Reflections on Finals

Well, it took me a few days to get to finishing my “next post.” A month, in fact. In that time, I packed up my first-year dorm room,  flew back home for the summer, and started my summer internship. So I don’t exactly remember what all I was going to include in this post, but I’ll try:

I was going to write a separate post for this one, but I started it, and didn’t like the way it was going, so I’m just grafting it into this post. My first final exam of the semester for my chemistry laboratory, on Monday afternoon. I knew we were allowed to have a calculator for the exam, but what I didn’t realize was that we weren’t allowed to use a graphing calculator. So I brought the only calculator I own, a TI-82 graphing calculator, and ended up having to do the entire test calculator-less. The math involved wasn’t all that difficult, with the most complex being multiplication and division of fractions. Thinking about it afterward, however, I realized how thankful I am that I had all of that drilled into me through elementary and middle school. It may not make a difference when you have a calculator, but for those times when you don’t, it might mean the difference between passing and failing a test. On another note, paying attention in our chem lab lecture/review session probably would have helped…

Quick diversion: I have always done well in school. I love to learn, work to do my best, and have a natural affinity, you could say, for math and the sciences especially. Through high school, this translated into excellent grades. In fact, my only final grade lower than an A- was in seventh grade health, which is slightly ironic because I struggled with several sicknesses that semester (or trimester, or whatever it was). With that background, and the accompanying standards I set for myself, I did not do well by any means this past year. My only A’s were in music classes/ensembles and my physics lecture, which happened to be 90% review of AP physics.

Walking home after my last final (physics, which I actually did quite well in), my mind was full with a constant flow of thoughs and questions, most of a similar vein: What happened? Have I let myself down? What could or should I have done differently? Can not getting enough sleep really do that much? Or is there something else too? Am I still motivated to do well? Should I be? Have I lowered my personal standards for myself? What can I do to change that? Am I just worn-out and tired of school? Will I be “better” next semester? Can I put in the effort to be the best in such-and-such class? I still haven’t answered most of those questions for myself, but they have been on my mind quite a bit, so I’m hoping that this might help get them out.

Anyway, in my mental wandering, I decided that there were some aspects of undergraduate education that my high school courses did not prepare me for. I did learn a lot, and would have been completely lost in college classes without the knowledge my high school teachers imparted on me. However, I was not entirely sure what to expect or how to handle learning in the more advanced college classes I was going to be taking. In high school, with all of the homework and repetition of material and methods we studied, I didn’t really have to take notes or study. There were a couple of times in the classes that didn’t come as naturally to me (history especially) where I had to do that additional work, but otherwise I got by just fine, if not well. Not so much in college. I knew I would need to take notes for my lectures, so that was fine, but was not prepared for the studying I would need to do, and didn’t really know how to. Just re-reading my textbooks and notes got really old really fast unless it was really spread out, but I rarely had the time with other work (and other tests to study for, during finals). And without the regular homework and repetition I had grown accustomed to (with the exception of TA review sessions, information was rarely said multiple times), I simply did not have as good of a grasp on things as I was comfortable with for most of my classes.

I really loved the AP classes I took, but I’m also a little bit disappointed in them looking back on them. After all, if the class is supposed to be a college-level class, why is it still structured much like high school classes? We covered a lot more material in them than their CP or Honors counterparts, but not in a way anything like the few undergraduate classes I’ve taken so far have, which allows for much greater coverage. Some of my AP teachers got it right, with long, time-intensive, problem sets due every couple of weeks, like my college professors have assigned, but many others just gave more homework or more difficult work. I can’t speak to the effectiveness of teaching “college” techniques of my AP World and AP U.S. History courses, but the others were not as preparing (does that make sense) as I would have hoped, knowing what I do now. I might write a longer post detailing more of what I mean at a later time, with more in-depth examples, but that’s for another day.

So I’m glad I finally have that all out. I feel like it’s a little discombobulated (hooray for not proofreading!), both because I wrote half of it over a month ago and because I’m finishing it after I wanted to be in bed, but oh well. Now I can focus on planning other posts rather than having this once in the back of my mind constantly.

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