The computerized placement exam that my college uses to decide which classes its students should take went over badly for me. While my score on the English section was over 90 (to which anyone who has frequented this blog can attest), my math scores were abysmal. My algebra skills were ranked at 77%, and my trig score was a shameful 44%. Although I was told of a written exam, I feared that I would score even lower on that. My confidence in my own math abilities was shattered. I fully accepted being placed in Math 115 (a basic college algebra and trigonometry class), even if it meant not starting my major for a whole year. I spent the following two months sitting through the most mentally draining class I’ve ever had in my life. At first I thought we were doing review, since the work seemed to be on par with Math A. “Softening us up for the tough stuff?” I thought. But now the semester is over and not only have I learned nothing new, but I’ve begun to forget calculus concepts I once knew thoroughly. I came to hate Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I spent two hours sitting still and “learning.” But why not simply opt out of this class? In my college, if one passes the Math B Regents, one automatically become eligible for Precalculus. So why did I choose to take a class I didn’t need, waste thousands of dollars, and delay my major for a year?
The answer is that I wasn’t aware I could do that. No one told me that I was eligible for Precalculus because I passed the Math B Regents. Apparently, it’s school policy not to tell a student he or she is eligible unless the student in question scores above a 75% on the regents. So even though I was getting an “A” in the calculus class I was taking in high school and got a mere 72 on the regents, I was forced to spend an entire semester getting back to calculus level. My math skills now are most likely worse than they were last year, due to lack of use. I am now completely demoralized because of the four hours I must spent each week sitting through Math 115, and because I know that I can no longer contest my placement exam grade.
There is no upside to this; my life has been devastated. Instead of sitting through class, taking down notes and learning new concepts (as I did last year), I now sit through each class not paying any attention, staring at the clock, my mind burning over my indignant situation. For two days a week, I’m reminded of the failings of the system. I’m reminded of how much better my life was last year, before I took that exam. And more importantly, I’m reminded of how much I hate math.
My fantastic story of how I fixed this whole math mess.