The Easy “A” is a Myth

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The Easy “A” is more than just a fantastic Emma Stone movie. I believed in its mysterious ways and felt confident that the gen eds that make up the core curriculum would be my series of easy A’s in college. The core curriculum covers all the subjects I’m good at like literature and philosophy. Basically, if it involves reading, I’m all for it. There are a few extras (math and science, get at me), but they’re just 101’s, nothing to worry about. I maintained this cool-as-a-cucumber mindset until I signed my fate over to a biology course on genetics, aka my hardest spring semester class.

I went into the first lecture with the hubristic thought that I would be fine because, after all, I took bio in high school. And it was one of my best classes. How much harder could this be? The registration page said it was core level, designed for non-science majors just looking to fulfill the requirement. Sign me up!

I found a few friends to sit with in the medium-sized lecture, and the class began. The first day was the usual passing out of syllabi and explanation of the class so I continued to sit on my high horse. The professor was friendly, and the syllabus didn’t look threatening. It was full of ways to earn credit and as long as I did the readings, I thought I’d be OK. All signs pointed to a breezy semester, so I sat down and got comfortable.

Fast forward part way through a crazy, Game of Thrones-scale winter (Welcome to New England). After syllabus day, I didn’t return to that lecture hall for almost a month. And yet, I still wasn’t worried. When it finally came time to go back in February, I emptied my mind and prepared to recall my previous biology knowledge. Sure, it was lodged all the way in the recesses of my high school sophomore mind, but I figured it would all come to me when the slideshow started. That first picture of mitochondria would appear on screen and BAM. That’s the powerhouse of the cell, and I’d be the powerhouse of the class. Notebook in front of me, pen in hand, I was ready to go.

Cue me sitting in my tiny lecture hall desk an hour and 15 minutes later, feeling like I’d been struck by lightning. I don’t know if my hair actually was sticking out around my head like the bride of Frankenstein, but it sure felt like it. In that short class time, we had covered everything I thought I knew. In one lecture. This class was only just starting and I realized I didn’t remember a thing. And I definitely wasn’t getting that “A” easily.

As the weeks went by, I came to accept the class as my most difficult. But I refused to accept defeat. I furiously wrote notes trying to keep up with a PowerPoint that could give NASCAR a run for its money. I abandoned my usual old-fashioned preference for pens and paper and started to bring my laptop, hoping to get more out of each class.

Good thing my attention span only needs one glance at a spam email or Pinterest notification to run away from me at Forrest Gump speed. Eventually, the computer had to go, too, leaving me frustrated, hand-cramped and twitterless.

Sitting in the late afternoon lecture as the winter days melted into a beautiful spring, the last thing I wanted to do was sit inside. My determination had helped me study like a madwoman at the beginning of the semester, but as the class went on and on, my faith in myself was weaning. Each exam grade came back just a little lower than the last. The more I needed to study, the less I could make myself work. Suddenly, everything was more interesting than the stack of review sheets in front of me, and I spent my library time surfing the web and answering emails.

Then it came down to the wire: a group presentation and a final.

Forgetting the only point I had to make, I stood up and botched everything I was supposed to say. I sounded like I hadn’t even peeked at the slides before presentation day.

Scratch the group project, it was down to the final. Praying my former project partners didn’t hate my guts, I tried to cram for my last chance at redemption. Offers to go play Frisbee outside or binge on chocolate-covered pretzels and Mad Men filled me with a longing that ached to my core.

By finals week, I had given up. Instead of studying, I stayed busy with friends, hanging out at the dining hall and lounging. Biology notes were always nearby but never made their way into my line of vision. They called my name–a reminder of the harsh reality I was avoiding–but I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up a highlighter. Biology had conquered me. My final exam reflected that defeat: a fat “C” stared back at me instead of the miracle grade of my dreams. With the exam over and the group projects graded; that was it. I was out of chances.

The “C” sucked. My GPA and mother weren’t pleased with me, but I survived. The one thing that didn’t survive was my assumption that “core” or “intro” were synonyms for easy. But the class didn’t break all of my previously held beliefs. I still know one thing for sure: I’m not majoring in biology any time soon.

Katherine is a sophomore studying secondary education and English at Boston College. She is a lover of reading, quoting movies, and never met a cup of coffee she didn't like.

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