(( Monday, August 30, 2004 // 12: 36 AM ))
The first day of class, I expected to feel very excited, very new-student-ish. I guess I half expected the excitement the likes of which I hadn't seen since the first day of first grade. Well, in reality, I walked into my classroom to find that it was a pretty big lecture hall. That, I was not expecting. I liked it. I walked down the stairs to get a closer seat. Lots of students were seated already. They all looked so prepared and together, like they knew exactly what was going on. I sat down, slightly uneasy, and took out my notebook and pen before pulling up my little folding desktop on the side of my chair. I felt pretty happy when my professor started talking. She seemed young and friendly and started referring to her own psychological research studies she'd done as examples for the kinds of things we might look at in statistics. Her experiments involved accompanying mothers and their infants to doctor visits, and recording the length of crying time after the infant receives a vaccination in order to determine how long it takes a baby to calm him or herself down after a traumatic event. Cool stuff. After class, when Joe and my mom asked, "How was the first day of class?", my response was, "Well, my professor talked about statistics for an hour and a half and I understood everything she said!"
I felt really good. Dare I say, even a bit cocky?
Probability? Pssh, I get that! Find the mean? Uh, okay. Ha, this class is easy.
Except that it's not. It's pretty complicated and confusing, actually.
The late arrival of the refrigerator delivery guy caused me to miss class (and the first quiz) that first Friday. On Monday, I was LOST. I felt so low and awful as I walked out the door. Why didn't I understand anything she'd just said? What should I do? Maybe if I went home and really studied... My phone beeped. I took it out and there was a text message from Misti that said, "Sending you positive energy!" That was awesome timing! When I read that, I felt some of the stress melt away as I thought about how sweet Misti is. I tried not to freak out as I headed home. I studied, I did my homework, and things seemed to make sense, some of the time.
The following Friday was Quiz #2. I felt horribly unprepared. Things weren't making sense again. I had been up late studying after Orientation, but was so tired that I went to sleep and got up early. I felt sick. I thought I might throw up. I wondered if it was something I ate, and Joe assured me I was just sleep deprived. He told me to take a nap before class. "But I need to study," I protested. We discussed dropping the class. I had originally jumped into enrolling for Statistics so that I could take the followup class, Research Design, in the Fall. Well, Research Design is full for the Fall, so I thought, I'll just take Stats then, instead. Joe left for work, and I signed online to enroll for Fall. And ALL the Stats classes were full. I decided to go to sleep and take the quiz and just see what happened.
I got there, I took it, and felt slightly unsure about it. After we handed it in, she went through all the questions with us, and I realized I got four out of the five questions correct. Hey, not bad! Okay, cool, maybe I could do this after all?
I hung in there, listened to the lectures, took notes, and did the homework problems. The homework only sort of made sense. I should probably read every single part of the chapters, I thought. To keep up, I'd been spot reading sections, relying on the lectures for my understanding. I was a few chapters behind. I started reading, but worried about not finishing the homework. So I just worked on the homework instead, and I understood most of it. I had a hard time concentrating, though, so it was slow-going. Stats is just a difficult read. Here's an excerpt from my book:
"We could, in principle, take all possible random samples of size 25 from the parent population, compute the sample means, and then compute the mean and standard deviation of those means to get the exact values of the mean and standard deviation of the sampling distribution of means. Fortunately, there is an easier way, given by the central limit theorum, which we describe in the next section."
Now, I know what that paragraph means; I'm just saying, it's not something I can read quickly!
I went to the class discussion session we have every week. I also attended the midterm review session we had that evening. Things made sense! If I know sigma, use z-scores. If I don't, use t-distributions to estimate the population mean. Right, got it.
I did the homework problems. Those seemed to make sense. I didn't get through all the reading, but I felt okay about the equations. So, hesitantly, I went to the midterm exam.
It started out easy enough. Probability questions, sweet! Then it got progressively worse. I guessed on one question. I understood the next one. I recognized a drawing from my notes and could not, for the life of me, recall any of the words I'd written around, above or below it. I could SEE it in my mind's eye, the same picture, right there in my notebook, just not the words. I had no idea what it meant, or what the question meant, and I left it blank. I saw a set of information and like 15 questions about it (one full page). I decided to come back to that. The I get this one/I'm guessing on this one pattern continued throughout the remainder of the pages. I looked up. I had 30 minutes left. I went back to the page of 15 questions thinking I had plenty of time. Well, I sure did, because I had no idea what ANY of it meant. I couldn't remember the difference between a sample statistic and a test statistic, much less identify which was which. I stared at it for ten minutes. During those ten minutes, I had this conversation with myself about a hundred and two times:
Just guess. I don't know how to guess. I don't know where to START. If I knew where to start, I could maybe-- So, guess where to start. But I don't KNOW. I can't guess. I have no idea what that means. Okay. I'm gonna drop the class. But it's not available in the fall. Which means I'd have to take it in the winter. And I've already come this far and I can't get my money back! But I don't get this. I've failed this test. Okay, I'll drop the class. No, wait. Maybe I can-- No, I should drop it. Well maybe I can just guess on this part here...
It wasn't pretty.
Twenty minutes left on the exam.
I closed it up, went up to the desk, laid my paper on the table and whispered to my TA, "Yeah, I totally didn't understand the exam, so I think I'm going to drop the class."
"Oh!" he said and half laughed, 'cause I was kind of laughing about it, too. I mean, it wasn't like I didn't get one question. I was beyond lost.
"Are you going to at least see your grade or are you going to just drop?"
"I think I can maybe get some money back if I drop today, so I might just do that. But, uh. Thanks!"
He laughed and said, "Okay!"
I started to leave and my professor was walking the opposite way. She came up to me and said, "What's up?"
"I think I'm going to drop," I said. We were whispering, too, to stay quiet for the other students.
"Oh no!" she said.
"I just didn't get it at all, like... I did really bad."
"Well," she said. "Is there a deadline to drop?"
"I'm not sure."
"Okay. Well, listen. If there's no deadline, maybe you can hang in there until Tuesday? By then, we should have your grades, and you never know, maybe you didn't do as bad as you think. Plus, you're all going to be graded relative to each other, so your grade depends on how everyone else did. This was not an easy test, you know? And maybe others did the same as you. Maybe you're in the middle of the class, or right past the middle. So, wait and see, if you can, and we can talk about your grade and where you are in the class and anything you don't understand. So, yeah. And well, I hope you don't drop!"
The whole time she was talking, I was nodding and stuff, and when she finished I said, "Okay, cool. Thank you!"
My nervousness at having to talk to my professor and my TA one on one for the first time was enough of an adrenaline rush without the added fact that in order to talk to them, I had to admit utter defeat. I thought I might cry when I walked out of class, but I knew it was mostly the nervousness of admitting I had done so poorly, more than the doing poorly itself. I took a deep breath and told myself, "Meg, it's a math class. Do not cry." It just didn't seem worth the energy. Plus, you know, there were people around.
Anyway, I drove home, clenching my teeth the whole way. Seeking advice, I called Joe, who told me not to worry about getting money back or not. He said to focus on whether or not there will be a "W" on my record if I withdraw from class. I checked and the website says that during the short summer session (which I am in), I can drop the class all the way up until the day before the final exam and NOT have a "W" on my transcript. Awesome.
What does that mean for me? Well, I'm staying. For now. I will see just how bad my score really is on Tuesday or Wednesday. Then I'll talk to my professor, and then I might even see how I do on the next quiz. And if I bomb that, too, then I'll know it's time to drop the course. Which would SUCK on so many levels, because I really have worked hard already and don't want it to all go to waste.
That's why (dun dun dun)... I have A Plan! The Plan: Part 1) Insert myself into a study group. There's this guy who's pretty nice in my class. He and this girl (uh, let's say Tom and Desiree, shall we?) study together and since their grasp of the material seems sort of intimidating to me, they are obviously the best people to be studying with. We'll see if that pans out.
Part 2) There is a CD-Rom that is supposed to come with the book. It's a study aid, apparently (I didn't quite understand what it even was), but it didn't come with my book, since I bought a used text. The other day, Tom mentioned it's pretty useful, and said he'd burn me a copy if I brought him a CD. I brought him one on the morning of the exam, and he shook his head and said, "Forget it, I just went ahead and made you one," and handed me a CD! Tom is good people. So, Part 2 is to study with that CD, going over ALL of the chapters (eleven) we've studied thus far.
Part 3) Visit the math tutoring center. Maybe they'll know what to tell me.
The weird part is, I feel like I don't really know how to study anymore. I get distracted and I think I get something when I don't, not completely. I'm sure it's because I'm so out of practice. And because it's math. Reading all the material and working with the CD should help immensely. My ideal goal is to kick such monumental ass with the studying that I end up with a fantastic final exam score and receive a B in the class. If I got a C in the class, I wouldn't be terribly heartbroken. But if I got anything lower, I would, because anything lower will not only royally screw my GPA, but will also mean I have to repeat the course anyway.
Of course, if I MASSIVELY failed the midterm, then this Plan of mine is all for naught, because I will totally drop the course if I feel I can't pull myself back up from an abysmal grade. Only time will tell.
Hmm. So, how long does it take a professor and two TAs to grade 100 midterm exams, I wonder? I guess I'll know soon enough.