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Auntie SparkNotes: What If I Fail Math?

Auntie SparkNotes: What If I Fail Math?

By kat_rosenfield

Dear Auntie,
My problem is about something I thought I would never have trouble with: my math grade.

I'm in ninth grade and taking algebra 2/ trig, and my grades are plummeting at about the same rate of an elephant falling off the Empire State building. With leg weights. And a piano on its back.

I study religiously and my mom even hired a tutor, but every time I get back my tests I have a D or even worse, no matter how well I thought I understood the concepts. I just took my midterm, and I COMPLETELY bombed. Like, worse than 50% bombed. How do I get my [stuff] back together? And if I can't, then does that make me a failure? What will happen if no matter what I do, I finish this class with a failing grade?

Why, you'll be stripped naked, given a can of beans and some bug spray, and left in the middle of the Maine National Wilderness to die, of course. Good luck! I hope you like bears!

...Just kidding! And won't you be relieved when I tell you that actually, the most horrible possible outcome of this situation is that you'll go through life as a person who isn't particularly good at math?

Because seriously, that's the worst that could happen. And if that's the case, Sparkler, then I promise you'll survive. But before we jump to conclusions about your innate mathematical abilities, a question: have you talked to your teacher about this?

If you haven't, you should, and not just because she should know how hard you're trying to grasp these concepts. Your teacher has seen hundreds of kids through the process of figuring this stuff out, and she's the one monitoring your progress, grading your tests, and calling out your mistakes. If anyone has some insight into where you're going wrong, it's her. And if you tell her the truth—that despite all the studying and tutoring you're doing to learn this material, you can't seem to yield a passing grade from your hard work—she should be able to help you figure out why you're still struggling. (The fact that you feel theoretically competent and confident, yet keep bombing your tests, makes me wonder if there's something about the test itself that's tripping you up, and if maybe you'd do better given the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge in a different way.)

The bad news is, I can't guarantee that you'll bring your grade back up. It could be that trig just isn't your subject; it could be that you're fully capable of understanding the subject matter, but that this class doesn't bring out the best in you. But even if you fail, you'll still have learned something—whether it's that you're better-suited to certain learning styles (and ill-suited to others), or that you forget the difference between a sine and a cosine when you're under pressure, or that you're simply not wired to excel at abstract mathematical thinking.

And if you're not, that's okay. Failing in every subject would be cause for concern, but doing badly in one particular branch of study? That doesn't make you a failure; it makes you a human being who isn't flawless at everything. Nobody has strengths without a few weaknesses. And if you do get a bad grade, then all you need to do is have a good cry, eat a nice bowl of ice cream, and give yourself all the credit you deserve for trying your hardest—and, when it comes time to choose a new course of study, let the knowledge you've gained through this experience guide you to something you can be great at.

Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at advice@sparknotes.com.
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Topics: Uncategorized, Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, math, advice, failing

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About the Author
kat_rosenfield

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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