Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm

June 21, 2013 § 4 Comments

Quote by Winston Churchill

As can be guessed from the title, I have come face-to-face with my first failed exam. For those of you that don’t go to Semmelweis, or perhaps another medical school in Hungary, you may not know that failing exams is pretty common. It was a bit of a weird concept for me when I first got here. I found it odd that we had 3 chances at each exam and that there was even an option for a 4th try with permission from the head of the department. I had no idea how much those chances would be used! It is such a shot in the dark when it comes to the outcome of your exam. You may be excellent in 99% of the topics, but then fail on that 1% that you didn’t know well enough. The majority of the exams are oral and the content is based on random topics that you draw from the topic list.

Our exam on Wednesday was split into two parts: a written and an oral part. The written consisted of 10 multiple choice questions (each worth 4 points and minus 1 for each wrong answer), 2 calculations (each worth 20) and a drawing (worth 20). I was unable to answer 3 of the multiple choice questions (one about what Boltzmann distribution shows on a graph, one about thermoluminescent dosimeters and the third I forgot). Of the 7 I answered, I only got 4 right. For the calculations, I completely blanked! I looked at them when I first got my exam and then just panicked and dug myself into a hole. When I looked them up later, after the exam, I realized they weren’t all that complicated – but I clearly did not spend enough time practicing calculations. I don’t remember exactly what they were, but they were something like this:

  1. The voltage amplitude of the 1ms long square pulse of a pacemaker is 3.6V. Find the energy of one pulse if the resistance of the stimulated area between the electrodes is 900Ω.
  2. Calculate the temperature change from a dose of 20 μGy.

My only golden point was my drawing, on which I got the full 20 points. We had to draw the graph of an amplifier without feedback and with positive feedback, indicating the transition bands and high and low pass filters. Similar to this:

Since I failed the written, I didn’t go on to the oral part. Last semester I was exempt from the written portion because my midterm average was above a 4. This semester I was only 0.25 points away from exemption – oh how nice that would have been! Jannie went on to the written (and to eventually pass – go Jannie!) and I headed home to escape the heat. Afterwards, we met up for lunch in front of the Basilica.

I jumped right back in to physics later that evening with a tutoring session with my physics professor. I had seen him at the exam earlier in the day and when I found out I’d failed, I asked if we could meet. For me the issue isn’t not being able to understand the material,  but rather not knowing how deep to go and how much they want. I’ve never had a tutor before, so I had no idea what to expect. It ended up being exactly what I needed. We covered a few topics, including my calculations from my failed exam, but the best part was actually feedback on how I presented myself and my knowledge. Now when I found out I’d failed I wasn’t really surprised – I knew I didn’t have enough points without the calculations. I was a little disappointed, but actually more relieved. I looked at it as an opportunity to learn the information better and was actually happy to have a fail under my belt. We’re here to learn – and not just school topics – but also how to be stronger, how to endure, how to fall and rise, again and again and again. I almost wanted to fail because I knew that it would mean that I had to struggle a little harder and that the victory would then be so much sweeter. I guess you could say that the sweetness of the victory is proportional to the amount of work you put into it. And, although I’d worked my butt off preparing for the exam, a little extra work could never hurt.

Anyways, back to my professor’s feedback. After the tutoring session, I asked him what I could work on. He told me that I am very enthusiastic and that it comes forward in my explanation, but that I have a tendency to add in short half sentences that detract from what I said prior. He said that there were many times that I said something correct and then threw in some irrelevant information that only undermined my correct statement. Then he had a little “a-ha!” moment and told me, “You did it this morning on your exam, when you included negative feedback even though it wasn’t asked, and I remember from your midterms that you always give me too much information. It is good that you know more details, but in the eyes of a teacher, this isn’t the best thing. There is an older professor here who says, ‘to teach is to leave’. That means, to teach someone something is to leave out excess, unnecessary information. It is better to lead someone than to overwhelm them with details. You aren’t getting the grades you deserve when you do this.”

This was something that I’d already suspected about myself and to hear it from a professor was an amazing experience. It doesn’t always feel good to receive criticism but when it confirms something that you have wondered about, there is a certain relief that comes with it. Something I was insecure about was suddenly out in the open and that gave me the chance to welcome it and change it.

A lot has happened since then. I had hoped to write an entry after the exam, but didn’t feel inspired enough. As a result, the “a lot” will have to be summarized.

  1. It’s HOT! Record-breaking heat this week – Wednesday was the hottest it’s been on that same day since 1918! Our apartment is consistently around 34°C (93°F) and we are miserable. Bedtime is a nightmare in this heat.
  2. We found a new apartment! (Well, Skjalg found it and I said yes to it before even seeing it.) It is in a perfect location – overlooking the park between the Basilica and Deák. So, right in the middle of everything. It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large kitchen/living room space, standing-room balconies from the main bedroom and living room overlooking the park, and best of all – air conditioning! The building is quite old…so it has charm…but we will bring it up to home standard in no time. The real kicker – we’ll be paying less than we are paying now! (Not a lot less, but it helps.)
  3. Packing process has begun! I study until I’m too tired to study any more and then pack a couple boxes. Studying for finals while moving is testing my superwoman skills.
  4. Tutoring! I met with my professor again this afternoon. More intimidating and less inspiring than our first session, but informative nonetheless. I get a little nervous when I ask him about things like formation of images in ultrasounds and we end up covering the theory behind hexadecimal colors.

Now it’s off to get in a little studying before bed. In order for me to fall asleep last night I had to lay a cold, wet towel over my torso and place an ice-pack on my chest. Let’s just say I’m not looking forward to going to bed tonight….

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§ 4 Responses to Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm

  • Charkie says:

    Bianca! I so admire your persistent attitude and strength. I’m confident that you’ll know a lot of physics by the end of this! … Plus, that invalluable advice from the professor has come out of this experience, too. “to teach is to leave” — thanks for sharing those words! How great that you had those one-on-one sessions. no doubt he knew what a willing and capable student he had in you 🙂
    oh, and a new apartment! how exciting!!! hope the moving is not too strenuous. can’t wait for the temperature to drop over the next few days.

    • Buda B says:

      Thank you, Charlotte! I appreciate the support 😀 I hope it goes well on Wednesday, god knows I’m trying my best! I’m really thankful to have the opportunity to get that kind of feedback. It will make me a better student in the long run. I’m glad you liked that saying!

      Yes! New place! I can’t wait to move in, though its not helping to reduce my stress level….

  • First of all: I really think that they are taking you too much into the specific of sciences of which you will need to know only the practical applications. But then I am not a professor/administrator there.

    Second: you are already a success. Don’t let anyone, especially the little judgemental self we all carry, tell you otherwise.

    Third: there is opportunity in failure. I always remind myself of the Chinese word/concept “Moo-shoo”. It includes the meaning of crisis and opportunity all in one word. That is the spirit!

    After 5 years as a top student in Italian elementary school, I was trasnsfered to a liceo (high school) outside my boarding school. I developed a block especially to Latin. They got me a tutor, but I only showed up once. I was declared a failure and shunted to an occupational school to learn the printing business. But that failure forced my mother to consider an English Boarding School in The Sudan, and the doors of the English speaking universe were opened for me. Alleluia! And I rose to the opportunity to be first student again.

  • rightproxy says:

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