Failing a Midterm, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Me, when I saw my grade.

Yeah, this week I failed a midterm.

There’s more to the story than that, though. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be publicly proclaiming my stupidity to all of the internet. Probably.

I sat down on Tuesday morning to take that test after having studied for three days straight. I mean, I’d slept, but pretty much every waking moment was spent reviewing definitions and distributions and rules of integration. My brain was full of information. I thought that was enough.

Unfortunately, I opened the exam to find that it very well might have been written in Aramaic for how little I understood what was going on. The words themselves weren’t that hard (“What is the distribution of the random variable X, where X is the number of tries it takes to put the right key in your apartment door?”) but the meaning behind them was essentially gibberish. I hadn’t the foggiest clue what I was supposed to do.

During those awful 55 minutes, I wrote down some equations (but didn’t use them), set up integrals (but didn’t solve them), and took some pretty wild guesses (is the integral of -2exp(-y+4)/arctan(y) just y? Well, I’m going to say it is). I left that testing room with a shattered ego and the sense that my brain had just been repeatedly run over by an eighteen-wheeler. Oof.

And then grades went up. And I got a 55. Which, to be honest, is pretty impressive considering I wouldn’t have been shocked by a 25. Or a 0. (Thank God for partial credit, amirite?)

My world kind of ended for a second when I refreshed the website and saw the number plastered in huge font on my screen. 55/100. Yikes. That’s not a good number. Not a good number at all. I’ve never failed anything this big before. Ego still shattered. Brain still sore. I felt a sudden urge to yell lots of really fun, loud expletives, but decided my napping roommate might not appreciate it too much.

And then I saw the tiny (SERIOUSLY, WHO DECIDED ON THIS SCALE) number to the right of my big bad one. Mean score: 51.25. Slowly, my world started again.

Lessons learned:

  1. I’m not stupid. I’m good at math. Hence, it’s my major. I should have predicted that my struggle with this exam probably meant a lot of other people struggled too.
  2. It was silly for me to be so upset about a number that was just floating around in midair without an anchor. I’m always jumping to conclusions and making mountains out of molehills, and I usually turn out to be dead wrong.
  3. I should probably start studying for the final, like, right now, because I’m f!@ked.

How soon do I graduate again?



  1. Well, if you can get 55/100, it means you can set up most equations easily. There’s no issue with conceptual understanding. Now, solving the equations without a cheat sheet or a table of integrals is totally unfair. You might ask your professor to allow for memory aids. After all, math isn’t about memorization. If your professor still persists, well, good luck and try practice calculus every day so that you can speak math like English. There’s no other way out. I guess you’re in your second year. Most professors provide cheat sheets with exams. I am not sure what’s going on there. Scaling up the grades is sometimes what professors do when the class average fails. After all, they can’t tell the dean that they fail an entire class or the majority. You might end up with a B or B+, if that’s good enough for you.

  2. Thank you for being a math major, so that people like me never have to think about math. šŸ˜‰
    Funny how a small piece of information can change your whole perspective. I had that very same scenario happen to me a time or two as an undergraduate.

    1. It’s pretty amazing. A little perspective goes a long, long, LONG way.

      In respect to the math…*sigh* if only I could go back in time and reverse that decision.

      1. Well, you can always pursue another major, which can usually squeeze into 3-5 terms, depending on the number of shared courses. If you are in your 3rd year already, a major in economics might be the best choice. If you are in your 4th year, then make sure your master degree won’t be math again. If you just want to find a job as soon as possible, you can always teach at grade schools.

        I have a friend who failed a math course and switched to law immediately. According to him, it was like going to heaven. It’s pretty easy to go to management, law or art from science at most colleges, but not vice versa. If your GPA is still good, even going to engineering is fairly easy. It’s not too late. It’s still early. But, don’t wait anymore.

  3. You have fun with that math major. I dislike math intensely. I’m currently in a calculus class I hate. The only upside is I’m homeschooled and I don’t have my mother inside my head to hear the expletives that are on repeat while I study this crap.

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