Survival Skills for Required Courses that Suck
October 26, 2012 8:15 AM   Subscribe

What did you do to get through required courses that you hated, but in which you needed to do well? Help me make mine more bearable.

I'm a post-baccalaureate pre-med student, taking the courses required for med school admission. For the most part, I love my classes, and I'm kicking ass. But I hate intro Bio, for so many reasons: with this professor, a huge chunk of the grading is largely arbitrary, she doesn't let you keep your exam papers after they're graded so you can't use them to refine your study methods, and a huge chunk of the class grade is based on group work with an arbitrarily assigned group (and mine happens to be a bunch of non-motivated people who just want to get out of lab as quickly as possible).

It's all a damn shame, because the material itself is totally fascinating.

I'm not going to withdraw from the course because I'm doing well enough (I still have a chance at an A) that to take it again would just be to needlessly suffer. But I've got to find ways to make it more bearable, because I'm sure this won't be the last course that will make me want to tear my hair out.

What did you do to get through required courses that you hated, but in which you needed to do well?
posted by ocherdraco to Education (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go to office hours. Get insight.
posted by k8t at 8:26 AM on October 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Which postbac program are you? What exactly do you mean by the grading?

A lot of my bio profs (for bio 1 & 2 and also microbio) didn't allow you to keep exams.

What do the exams look like?
posted by discopolo at 8:26 AM on October 26, 2012

Also, talk to your professor. Are you sure you're spending enough time studying, reviewing notes, reading your textbook?

Most profs are used to a motivated student getting mixed in with slackers. Talk to the prof.
posted by discopolo at 8:30 AM on October 26, 2012

I think you are bean plating this. It's a required class, you are doing well, and you find the material fascinating. What was the problem again? You are going to to stuck working with people not up to your standards for the rest of your life. Get used to it.
posted by COD at 8:33 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you'll find that the not-getting-exams-back thing is pretty common in professional and pre-professional program - I don't know what your previous educational background is like but I have found that health sciences programs have a completely different approach to cheating prevention compared to, say, liberal arts programs.

But if you feel like you don't know enough about how you did on the exam perhaps you could talk to your professor and ask her to give you more feedback on what specific questions you got wrong? Maybe you could go over the exam with the professor or a TA? (Basically what k8t said.)

Are your group members holding you back/not doing their part, or just annoying? If it's the latter, suck it up; if it's the former, and you can talk about it *with* facts and *without* whining, it may be worth talking to the professor about.

Even if there's nothing you can do about the frustrating aspects, you must be about halfway through with this class, right? That's awesome! Go you! Seven more weeks!
posted by mskyle at 8:37 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Which postbac program are you?

I'm not in a program. I'm taking courses independently.

What do the exams look like?

Each exam has many different versions: for example, on the most recent exam, mine was primarily about the development of the theory of evolution, while another student's was primarily about bacteria. All the exams are full of gotcha questions (in which you may have a question mostly correct, but if you get one aspect incorrect, you get no credit).

Also, talk to your professor.

The professor has stated that she will not give any guidance on how to get better grades in the course other than "Join a study group." I have joined a study group.

What was the problem again?

The problem is that I hate the class because it's so frustrating. And because I hate it, I am having difficulty forcing myself to go to lecture, to study hard (because how much I study seems not to affect my grades), and to do what I need to do. So I need help figuring out how to keep my engine running in order to do the things I need to do.

Get used to it.

You have correctly identified the point of my question. I know I need to get used to it. I need help figuring out how.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:47 AM on October 26, 2012

There is no magic formula. For something like a class where you will probably never see these people again after 12-15 weeks, you work around them the best you can. Motivation is internal. Nobody can make you like the class, or get up out of bed and go to it 3X a week. That is all on you. Maybe recognizing that point is the answer. It's 6-8 more weeks of your life on the way to a much bigger prize. Don't look for solutions that aren't really there. Just do it.
posted by COD at 9:00 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used my mantra of "I can do XYZ for 6 months/1 semester" over and over. The timeframe varies like when I was trying to finish my masters full time in one year with an almost full time job. " I can do this for one year and then it is over". Must have said it a million times, but it worked.
posted by maxg94 at 9:01 AM on October 26, 2012

What helps you get through other unpleasant-but-necessary tasks? How do you psych yourself up for a dentist's appointment, for example?

Also: if studying hard really doesn't affect your grades, do you really need to study hard? If this course is really just a hoop you need to jump through, jump through that hoop doing the bare minimum necessary to clear the bottom of the hoop. If you're interested in the material, learn the material.

I took multiple classes I hated and thought were useless when I was working on my professional degree, and one thing that helped me was loooong bathroom breaks in the middle of the class (these were three-hour classes, so difficult just from a sitting in the same place perspective) and long ranty livejournal entries (livejournal being the style at the time).
posted by mskyle at 9:02 AM on October 26, 2012

Is it a study group of likeminded students? Or are they slackers too? Because my suggestion is: Join a different, additional study group. Blow off steam about your slacker lab group (ugh, they are the worst). Find out how everyone else is going on the exams and how they're studying. Talk to a lot of people and find out how they were tripped up so you'll get a sense of common pitfalls.

This point in the semester is naturally frustrating. The roller coaster will start going downhill really soon.

Persevere! And if that fails, bribe yourself with ridiculous coffee drinks.
posted by purpleclover at 9:06 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it just takes focus. You have to focus on the goal - to make an ok grade in this class so you can get into med school. Whenever you are flagging, remember that this will be over in a matter of weeks and you just have to make it through. Try to find enjoyable parts of the class -- is the textbook pretty good? Do you like reading it? Then spend your time doing that. If it truly doesn't matter how you study, then study in a way that's interesting to you. Try not to get caught up in the structure of the class, and concentrate more on the material. I used to show up to lecture, and if I could tell it was going to be another waste of time, I would start reviewing my flashcards, or whatever.

Also, is your study group made up of motivated people? My study groups always gave assignments to the members (write up notes on X topic; figure out how to do Y and teach the group next time, etc). I wouldn't want to let my fellow students down, so I would always work hard on my parts. This only works if everyone else has a similar sense of responsibility, though.
posted by bluefly at 9:07 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes professors get jaded and implement weird policies. Make an appointment with her, not on the front of "getting an A" but "how to better understand the data" and she'll think more favorably of you. Then you can go over what you're doing to study and the problems you're running into, and most likely be more helpful.

It depends a lot on where you're going to school. I find some schools just full of slackers and teachers who are used to dealing with slackers. Some schools are full of more motivated students and teachers who are good at teaching to motivated students.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:09 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sometimes professors get jaded and implement weird policies.

This is exactly what seems to be the case with my professor.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:22 AM on October 26, 2012

Thanks, everyone. Here are the things I am going to use:

COD: "It's 6-8 more weeks of your life on the way to a much bigger prize. Don't look for solutions that aren't really there. Just do it."

maxg94: "I used my mantra of "I can do XYZ for 6 months/1 semester" over and over."

purpleclover: " Join a different, additional study group.... Persevere! And if that fails, bribe yourself with ridiculous coffee drinks."

bluefly: "Try not to get caught up in the structure of the class, and concentrate more on the material."

Now I'm off to play the part of the Little Engine that Could.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:30 AM on October 26, 2012

I have that prof, too. I am taking two classes on-line this semester in a post-bac program for speech language pathology. One of my profs writes the kind of very long true-false questions that you describe, where the T/F value hinges on some obscure detail; she won't give study guides for exams; and so on. I was just commenting to my partner the other night that my two classes are a good example of how a person's grade doesn't just depend on them. One prof's exams are so chaotic and gotcha!-based that it's likely my grade will under-represent how well I know the matieral, whereas the other's are so gentle that my grade so far overstates how deeply I grasp what we're working on.

It's very frustrating, but it is what it is. What is helping me is to not let myself get too worked up about a reality I can't change, to study as well as I can for exams without making myself crazy trying to learn every footnote in the hope of not being tripped up, and to know that it all works out in the end, more or less. Everybody knows that a bad prof or a bad prof/student fit can depress grades; even if your prof's quirks, or my prof's, result in lower grades than we'd like to get, that's likely to be one bump in a strong transcript

In your case, I would take the specific steps available to the extent possible: talking to the prof or TA about your group, talking honestly to your group about thier contributions if you haven't done that already. But to some extent, as folks have said, you just have to keep doing the work and count down the days.

I share your pain. I'm studying today for an exam that has me both anxious and frustrated. I'm just studying as hard as I can, and stopping when I reach the point of such diminishing returns that it's not worth it. Good luck.
posted by not that girl at 9:51 AM on October 26, 2012

Eh, I think we all had that kind of asshole professor.

If you're getting a decent grade, then just do what you can to preserve it.

If you can't game her, or figure her out, then settle for a B. The world won't come to an end.

I had to put up with this crap and ended up with a C-.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:03 AM on October 26, 2012

Here's some neat tricks to try:
Pretend your playing a role of someone that likes the class. You're "job" while at the class is as an actor whose role is to be a good student that enjoys the class.

Homework and study groups are helping to research the role a bit better.

When it starts to get more than you can take say to yourself "I really like this class", whether you believe it or not. Write it down, if that helps.

Other things to keep yourself motivated:
Play a game trying to guess the next topic the professor will bring up.
Build a bingo card of terms relevant to the course.

The above are just a combination of two techniques: One is transferring the context of the class from something you don't like to something you do. The second is the good old "fake it til you make it" strategy.

But also keep in mind that at the end of the day you just need to pass the class.
posted by forforf at 10:46 AM on October 26, 2012

Can you mentally reframe this class as a challenge from the professor? The professor is challenging/ betting on your ability to pass/ fail the course.

You: You think I can't do this professor? That I'm weak? Well I'll show you...

You then spend the rest of the term making all efforts to prove to you, your professor, and the medical school admissions that you belong in med school.

I'm a bit contrary... can you tell?
posted by oceano at 10:48 AM on October 26, 2012

Persevere! And if that fails, bribe yourself with ridiculous coffee drinks.

This is absolutely the best advice. Sometimes you can't logic yourself into tolerating a lousy class, especially when it involves a lousy group and apathetic professor. There may be someone in your group who is willing to step it up if you can identify them, and sometimes that's enough to motivate everyone else. If not, ridiculous coffee drinks.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:52 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

how much I study seems not to affect my grades

This sounds totally frustrating and would annoy me too. What I've done in similar situations is remind myself that I need to learn the material and that no one is going to give me a pass on not knowing this stuff later just because I had a bad prof now. So maybe think of it not as studying for this class with its stupid rules but as studying for upper-level bio classes/MCAT/med school. That way you're just preparing for something in the future that you're excited about.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 11:18 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a professor. I see two types of students who come to me. One is the "how can I get an A/what is the magic formula for you to give me the grade I want." In general, it comes from students who don't care about the actual content; they just want the magic "A" with the least engagement and effort possible. It's probable that your professor is putting up some of these policy barriers because s/he gets this a lot (the exam thing is about cheating, though - not much you can do about that).

The second type is the one who wants to understand the work itself. In general, they will ask me about the material that's just been assessed, and ask me if I can explain whatever's not clear for them. Not "why didn't I get an A" or "what did I do wrong and why are you punishing me for it" but "is there something I'm not getting - I really want to understand this." Leave grades out of the conversation and engage your professor about the material itself. You say you find the material fascinating, so it shouldn't be too much of a stretch.
posted by media_itoku at 5:46 PM on October 28, 2012

As a student and a professor sometimes you just need to have faith that the system will weed out some of the students who lack motivation and knowledge. Until that happens we need to learn and teach around them.
posted by 26.2 at 6:34 PM on November 5, 2012

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