# Inspirational Math Story

When I first arrived at the University of Chicago, I was trying to place into an honors level 2nd year course: "Honors Analysis in R^n". To put it into perspective, this rigorous proof-based course at the undergraduate level is more rigorous than some PhD level Analysis in R^n courses at many universities, requiring 40 hours of study a week to get a good grade. Most high school students, even the ones who score perfect scores on standardized tests, never see a rigorous mathematical proof, and I had barely any familiarity with them.

On the math placement test, I scored highly enough to take the nonhonors Analysis course. I was both pleased and disappointed. I decided I would go to both the honors and the nonhonors class and see which was more appropriate. The first day of Honors Analysis, all students who placed into regular analysis were issued another placement test.

While waiting on the results, I kept attending both classes. The first few lectures of both courses were not that difficult, and I had actually seen the topics before. However, I was putting more effort into the honors course and neglecting the one I was actually enrolled in. When the honors test results came back, I scored...drumroll...2%. The average was 10%, so I didn't get to stay. Bummer. By that time, I was completely neglecting the course that I was actually in, and I scored a 40% on the first midterm, when the mean was a 70%. Failing my first math course at U of C as a math major?! Not gonna happen! I started working really hard, not only to catch up, but to get ahead. I began spending 2 full days (10hrs/day) on every weekly problem set (1 day was enough for a B or a C), reading and rereading the text and class notes, going to every TA session, and so on. My homework scores gradually started rising, and I eventually became "the kid who answers the professor's questions in class". I got an A for the course.

By the way, I found out a year later from a student in the honors course that the standard deviation of the test scores was significantly larger than the mean (so the test scores were meaningless), and that because of this, the instructor ended up letting everyone who wanted in in. So it turned out that I could have stayed. But it wasn't such a bad thing, because all of that time I would have spent focusing on the honors math course I was able to spend on my other courses, maintaining that balance which was the point of my liberal arts education in the first place.

On the math placement test, I scored highly enough to take the nonhonors Analysis course. I was both pleased and disappointed. I decided I would go to both the honors and the nonhonors class and see which was more appropriate. The first day of Honors Analysis, all students who placed into regular analysis were issued another placement test.

While waiting on the results, I kept attending both classes. The first few lectures of both courses were not that difficult, and I had actually seen the topics before. However, I was putting more effort into the honors course and neglecting the one I was actually enrolled in. When the honors test results came back, I scored...drumroll...2%. The average was 10%, so I didn't get to stay. Bummer. By that time, I was completely neglecting the course that I was actually in, and I scored a 40% on the first midterm, when the mean was a 70%. Failing my first math course at U of C as a math major?! Not gonna happen! I started working really hard, not only to catch up, but to get ahead. I began spending 2 full days (10hrs/day) on every weekly problem set (1 day was enough for a B or a C), reading and rereading the text and class notes, going to every TA session, and so on. My homework scores gradually started rising, and I eventually became "the kid who answers the professor's questions in class". I got an A for the course.

By the way, I found out a year later from a student in the honors course that the standard deviation of the test scores was significantly larger than the mean (so the test scores were meaningless), and that because of this, the instructor ended up letting everyone who wanted in in. So it turned out that I could have stayed. But it wasn't such a bad thing, because all of that time I would have spent focusing on the honors math course I was able to spend on my other courses, maintaining that balance which was the point of my liberal arts education in the first place.