I have a long-standing aversion to math.
As a fifth-grader, scarred by my multiplication tables, I wrote a poem called the "math monster" that landed me in the guidance office. To this day, calculating tips makes me nervous. Taking the math section of the GRE was one of the most humbling experiences in my adult life.
So you can imagine how I felt when I finished Chapter 1 of my personal finance textbook only to discover page after page of problem sets.
I know, I know - I signed up for this class with the understanding that at least some math would be involved. But is the first chapter really the place to explore the formula for compounding interest?
I would have preferred an easier warm-up – maybe a primer on the importance of interest rates, or an overview of why we should be taking the course in the first place.
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But there I was this last Sunday, sitting on a train heading back to Washington, D.C. from New York, staring at the problems and wondering what I'd gotten myself into.
After a few minutes of panic, I forced myself to do some calculations. The first few problems were fine, but then I came across a formula I couldn't master.
I didn't know what my next step should be. In a face-to-face class, I probably would have made a potential study buddy by now to whom I could reach out for help. And if that failed, I could always pester a roommate or a mathematically gifted college friend.
Emailing my professor wasn't an option, due both to pride and to class rules. Our instructor requested that we post questions to the discussion board before emailing her so others could benefit from our questions. But there weren't any questions yet, and I certainly didn't want to be the first to advertise that I was lost.
My syllabus said there was a university tutor available by phone during certain hours, but my situation didn't seem that dire.
So instead of reaching out for help, I decided to take the Chapter 1 practice quiz to decide whether I even needed to learn the formulas that had me stumped.
The only problem: I couldn't find them on our class home page. I left a message in our discussion thread named "syllabus questions" and received a message from our professor the next day that clearly explained where they were.
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The online practice quiz – which was provided by the textbook publisher – was a 10-question, multiple-choice test.
I breezed through the first few questions, feeling proud and relieved that the answers seemed to be coming so easily.
Or so I thought.
I hit submit and discovered that I answered all but three answers correctly. At first, that seemed impressive. Three, after all, is not that high of a number. But then I realized what that meant: I got a 70 percent – a "C" on my first quiz.
I have a feeling I may be getting to know that tutor.
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