Mathochism: Spectacular failures

One woman’s attempt to revisit the math that plagued her in school. But can determination make up for 25 years of math neglect?

We got our tests back today. I got a 33. In case I should wonder what that translated to, the Calc Professor kindly wrote that 33 = F.

This didn’t come as a shock. I knew I had failed. Nor did it really come as a shock to hear that, out of 45 students, no one got an A. Two people got Bs. The rest of us got Cs, Ds and Fs.

I suspect fewer people got Cs than Ds and Fs, at least judging from the moans and groans at break.

The most disheartening part was the Calc Professor’s statement that students who got Ds or Fs should drop the course, because they clearly had “major” problems and would never do well.

I not-so-respectfully disagree. I am not dropping this class, in spite of such ominous statements. I know exactly what went wrong on this test: I choked.

I panicked. I lost confidence. The anxiety clouded my brain to the point that I erased correct answers and substituted wrong ones. I got 11/6 at first for a limit problem. Then I got panicked on the second, almost identical question, and messed it up by forgetting a negative sign, which meant it was not 11/6, though it should have been. It’s the little things, remember? The answer WAS 11/6.

I couldn’t see the forest for the trees on others. Of course the domain of a fraction with a denominator of square root of 3 + 2sinx is all real numbers except negative square root of 3/2. Had I not panicked and focused on the numerator, which was some weird polynomial, I would have seen that.

By the time I got to the Intermediate Value Theorem problems, the panic had pushed all those carefully memorized statements out of my head. There have been occasions in my life when I’ve forgotten my own phone number. They were times when I was under a lot of stress.

I know this about myself, but luckily, this has only happens rarely. The question is, how do I prevent it from happening again?

All text copyrighted by A.K. Whitney, and cannot be used without permission.



  • “The most disheartening part was the Calc Professor’s statement that students who got Ds or Fs should drop the course, because they clearly had “major” problems and would never do well.”

    That just makes me angry. I mean… Seriously! Talk about the power of NEGATIVE thinking! I know you are not going to drop the class, but even if you were thinking about it, I’d say you have to stay in just to spite him.
    There is someone in the classroom with a “major” problem, but it isn’t you. Can you imagine an English professor telling a group of students, “If you got a D or F on your first essay, there is no hope for you. Drop out now.” Makes my head want to explode just thinking about it.

    On a calmer note, when I took calc, one thing we were advised to do was when we first were handed the exam, to write down some of the theorems we had memorized and knew we would need in the margin somewhere so we had them and didn’t have to worry about recalling them in the heat of the moment.

    I am behind you 100 percent.

  • Thank you! Thank you a million times!
    BTW, I am sending good vibes your way tomorrow.

  • So…on the first exam of the class, the prof is telling people they should drop the class if they got a D/F? The students wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t passed all of the other math classes leading up to Calc, right? So the new material that they’re not understanding is…the stuff he’s taught. Methinks the prof is the rotten variable in this equation (sorry, could not resist.)

    I am always suspicious of teachers and clients who refuse to answer questions. Always.

    All I can say is: take good notes. About the professor. Then you can use them in the chapter about sucky teachers!

  • Of course, that’s the delicious irony here — he’s proving my thesis that the teacher plays a huge part in a student’s success or failure. Which makes for a better book, once I write it.
    He’s also proving my thesis that it is very possible for a good student to psych herself out under the right circumstances, such as negativity from the people around her.

  • Your prof sounds like an ass. There are folks in math who believe that math is a talent, not a skill, and that calculus is where people without talent start dropping out. He might be one of these people.

    P.S. Also, since sin(x) is always bigger than or equal to -1,
    2 sin(x) is always bigger than or equal to -2,
    so 3 + 2 sin(x) is always bigger than or equal to +1;
    the domain should be all real numbers.

  • If 43 of your 45 students got a C or lower on an exam, something is wrong and it’s highly unlikely that the problem is that the registrar assigned you a section of populated by primarily nursery school drop-outs who thought they were registering for remedial finger painting.

    I’m sorry your professor is suggesting, basically, that people who do not know calculus should not take calculus.