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My Biggest Academic Surprise


Spoiler Alert: Homework assignments cannot be done alone in one sitting!

This was my biggest surprise about academics in college.  In high school, I would always finish an assignment in one night.  I would come home from soccer or swim practice, sit down, open my textbook to the page where the 30 math problems were, and begin to regurgitate the exact same thing I had done in class that day, solving the same type of problem over 30 times, only with different numbers each time.  Thirty minutes later, all my math homework would be done and I would be on to the next subject.

Math homework was no longer simple addition with easy numbers.

When I sat down to begin my first college homework assignment, a Math 21a (Multivariable Calculus) problem set (what non-essay homework assignments are called in college), I thought, Oh, there are only 5 problems that all fit on one side of a piece of paper with fairly large font, this won’t be bad at all…Wow, this assignment is not even due for 4 days, I am really getting it done early considering it was just assigned today! Call me naive, but I had never known anything else.


My Math 21a book
Above: My Math 21a book

I was utterly surprised when 30 minutes later, I was still struggling with question 2.  I quickly learned that college homework assignments were very, very different than high school homework assignments: there was only a fraction of the number of questions, assignments could not be done in one sitting, and typically, the only way to get through an assignment successfully was by working with others.  Thankfully, there was a Math Question Center (MQC) every weekday night that I was able to go to with my friends to get help.

No longer was a problem set something I sat down and finished in one night.  No longer could I do all my work independently without the help of friends or professors in their office hours.  No longer was I simply repeating the exact same thing I had done in class.  Finally, I was learning something from my homework assignments.  I would be using the knowledge from class and applying it to only a few problems, all of which took a significant portion of time to complete.  I was learning to ask others for help and how to work together, pulling from each person’s strengths to complete assignments.  Homework assignments finally made sense - they served a purpose and taught me something!

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