The title says it all, I studied very hard I would say, and it’s seemed to amount to nothing. I mainly focused on one part of the material since we only had to solve 2 out of the 4 problems on the exam and usually 2 questions where from what I focused on. As luck had it, there was only 1 problem for what I have studied for, and the problem was very hard and I could not solve it. The other problems seemed almost unsolvable unless you have seen the trick before , which I have not. Thus I could not solve any of the problems. The exam was supposed to mimic the qualifying exam, and the mean was 65%.

I have no idea how to move forward from here. It makes me feel like I am not cut out for math graduate school. What keeps me sane is the fact that I do well on the homework’s , when I have time to look at them.

Oddly enough I think the biggest pain is the shame and feeling of disappointing the professor. I visit his office hours regularly to ask questions and I end up with a 0%.. it will be humiliating having to pick up the midterm.

Any advice as to how to move on From here would be appreciated. Should I treat this as a wake up call and start studying harder and use this as motivation? Or should I just give up?

  • I voted to close because the question is pure opinion; in addition I think it is primarily a complaint rather than a question. – Anonymous Physicist Nov 4 '19 at 11:10
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    Just for clarification: You write "I do well on the homework". Do you solve the homework problems by yourself, or do you rely strongly on asking the instructor during office hours, discussing with fellow students, googling for hints, etc.? There is a big difference between understanding solutions that are presented to you and finding solutions yourself. In the exam, you need the latter. – Uwe Nov 4 '19 at 11:36
  • @Uwe to be perfectly transparent, on the very hard problems that is exactly what I do. However I would like to point out that most of the students do the same thing so I feel like I should not have been left behind THAT much. I always try the problems myself and if I don’t fully get it I might get a hint,but I always take time to understand the solutions and get “main trick” behind them. – Gradstudent Nov 4 '19 at 14:29

Remember exams are supposed to measure your mastery of the material, and if you focus on only two out of four topics, you haven't mastered all the material - at best you've mastered 50%. Trying to game a passing score this way is not a winning strategy; even if it works, you'll come out of grad school thinking you barely learned anything (example).

That said, one failed midterm isn't the end of your graduate program. It's likely even one failed course isn't the end either. You will however need to step up your game. If you're able to do the homework but not the exams, figure out why. You alluded to you being able to "having time to look at the homework". If this is the reason, then you must work faster. Try doing the homework problem with solution covered up, and timing yourself. Repeat it several times. The time you need should go down, and if you can do that, you can solve the exam questions in the time available too.

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    I might be doing quite the opposite of not understanding. I think I focus too much on understanding every detail that it wastes time. Instead of developing problem solving skills I try to understand each proof in the book etc. that is why I resorted to the method, I had to. Thank you for the words of encouragement, I will work harder and hope it brings fruits. – Gradstudent Nov 4 '19 at 14:32

Don't think to much about being ashame for scoring low. One of my professor pointed out that we should be mature, meaning don't just look at the score, look at what you learn. Even if you can't solve it in class you should talk to someone, e.g. your professor, to know how to solve it, and that helps you learn.

Remember your (short term) goal is to pass the qual, your course and midtem is just a way to help you achieve this goal. Nobody will care about what you scored on one midterm after the qual.

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