Fri, 11 Oct 2013, 02:38

My students,

I decided to share with you this email and my response.  The student sent me 
email last night because he is very concerned about his performance on the 
first midterm.  I realize that many of you are also concerned, so perhaps 
you will find my response helpful. 

A student writes: 

> Hello Dr. Patt, 
> Unfortunately, I think I did very poorly on this midterm today. I studied 
> for it, but I guess I didn't understand the concepts well enough to use 
> on a test of this magnitude.
> I think I have a plan now for success, starting with going to more TA 
> sessions for help and also working through more practice problems. I think 
> as we progress on, like you mentioned in class, things will become more 
> clearer.
> My question however, is whether I can still get an A in this class? 
> I know I screwed up on the first midterm, but I've read and heard that 
> you put a lot of emphasis on the final exam and the second midterm to see 
> if we improved. Is this true?
> (For instance, if I got an A on the final and a good score on my second 
> midterm (above average), very high average on programming assignments 
> and problem sets)
> Regardless, I am willing to put my best of effort in the next months 
> of the semester. Sorry if I seem to be planning too much ahead. 
> Thanks!
> <<name withheld for obvious reasons>> 

I know that many of you did not do as well on the midterm as you have done 
on exams in the past, and you are discouraged by it.  My experience, based
on all the time I have been teaching is that at least part of the problem 
is that you are used to exams that test how well you can memorize, and 
not how well you *really* understand the material.  Understanding is not 
parroting back what I put on the blackboard.  It is demonstrating that 
you can use what we have discussed in class and on the problem sets and
in the TA sessions to solve a problem that you have not seen before.  
That is what engineering is all about, and for some of you it is a new 

For many of you, this first exam can serve as an important wake-up call, 
which you will take seriously, *really* learn the material, and do much 
better from here on.  I look forward to seeing that improvement, and your 
final grade in the course will reflect that improvement.  Many students 
in the past have done very poorly on my first midterm and ended up earning 
an A in the course.  If you are one of those who did poorly on this first 
midterm, I hope that you will use it as a lesson, then put it aside and 
move forward.  So, please do not be discouraged, or depressed, or ready 
to quit.  

Several things I need to add.

The student who wrote said he has to start going to more TA sessions.  He did
not say how many he has gone to already.  Any?  Is he one of the 20% who skip
the Friday TA discussion sessions?  I do count how many attend, although we
do not take attendance.  I refuse to treat you like you are still in high
school.  I told you on the first day of class that you are in college, and 
you get to decide how to allocate your time.  If you don't feel the need to 
come to class or TA discussion sessions, that is up to you.  But I think it 
is a mistake.  I have very carefully selected all ten of my TAs and I think
both you and I are lucky to have them.

The student referred to the midterm as a "test of this magnitude."  I don't
know what he meant by that.  The midterm was straightforward.  There were no
trick questions.  There was nothing on the exam that was beyond you, IF you
understood the material.  I will not put trick questions on the exam.  But
I will always put questions that require you to understand the material to
do well.

One thing I would suggest is that you go over each exam question in your
study group.  See if you can recognize what was asked for that would have
achieved 100% on each problem.  If your study group can not do that, please
see one of my TAs.  If you still have a problem, please see me.

If you are not in a study group, I think you are making a mistake as I have
already told you, but again, you are in college - it is up to you.  In that
case, try now to answer the questions on the exam and then see a TA about
confirming that.  If that does not work, see me.

A very few of you probably should not be majoring in ECE, and I am happy 
to talk to you individually about that.  But that is not true of most of 
you.  Most of you are perfectly capable of getting an A in EE306, and 
going on to a very successful time here at UT and beyond.

Please enjoy the weekend, and come to class on Monday, ready to tackle
all the work ahead.

Good luck with the rest of the semester.

Yale Patt