With another midterm season approaching its end (because somehow a semester has multiple middles here at Tufts), I found myself in a familiar place: room 106 of Pearson Hall. Flipping through the pages of a 10-question chemistry exam and realizing that questions nine and 10 are, in that moment, incomprehensible, is quickly becoming a regular occurrence. The intrusive mental image of a C+ in the Trunk grade book is enough to scare away any gleaming hope needed to prevent said image from becoming a reality, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Instead of considering the side effects of test anxiety, which are both real and valid, there is also a need to consider the blatant possibility of failure. With an admissions rate of 14 percent, Tufts rarely sees first-years emboldened by years of underachievement. However, normal curves and confounding statistics make it impossible for that trend to continue. Failure is an inevitable part of attending a prestigious institution and existing on this planet. First-years that arguably never had to struggle throughout high school are now faced with classes where a surface level understanding won’t suffice.
Failure can only be defined when the pretenses for success are set. If knowing most of the material is the goal, then a 51 percent should be sufficient. After hours of studying a specific chapter, breezing through a question on a related topic could be seen as a win. Sometimes, the objective is to halt the negative trajectory of a semester by getting a score that was a letter grade higher than the last two exams. But perhaps the institutionalized practice of announcing class averages, and highs, eliminates the desire to achieve a personal best.
Sourness derived from not putting in the effort to understand a particularly confusing concept, absentmindedly missing a conversion, or even last-minute errors in computation due to bad timekeeping can be excused. However, griping over not being the highest achiever, or not meeting the class average, is in and of itself a pointless practice. Taking an exam for the sole, vain purpose of achievement is like running a marathon just to win: the beautiful nuances associated with the journey get lost in the rush. It is the rhythmic pattern of desiring, working, performing and achieving dozens of times each cycle that makes the endeavor worth your while.
This is not to detract from the capabilities of curve wreckers and hard workers. Natural brilliance and aptitude are worthy of admiration. However, the plight of the underdog is a romantic, American adventure made possible by the tinge of failure. Triumphant victory after catastrophic defeat is exponentially more delectable than bland, unchallenged, seemingly unearned success.
When all is said and done, putting in hours at Tisch Library does not always equate to getting impeccable grades right out. The process of learning, and learning about how you learn, is an eternal aspect of life. The unceasing effort of a college experience that continues to reinvigorate the vitality of this challenge is almost worth $70,000 a year.