Last semester, the freshman class’ passing rate for the math and science General Institute Requirements (GIRs) was 96.3 percent. According to Julie B. Norman, the Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, this pass rate is similar to previous years’ numbers. Of the 203 students who received fifth-week flags, 15 dropped the subject they were flagged in, and 39 did not end up passing.
“Seventy-three percent of the students who were flagged responded and turned it around, passing the subject in which they were flagged,” Norman stated. Although there were also students who failed without receiving a fifth-week flag in the subject, these statistics were not released.
“Flags are a good predictor of end-of-terms actions, particularly if a student receives more than one flag,” said Norman. “We certainly have students that were not flagged, who at the end of the term, for various reasons, do not pass their subjects.”
Students in 8.01L (Physics I: Classical Mechanics) had the lowest pass rate of all the GIRs, with a 78.1 percent rate. The class covers the same material as 8.01 but at a slower pace, geared toward students with less physics experience in high school.
“With the exception of 8.01L, the passing rate for the math and science GIR subjects was this term, and always is, in the mid-90s,” said Norman.
Of all the GIRs, 7.012 (Introduction to Biology) had the highest recovery rate. Of the 580 freshmen enrolled, 76 were issued flags, three dropped, and only five (or 6.6 percent) of those flagged ended up not passing. 7.012 issued the most fifth-week flags to freshmen last semester, with a 13 percent freshman flag rate. According to Norman, the subject with the most fifth-week flags varies from year to year.
“This year, it was biology. We had a lot of students who chose to take biology because of the faculty member who was teaching it,” said Norman. “They possibly didn’t have the chemistry background that they needed. There is never one subject that is always the subject with the most flags.”
Students who fail a GIR in the fall usually have several options in the spring to fulfill that GIR. People who fail a chemistry GIR in the fall can take 5.111 (Principles of Chemical Science) or 3.091 (Introduction to Solid State Chemistry) in the spring.
However, a select number of students who do not pass 8.01 in the fall are given the chance to take a new 8.01 final exam at the end of IAP after undergoing daily intensive review during that period. If they do well, their physics grade is changed from a D to a C-, and they can take 8.02 in the spring.
“The Physics Department noticed that, each year, there is a small number of students who only narrowly miss passing 8.01,” explained 8.01 Course Administrator Deepto Chakrabarty ’88. “We felt that these students show sufficient command of the material that they would benefit from a ‘second chance’ to pass the final exam, as an alternative to repeating the entire course.”
Although the 8.01 instructors are the ones who determine who can participate in the Second Chance program, Chakrabarty stressed that students who receive an F are not eligible, and not all students who receive a D are eligible.
“Students should not assume that they will definitely be able to take advantage of this option if they receive a D in 8.01 — they may still need to repeat 8.01,” warned Chakrabarty. “But we hope to continue to offer it on a regular basis. Our data show that the students who pass the Second Chance program generally do well in 8.02 in the spring, so it seems to be successful at improving outcomes for the Physics GIRs.”
In addition, MIT offers a special version of Classical Mechanics, 8.011, in the spring for those who did not pass a version of 8.01.
Isaac L. LaJoie ’16, a student in 8.011 this semester, said that he had taken a basic, non-calculus based physics class in high school. He started last semester with 8.01 before switching into 8.01L.
“When I made the switch into 8.01L from 8.01, I felt like I was already really behind and I was never able to catch up. We had a test five days after I switched into the class. I didn’t know what the material was over, and I ended up bombing the test,” said LaJoie. “There was also that stigma of ‘pass/no record,’ with upperclassmen saying, ‘Don’t worry, you’re on pass/no record,’ which told me that I wouldn’t need to work as hard if I just wanted to pass. Also, the complete lack of numbers really stumped me. Do they not exist here?”
Fellow 8.011 classmate Sean D. Bingham ’16 estimates that there are about 38 people in his class, in which he sees “a lot of familiar faces.”
“8.011 is rather different from 8.01L,” described LaJoie. “The problems are harder, seeming to be more of an 8.01 level. Also, there are fewer lectures and more time is spent solving problems. Also, there are no exams, just weekly quizzes which take off the stress of having to struggle through a two-hour exam.”
Both Bingham and LaJoie regret that they did not take full advantage of the resources that 8.01L offered, such as TA office hours.
“I never really sought any help,” said LaJoie. “I was always behind, and especially after that first test, I was embarrassed to even show up to recitation for fear of being judged by the TA and the other students for not being able to solve any problems.”
Bingham attributed his low test scores to his poor test-taking skills. “I was very good at the psets, but come test day I wasn’t able to perform,” explained Bingham. “I was often nervous, scared, and lacked confidence.”
Bingham said, however, that this semester would be different. “First semester I was afraid to ask anyone anything, but I’ve matured.”
LaJoie added, “Grading is 25 percent attendance [in 8.011], so you can bet I’m not missing one of those classes.”