A student writes:

     Dr Patt,

     I just returned from the study session and was wondering
     about something you
     said earlier.  You told the class that they need not worry
     if they fail the first exam because students in the past have also
     failed the first exam and
     still were able to still get an A in the course.  
     Well, if I get a bad grade on
     the first exam and have basically failed all
     my Problem Sets is there anyway
     that I might still get an A in your course
     or should I consider dropping?

There are a lot of things about this note that are worrisome, so I thought I would share it with you.

First, anyone who fails the first exam SHOULD worry. Failing the first exam means something is NOT working. It could be you have no aptitude for this stuff and would be better suited to a different major. It could be you have not put enough focused energy into the course, and need to crank it up a few notches. It might be you never have learned to study, having relied on your memorization ability to breeze through school up to now. Perhaps it is something else. Certainly, it is a cause for concern. I hope I did not tell you not to worry. If I said that, I misspoke.

What I hope I told you was that IF you fail the first exam, it is not the end of the world. It is still possible to get an A in the course, IF you identify the problem and correct it. AND, many students in past semesters have done exactly that.

The most common problem is the lack of appropriate study skills. Studying for understanding is not memorizing every solution or every concept I put on the blackboard. Studying for understanding is getting to the point where you can use what we have learned to solve problems you have not seen before. That is the skill you will need to develop if you are going to be a successful engineer.

The problem is that too many of you have reached this point without developing your ability to study for understanding, and I wanted to be sure that I let you know tonight that if that ends up costing you on the first exam, it does NOT mean you have to give up.

If you fail because you just have not put in enough effort, then that one is easy: crank it up a few notches.

Second point: the student has failed all his problem sets. I need to know more. He does not say if he is working alone, in a study group, going to discussion sessions, seeing TAs in office hours. All these are in place to help students master EE 306.

Third item that is troubling. I quote: "is there anyway that I might still get an A in your course or should I consider dropping?" I hope I am misreading this question. I hope it does not mean that any course he is not getting an A in is a candidate for dropping. If that is his mindset, he is in for some strange times ahead. But I have asked him to come see me, so this one I may be able to ferret out in person.

For the rest of you, good luck on the exam. I hope you do well. But if you don't, as I said in the review session, you should not consider jumping from the tower. However, if you do not do well on the first exam, you should consider it a serious wake-up call, decide what the problem is, and go from there. My hope: that you do well, or if you don't, you figure out the problem and be successful from that point on.

Yale Patt

     Thanks for any help
     Your Student,
     << name withheld... >>