HOW TO: Not fail

Last fall, the freshman calculus class had nearly 25% of students either not pass (a grade of D or F) or drop the class. In the Intro to CS class, the number increased to 28%. In Physics I, that numbers jumps to around 30%. That means nearly 1/3 of all students who even attempt Physics need to give it at least one more try. This does not even include the kids who barely scrapped by with low C’s. And statistically speaking, these numbers are better than previous years’ measures.

It is a scary set of figures for freshmen, especially with most coming from a background of success. It is easy to say “I am not going to be part of that group” and “I am going to get a 4.0!” … until school actually happens. Combined with making a completely new set of friends, joining a fraternity or sorority and adjusting to living without your parents nagging, doing well in school often gets lost in the mix. Success in those types of circumstances is often extraordinary and can seem unattainable.

Since it is in the best interests of Tech and other students for you to not hate the school and yourself, I am providing some tips on how to not fail academically during your first semester at Tech. Sure, a 4.0 would be great, but I am sure most of you will settle for keeping HOPE.

Study. Just do it. The only way a professor judges you is how well you do on tests. No one factors in the amount of studying done to grade, so kid who got a C with just 10 minutes of studying, all you will have to show for it is your own pat on the back.

Figure out your study habits. Some people study better in groups, some people study better with house music in the background and some people study better away from computers. It all depends. Figure it out, stick to it and avoid situations where you could be easily distracted.

Don’t schedule too optimistically. An 8 AM class should be a piece of cake because you had to get up at 6 AM for school every day in high school, right? No. You will stop going to your 8 AM class two weeks after school begins. You will give some excuse like “I don’t understand the teacher/TA” and “the material is so easy!” and skip it without much thought. While this strategy may work for some classes, it is a bad habit to get into and you will undoubtedly regret it. Stick to 10:00-or-later classes if you have a hard time getting up at all.

Don’t schedule too many classes. It seems as though there is an inverse relations with GPA and number of hours you are taking. It is much better to go to school longer and take 12 hours a semester than to take 18 and consistently drop classes. And for in-state kids with HOPE, cheaper, too.

Seek help early and often. The school is not set up for you to fail. There may be a teacher or two who could care less about you failing his class, but the support system is there for you to succeed. In classes like CS 1371, there are close to a billion TA’s who sit at a desk for almost 30 hours a week just waiting to field any question. On top of that, there is recitation for most of your classes where all you do is learn stuff you were already taught in lecture, hopefully reinforcing material.

Stop thinking Tech will be as “easy” as high school. So many kids waltz in here from their high school and think Tech will be equivalent difficulty and work. It is not and it is almost always more. Kids believe that because they could lounge around in high school and do homework the period before it is due and then kind of study for 20 minutes for a test and get an A-, they can do the same at Tech and get the same results. Most high schools are easier than Tech. Getting a 3 on the AP Calculus test means you would likely get a C, D or F in Tech calculus. It is not because Tech is unfair, it is because the AP test is easy. Walk into a class with an open mind and know that the person in front of you is more than likely has a Ph.D or is seeking one.

Accept failure as your own fault because it usually is. People are quick to brush off classes because they are “stupid,” “not worth my time,” or my personal favorite, “not even relevant to my degree.” Everything is relevant to your education so treat it that way. This includes English I and II, the classes often hated on because “I didn’t come to Tech to read and write!” Blaming the class when you get a D or F on a test is your own failure. It is your fault for not actually knowing the material. People have gotten A’s on every test I have ever taken at Tech. If you can accept this attitude you will always do better.

These are just some tips to guide you on a hopefully successful Tech career. Establishing good habits will make the following years easier. And you might not think it now, but maintaining HOPE will be a larger achievement than you think right now.