This story starts at the beginning of my senior year at Kent State. I was majoring in Physics and I was taking some high level courses. At the start of my second to the last semester before I was scheduled to graduate I was taking Electro-magnet Theory I (which I loved), Introduction to Quantum and Atomic Theory (which I also loved) and Physical Thermodynamics (which didn't love me).
I thought I was doing rather well in Thermodynamics until I took the first midterm. I thought that the midterm was a breeze until the professor returned it to the class. I was horrified to see that I had scored a 43 out of 100 possible points. I thought I had done much better but I was a victim of my very own Dunning Kruger effect (look it up on Wikipedia, it is really worth it, I hadn't laughed so hard in a long time).
The professor then proceeded to put the curve on the blackboard and I saw I was in the C range. There were only a dozen people in the class. The professor then turned to the class and told us that he didn't care what the curve looked like, that anything below 50 out of 100 was failing.
After the class I talked with the professor and asked him if I could get some of his old exams for practice. He told me that he had a question bank from where he drew his questions for tests so if he gave me his old tests then I would know what questions that he would be asking on his future exams. He did tell me that if I could get any of his old exams from the graduate students I was free to do so.
Now the graduate students acted like a bunch of little old ladies in a combination rest home - obstacle course. They wouldn't have pissed on an undergraduate if that undergraduate was on fire. The professor knew this fact and he knew I wouldn't get any help from that quarter. I guess I should also mention that this professor was tenured and going to retire soon so he could do anything he wanted to do. I will also say that he was a very good professor. I have no complaints about him at all.
I wasn't getting along very well with my father at the time. If I failed this course I didn't know what he was going to do but I knew he wasn't going to be happy. I had a girlfriend at the time that my mother didn't like but that has been par for the course for any girlfriend I have ever had and really for all of my brothers but my third oldest brother’s wife. (I could really get another story out of my girlfriends and my two oldest brothers’ wives and x-wives but it does get rather personal for other people.)
I really put my nose to grind stone and got myself straightened-out from my misconceptions but I was in a very deep hole. I worked very hard on the homework and studied for hours on my own.
I then ran into a friend of mine that had been a physics major but switched to math. She had taken Thermodynamics the year before I had taken it and had her old exams. She agreed to let me have them and copy them.
I studied like a fiend for the second midterm exam. When I sat down to take the exam I really knew what I was doing but I was very nervous. I felt that I had nailed the exam. I did nail the concepts but, unfortunately, some of the basic math had given me problems (like 4x4=8, yes, I actually made that mistake).
When the exam was returned to the class I had scored 51 out of 100. I had made 20 points worth of stupid errors. My fanny was in a very tight crack and the hole had gotten deeper.
I knew that I had to do wonderfully on the final just to get a passing grade.
Now there was one question that was going to be on the exam because the professor had told us on about it on the first day of class.
There was a second question I was sure would be on the final because the professor was showing us a memory cue short cut to remember some equations and he then told us if he asked us to derive said equations then the memory cue was not an acceptable answer.
There was a third question that had been an example that the professor had shown in the class that just seemed to tickle my mind.
There was a fourth question that the professor had used in one of his exams that had been given to me by my friend. This question was so good and elegant that I knew the question had to be used at least once a semester.
The exam was given during the second week of December. It was given in the planetarium at Kent State in the Physics Department building.
There were nine questions on the exam. The instructions told us to do any seven of the nine questions, no more. The four questions I had predicted to be on the exam were there. I picked the three of the remaining five that I felt I understood the best. When I left the final exam I felt that I had done rather well but I had also felt that I had done well on the midterms.
There was nothing to do but wait for the report cards to be mailed home. I spent the next two weeks feeling as if I was bare foot on broken glass. I kept praying for a D in Thermodynamics.
The moment of truth arrived with my report card in the mail. When I started opening the envelope the thought “Please be a ‘D’ and not an ‘F’, Please be a ‘D’ and not an ‘F’,” was becoming my mantra. I opened the envelope and saw that I had gotten a “B” in Thermodynamics.
I felt so relieved.
When the next semester started in January I went to the Thermodynamics professor’s office to get my final. I asked him if he was serious when he said anything below a 50% was failing. He said that he was serious but even though I had done so poorly on the first exam he said I had shown improvement on the second exam, even though I had made all of the stupid mistakes.
The professor then handed me my graded final exam. I had scored 164 out of 200 points. He told me that I had gotten the highest score in the class and there were several graduate students taking the course. Then he told me that because my grades went up during the semester that he felt that I did deserve a “B”.
I thanked the professor and left his office.
Hard work does pay in the end but not digging a hole for yourself pays even better.