grades, and taking reasonable care of yourself is a Herculean (i.e. very near impossible) task.

    I strongly suspect that the reason you're not getting the marks you want on exams is because you don't have time to study adequately. Obviously you can't cut back on family responsibilities, but you've got "work, tutor, and work in a lab" all up there. So you might want to think seriously about how to optimize your time with all of those. I understand some work is necessary. But this is like three things that you've got that cut into your available study time. I would look for a way to cut out at least two of those three.

    I know a lot of people say that you need to get research experience if you want to go to graduate school. But this shouldn't come at the expense of grades in my opinion.

    Another option is to reduce your course load. Of course that comes at the expense of taking longer, but your education isn't a race. You're in a much better position if you take a year or two longer and finish undergrad with good grades rather than finishing earlier with mediocre ones.

    It's also worth spending some time to really focus on how you study. Most universities have (often free) workshops that help improve study skills and exam-taking strategies. Take advantage of these.

    Avoid going it alone. Getting into a study group, or simply having friends that are supportive and have similar interests and goals can go a long way toward improving your grades.

    Finally, make sure you're taking care of yourself. When you're juggling all that you are, it's easy to forget about yourself. But if you're not getting a proper amount of sleep, exercise, nutrition, socialization, etc. you'll have a harder time focusing.
  4. Feb 9, 2019 #3
    Don't do so much, that's all their is to it. Take a reduced course load, don't tutor. To be honest the other stuff you're doing wont matter to any graduate school if your GPA is sub 3. Maybe more jobs would be willing to overlook it considering your other time commitments but nobody in academics will.
  5. Feb 13, 2019 at 11:20 PM #4


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    If you do well on everything but exams, do you also feel you understand the material and then just can't seem to remember anything the day of the test? If that is the case it is just a problem with test taking. Like others have mentioned, most colleges/universities have resources to help you study and test better, but here are my pro tips that got me through a double physics/math undergrad followed by a PhD in physics in 4 years:

    1. SLEEP - seriously, this is and always will be my priority. If I get a good night's sleep, my brain can do some great gymnastics on test day, whereas if I stay up late to study, I never remember what I studied and my thoughts are muddled from exhaustion.
    2. Taking a physics test involves strategy. The one that works for me is to first go through the test and only answer questions or parts of questions that I immediately know the answers to. If I don't know it right away, I move on. Usually, this means I will flip through the whole test once...not answering much of anything the first time. Then as I go back through, things start to become clearer and I begin to be able to answer more. In the case where you really know some or most of the material, this will allow you to quickly get through the easy stuff to spend more time on the hard stuff, both building your confidence and using your test time well.
    3. Practice problems. Nothing prepares you for a physics test like working actual relevant problems. Doing examples that are laid out in the book or in class, or problems you have the answers or solutions to will help you identify where you tend to go wrong.

    It sounds like you have a VERY tough schedule, I also agree with others that taking fewer courses at a time would be a good choice. It keeps you from having to split your focus as many different directions.
  6. Feb 14, 2019 at 7:16 AM #5

    Andy Resnick

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    I hope your family is proud of all your hard work and efforts to succeed in school- and I hope you can at least recognize and congratulate yourself on your hard work.

    What stands out to me is the disconnect between 'doing well on our weekly quizzes' and 'test far below average on exams'. Are the quizzes and exams different in some way- different types of questions, different testing conditions, etc.?

    What subject are you interested for a Masters degree? What do you want to do with the MS degree?
  7. Feb 14, 2019 at 11:12 AM #6


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    The description is that of not being able to hold everything together toward the end. Study and learn a chapter, do well. Come to the next chapter, and repeat; but retest on two or three or four previous chapters back - not do well.
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