You’re Smarter Than You Think You Are

One of the most poignant moments that stood out to me during my senior year AP Language class (which, for the most part, was a blur) was my teacher’s excited praise of my friend Berkely’s essay about Big Pharma.

“There’s this one line,” she shared enthusiastically, “that has logos, pathos, AND, ethos!”

Berkely nodded, and the rest of us stared at him. The entire classroom was full of awe, and not just because our English teacher was notoriously difficult to please. It was because everyone had, falsely, believed Berkely wasn’t good at English. He had advertised himself, even, as “bad” at humanities, often disengaged and confused in literature and history classes.

He had a reputation for being incredibly smart, and through his PSAT and SAT scores (the former of which had qualified him as a National Merit semi-finalist), it was clear that he was well-rounded. His reputation, however, centered around STEM.

Credit: Columbia Spectator

No one was better than him at math. It didn’t matter if it was algebra or geometry or calculus. Math was his thing. In 6th grade, I won the Continental Mathematics League award in my school, and a year later I met Berkely, who casually noted that he had won the same award... on a national level.

My pre-algebra teacher in middle school chased him down, begging him to join MathCounts, an offer he consistently refused. He excelled in everything STEM, getting near perfect scores in chemistry, biology, physics, geometry, everything. He walked out of our AP Calculus exam (he was in the BC class, of course) with the monotone observation that he definitely got a 5, no cockiness at all.

I always thought he, and some of the other people in my classes, were exceptions. There are left and right brain people, and I was right brained, I told myself. I took all the classes that were expected of me; suffering through AP Chem, cruising through my humanities like AP Lang, APUSH, AP Psych, and AP World, and just making it with 4s on the AP Calc AB and APES exams.

Credit: Visually

When I failed my first bio exam, I told myself that it was fine, because I wasn’t failing in English, and English was my forte.

When I got all Cs and Ds on my pre-calculus quizzes and tests (but somehow miraculously pulled off a B- in the class), I reconciled that with the fact that I was thriving in AP Psych and APUSH.

I’m an English/Psych double major, and a month into taking EC101, I added economics minor to the list too. My AP scores fulfilled a lot of the quantitative reasoning and scientific inquiry units of the Hub, but I still needed quantitative reasoning II, so I thought I’d take MA124, or Calculus II.

All of senior year, my AP Calc teacher told us that we’d be taking calculus in college. Maybe Calc II if we did well on the exam, maybe Calc I again if we needed a review or wanted it to be more easygoing. So, naturally, I registered for Calc II at BU. No hesitation there.

I didn’t really care that the class moved so fast and that all my classmates were aspiring scientists and engineers, until my quiz average was a 2/6 and I got a D on my first midterm. Talk about a wake-up call.

On the night before my second midterm, a part of me finally realized that if I didn’t start getting my act together I would actually fail a class. Not the B’s my high school friends and I obnoxiously referred to as “failing” a class, but an actual, substandard, less than 60% grade.

I was terrified. Math had long ceased to be my thing and the curve in that class had proved itself to be not in my favor. But that heightened sense of fear and anxiety was good for one thing: it got me to print out the 2012 released midterm and work through the problems. When I started, I got a 14% on it. Daunting.

Credit: Math Fail

When I took my actual midterm, I got a 73. The class average was a 67 and, although I only beat the average by 6%, it was a huge feat compared to my first midterm, when I was more than one standard deviation below the mean (I was actually good at stats in high school... good enough, at least, to know that that was bad!).

MA124 is curved, and when the course coordinator sent out the email with approximate letter grades and their ranges and I saw that my 73 would be weighed as approximately a B, I was elated.

Pulling off my target final grade in that class, a B-, will still be nearly impossible, as an entire letter grade below that is more realistic. All I can do now is study, pay attention during lectures, and hope the curve works in my favor.

Me in calculus and Berkely in English is proof that you’re smarter than you think. It’s a mind game that you’re playing on yourself. Once you get past the mental block of “You’re a __________ person, you don’t have to be/won’t be good at __________,” things will work out.


Good luck with final exams. You’re smarter than you think.


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