Two Engineering Midterm Exams, Two Different Results, One Important Lesson

This is a tale of two midterm exams.

In my fourth year as a civil engineering student, I did everything I can to get the best grades in all of my subjects in an attempt to still graduate with honors and qualify as Cum Laude, since I had to recover all my other subjects with low grades.

Foundation Engineering was one of my subjects in the 2nd semester. It was like an advanced Soil Mechanics, and our teacher did not make the course a walk in the park: During midterms, I was sweating like a pig when I realized I could not get enough correct answers to pass. I was not prepared for the test’s level of difficulty at all, and at that point I was already convinced I won’t be able to make it as an honors graduate (disclaimer: I did not make it).

Once we got our testpapers back, I scored a striking 50/100. I was so disappointed in myself. I knew I could do better.

For context, I was an average to above average engineering student, sometimes shining, often just meh. I failed a lot of times too. But I know that when I put my mind into it and study the material like my life depends on it, I will be able to perform. Like a true multipotentialite.

In my fifth and final year, I gave up on going after the accolade. I computed my grades and all I needed was a miracle to reach the goal: I had to get 1.0 as my final grade in all subjects to graduate with honors, which is considered god-like in engineering. Feeling defeated, I only studied so I could present a decent transcript for my employment. Hence, I still strived.

In my Earthquake Engineering class, I studied hard. This subject followed Foundation Engineering, so it was a perfect moment of redemption for me from my performance, or lack thereof, in my previous subject.

For midterms, I remember I practiced solving a lot of problems to master the topic. But I did not really expect to get a perfect score in the exam, the only one in my class to do so.

I can still remember how I received the precious testpaper: A classmate shared the good news as I go upstairs to attend the class since I skipped half of it for an important thesis matter (I was graduating, so priorities!). That classmate also told me that our teacher dismissed early and that I got the highest grade for midterms. I did not believe him. I raced to meet my teacher just before he could leave the room and get the testpaper. He congratulated me as I reach for it and said no one usually gets a perfect score in his exams. My heart felt warm. And for the record, it was the only major exam in my entire engineering student life that I got a perfect score.

Despite that performance, as mentioned, I failed to march in our October 2014 graduation as Cum Laude. It didn’t matter to me anymore as long as I have earned the diploma, the minimum.

But with these two testpapers in mind, they serve as a reminder that I can make it if I have the desire to work hard for it. And that failures might seem the worst at first, they just prepare us to become the best.

An earlier version of this was posted on my Facebook page.

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