This semester was my first semester not taking any technical classes; which mean electives in fields outside of mathematics and engineering.  At the beginning of the semester, I was all excited about this.  All I could think about was that I was going to learn about new material in fields that I had no previous experience in, like psychology.  However, I soon realized that it was not going to be an easy task. The challenge for me as an applied mathematics major was that I had to not think of things in terms of numbers and calculations, but understand concepts as a whole and read way more than I’m used to.

I surprised myself with what a class did for me this semester. I registered for “Intro to Human Factors,” which is an undergrad course offered by the College of Aeronautics, to fill one of my free electives.  I originally only took the class because I was curious as to what it entailed –exploring how humans interact with engineered systems. The first weeks went by and then came the first exam. It was a multiple choice exam, and even if everybody else always says these are easy, I have a profound dislike for them.  I do MUCH better with essay-type questions than multiple-choice for some odd reason.  After that one exam, I was convinced that I was going to drop the class – not because it wasn’t entertaining, but because I just could not study for that type of exam. Throughout the past years, my brain got so used to working out problems and finding x’s and y’s that I had absolutely no idea how to study for an exam that required me to read lots and lots of pages. I was disheartened, confused, ridiculously tired and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t want to give up!

Thankfully I didn’t and I continued to show up to class and found that the material being taught was actually super interesting. Then the second exam was announced. I was very anxious at first and I debated on whether I should go forward with it or drop it. And then some sort of epiphany came up to me – I decided to apply my methodical and mathematical way of studying to tackle the exam.  Throughout the exam I kept thinking to myself “Think of everything as an equation something’s bound to come out of it.” I finished the test feeling quite confident, perhaps about ten times more confident than I was when I finished the first one.  I was pretty content with myself, and decided that whatever the outcome was, I gave it my best.

A week later, I came out of that class and I couldn’t be happier. I got an “A” on said exam and when I went home that day, I reflected on what I did the first time and what I did differently this time. I only realized that I had to change my way of studying and considering that I couldn’t adopt a new way of studying, I decided to apply my mathematical background to this class. Everything in mathematics is logical and there’s almost always bound to be a right answer. (Then again, the probability of getting something right in multiple choice is 0.25%.  I would be lying if I said that didn’t help.)

My point is that even if a class is very difficult and you think you’re not geared enough to go through it, sit back and think about how you can apply what you already know to the class.  It’ll bring you a long way.

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