Friday, August 28, 2009

A tale of two B's

As an undergraduate, I got only two B's; the rest were A's. Not that I necessarily deserved the A's: the school did not have a plus/minus system, and I can think of at least one class where by the requirements stated out in the syllabus, I deserved a solid B but got an A anyway (maybe the instructor wanted to reward what she saw as my "hard work"?....I guess I'll never know). Also, my university was not necessarily the most challenging, which might also explain the high number of A's.

But this post is not about the A's. It's about the two B's. My first B was in a first semester physics class. My second was in a Constitutional Law class (a political science class).

For the physics class, for starters I must say that it was one of the less challenging physics classes I could have taken. The class did not assume the students had studied calculus (which I had in high school) and the course was graded only on performance in the lab and on four exams (if I remember correctly): three midterms with 10 multiple choice questions each, and one final with 20 multiple choice questions.

I memorized all the formulas I was supposed to for the class. I went to each lab faithfully, I got A's on all the midterms and I scored so low on the final that my grade was brought down to a B. If I had gotten one more answer right (or guessed the right answer), I might have gotten an A for the semester.

I should say if I had gotten an A, I would not have deserved it. I scarcely believe that I deserved a B. Here's why: I did the work, but I didn't really learn much from it. I memorized what I had to and promptly forgot it when the semester was over. While I appreciate the need to understand science--yes, even a liberal arts major like me believed that studying and understanding the natural sciences was important--I dropped the ball. Other than the 3 credits and fulfilling one of my lab-science requirements, I got nothing out of the class. Too bad, so sad.

My other "B" class was in constitutional law. It was probably the hardest class I had or have ever taken. For each day, we had to read 2 or 3 (or more rarely, 4) Supreme Court cases. The professor would call us randomly and we had to, without notes, "present" the case, and then answer his questions about it. (When I was presenting on one case--INS v. Chadha--the professor asked me "what was Congress thinking when they passed that law?" I told him I didn't understand the question, and he said "That's the right answer!")

The tests were hard. While undoubtedly they weren't as hard as one would get in law school, they were based on a model that I understand is used in law school exams: they presented a hypothetical court case and we had to write the Supreme Court's decision, taken into account the precedents we had learned about over the course of the semester.

The grade cut-offs were steep: 93% was an A, 86% was a B, 79% was a C, and (if I recall correctly), 70% was the cut off for a D. (The professor was clear from the very beginning what the grading scale was like, so everyone would have had the chance to drop if they found it too hard.)

I worked very hard that semester. My first midterm, I got a D. Eventually, I got a B overall in the class.

That class has got to have been one of the the most useful I have ever taken. I still use what I learned in that class, and I have expanded my knowledge of all I learned there.

I got two B's as an undergraduate, but those B's weren't created equal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A Tale of Two Bs! I love it. This is one of my favorite pieces of your writing. It reminds us that grades are not as important as actually learning the material and making it useful to one's life. This is brilliant. Nice work. :)