This is how you fail maths

This is how it feels to fail a subject you think you’re comfortable with. It feels like shit.

It begins with thinking you’re ready. It’s you waiting to go into the examination room, calm and relaxed with your stationery in hand, not thinking about maths in general. You’ve been through this so many times before in class; and this is going to be another maths paper. It’s not like Chemistry where unknown formulas can pop up in the middle of the paper, or Economics where there’s hardly enough time to finish everything, let alone think. It’s just plain old maths.

It begins with you in the examination room, laughing as your classmates crack jokes about the missing absentees. It’s you opening the question booklet as soon as the invigilator resets the clock and announces the start of the exam. It’s smooth sailing through the first question, and hitting an iceberg in the next. It’s you feeling a little panicky, more disbelief at your own inability to solve the question rather than the level of difficulty of the question. It’s your mind getting clouded, it’s your calm washing away as the nausea of helplessness seeps in.

It continues with you flipping the booklet to the next page. It’s your writing turning into scrawls as you’re thinking at breakneck speed for the simpler questions so you can return to the difficult one with more time to spare. It’s the clouded mind turning into a storm as you hit the next iceberg, in fact, two icebergs. It’s anxiety surmounting as you run into a mind block. You realize it is useless, so you move on, at even faster than breakneck speed, to the remaining questions.

It’s you finishing the last two pages in half the recommended time, cruising through so fast you can’t remember anything about it after the exam. It’s you thinking that with an hour left, there’s plenty of time to mull over the three iceberg questions.

It’s you feeling stupider and stupider as the minute hand ticks on and you’re wrong. You’re not getting any closer. Ok, maybe you’ve cracked one of it, but that one took ages. There are two to go, and time is running out. You’re rotating the paper 360 degrees, as if a different geometrical perspective might be the divine intervention you need. You’re trying out so many methods you could write a theorem about them. You’re drawing so many lines across the circle that they start to resemble a complex work of art. You’re sitting there hopelessly, and worse, helplessly, as you look up from the paper for inspiration, only to continue plowing through again as the clock is the only thing you notice.

It’s you feeling like shit, not being able to solve what looks like easy questions. It’s you writing and crossing out things that you think would help your cause on the blank spaces of the paper, only to feel sorrier for yourself. It’s you feeling a sense of disgust and pity for this pathetic creature who cannot solve a Maths question. It’s you being unable to get used to the idea of being Mathematically illiterate. It’s your mind racing and blood pumping as the time is nearly up, only it is racing nowhere close to an answer.

It doesn’t stop there. It sinks in as you realize there is no possible way for you to get an eureka moment within two minutes. It’s you finally, finally giving up and leaving the answer paper half-filled. It’s you using the final two minutes to look through the question paper, only to discover a question at the end that you have not solved, in the whizzing through of the final page when your mind was preoccupied by the icebergs. It’s you feeling everything at once: stupidity and anger and frustration. It’s you picking up your pen and furiously trying to think of the answer as the last minute draws in closer, only to draw up a blank to a question you can otherwise answer. It’s feeling defeat and anger as the time is up and you hand in, for the first time in your maths academic career, a paper with two questions unanswered, and plenty of quick answers.

It was the only subject you were feeling confident about. It was the only thing you could do, and you couldn’t do it.

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