A student writes.  Normally, I do not share this type of letter
with the class, but in this case, his letter reflect the anxiety
of many so I think my comments may be useful to many. 

He starts his letter as follows:

        so i have a question following the first exam. 
        ********* ********* and I studied many hours 
        and prepared together for this exam and my result 
        was a 46. We focused strongly on the practice exams 
        and on the problem sets, and i was wondering if there 
        might have been something else we could have done. I
        really dont want to drop the course, i want to do well. 
        I belive that part of the problem is i feel like i am 
        right there yet cant quite reach out and grasp the material. 
        I also feel that there might of been a little
        anxiety along with the first exam that slowed me down 
        and made me second
        guess myself. Would you say that if i really focused 
        and went back over the material with others such as 
        the TA's yourself and friends untill I felt that I strongly 
        understand the material, that I might still have a chance 
        to do decent in this class. I know that you said in class that a 40
        could still get a C but is that with scoreing perfect on 
        everything else or is there still hope for a B or even and A. 
        I was also wondering if you had any other recomendations 
        for me so that i might be able to better
        understand the concepts and prepare in the future.

        Thank you,
        <<name withheld to protect the understandably anxious student>>

So there are several comments to make.

First, if I said you could make a C in the course after getting a 46 on 
the first midterm, I must have misspoken.  There have been many students 
in the past who have gotten far lower than a 46 on the first midterm and 
earned an A in this course.  So things are not hopeless as you think they 
are tonight.  BUT, it will take a lot of work.

Apparently, some of my comments at the end of class today were
misunderstood.  I don't think there are very many students who should drop
the course because they can't get it.  It is true that a few probably do not
have the aptitude for this stuff.  But more have blown off the course so 
far, but even they can recover.  And many have relied on memorizing so far 
and that didn't work on some of the problems.  But there is still time to 
learn how to study, and that will make a big difference.

Study groups can help because members in the study group can challenge
each other.  TA Office hours can help.  I hand picked every one of my
TAs.  They are there because I think they are excellent.  Do not hesitate
to seek them out as much as you need to.  I am available, although 
admittedly there is only one of me and 364 of you, so most of you find
email a better way to communicate with me.  Up to you.  No points for
sitting in my office.  Points only for "getting it," and then demonstrating
that on the exams and programs.

You expressed some sense of intimidation.  That is understandable.  This
is your first semester in college and you see everyone else as a hotshot.
They probably see you as a hotshot also.  I can not tell you not to be
intimidated.  I can tell you that as time goes by it lessens.  And, you
will probably be less nervous on the second midterm.  But, it is true,
you do need to get past that also, since it is unhelpful.

You say you are almost there, but not quite.  Good!  Over the years I have
seen a lot of students who are not quite there until well into the semester.
And, then something clicks and everything makes sense from there on.  I hope
it happens to you.  The good news is your grade in the course will be based 
on where you are at the end of the semester, not where you are in the middle.  
Do better on the second midterm and do fantastic on the final and you earn 
an A.  ...even with a 46.  ...or 32 ... or even a 21.  And fantastic does
not mean perfect.  Just well enough to show us that you really do understand 
everything at the end at the A level.  The important thing is to not kid 
yourself about what you understand.  Read the book, see the TAs, pay 
attention in class -- all this will contribute.  And question yourself and 
us when you don't really know.

Hope some of this helps.

Good luck.
Yale Patt