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8.01's High Failure Rate Eclipses Other Classes

By Stuart Jackson

This past fall, 18 percent of the students in Physics I (8.01)received a failing grade of D or F, according to Professor of Physics George F. Koster '48, course administrator for 8.01.

This is slightly down from the 19 percent failure rate last year but still significantly above the failure rate in other freshmen subjects, Koster said. Koster was disappointed with the large number of students this semester who failed to demonstrate a "minimum knowledge of physics," he said.

For entering students, 8.01 may be the first class in which they have to work to understand the material, said Professor of Physics Wit Busza, 8.01 course examiner. The class is the "first time where there isn't a shortcut. Memory cannot get you out."

However, the course material was "in proportion to the quality of students we have and what I expect from them in the future," Busza said.

A basic understanding of the concepts in 8.01, however, is necessary for MITstudents. MIT gives its students a "solid grounding in problem solving techniques, in understanding basic science. That's the only thing that makes MIT unique. If you remove that you will end up with a second-rate Harvard. It is vital that students get that foundation," Busza said.

A larger percentage of students fail 8.01 than fail other predominantly freshman classes. For instance, the failure rate for Introduction to Solid-State Chemistry (3.091) this fall was 11.5 percent, according to Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Donald R. Sadoway.

Six to 8 percent of students typically fail Principles of Chemical Science (5.11), said Professor of Chemistry Robert W. Field. Of course, many students who are performing poorly in a class choose to drop it rather than to fail, altering the final statistics.

One possible reason for the higher failure rate in 8.01 is the fact that the class is graded on an absolute scale. Other classes, like 3.091, use a curve and standard deviation in determining course grades.

"I do not believe in grading on a curve. I would have been happy to pass 100 percent. I believe in absolutes. I really believe students are not in competition with each other," Busza said.

Students frustrated with class

Students had several concerns over the format and structure of 8.01. The class "definitely needs to be restructured," said Brandi A. Karl '00, who did not pass the course.

Karl thought the course assumed too much previous physics experience, she said. "It's almost like you're supposed to know physics before you get in there," she said.

Karl and another student, Carolyn M. Dunbar '00, disapproved of the emphasis on independent learning and were dissatisfied with the class's approach to teaching, they said.

Dunbar, who also failed the course, would have preferred "having lecture more than just an hour a week." Additionally, recitation instructors spent too much class time going over problem sets and too little class time going over course material, Karl said.

There were also some student concerns over the structure of 8.01 exams. The test material was "more calculus than conceptual stuff," said Joe King '00, who did not pass 8.01. Review lectures before the exams would have helped students a lot, Dunbar said.