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My Grades are Plummeting, What is wrong with me?


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Well, at this stage, I simply do not know what to do.

 

For the whole first part of this semester, I was battling some crippling depression, spawned by the many years of being rejected from schools everywhere, and feeling inferior.  Half the time was seeking therapists who my insurance could take.  When I finally locked that down, and sought cognitive behavioral therapy + lexapro, I thought that I would be good.  Throughout this time, my test grades were also falling.  Now, this is the part where I do not understand.  I do all the work, all the assignments, attend all the study sessions, and visit the office frequently for help.  I also do the practice tests in a timed environment, until I know the equations so well that I don't even need to use the "cheat sheet" that I am allowed to have with me during the test.

 

So far, my grades have been... A, C, F, C, (probably a D or F, most recently).

 

I simply do not understand it.  I am not only doing bad, but, one of the classes, where I got the F on the first test, is an undergraduate class!  My adviser told me that it would be a breeze.  I've been doing all the assignments in that class, attending all the lectures, taking notes rigorously, covering the material and doing all the practice tests.  Most recently, I went through 35 pages of practice tests and solutions studying for the most recent test in this undergraduate class, and picked out critical errors in the solutions and presented them to the professor.  He said that I was indeed right, and also said that I clearly understand the material and am ready for the test.  During the test, a problem was presented that none of the practice tests had and none of the homeworks had, but was a specific type of class of problem that was in the notes that I neglected to study for.  Because the test was 1 problem long, I was not able to hunt and peck for magic set of equations that simplify the whole process for that specific case.  Thus, I was only able to even get half the test done.

 

In another test, regarding complex analysis, I got one of the lowest grades in the class, and 100% of my errors consisted of transposing digits ( (z-4)^3 became (z-4)^4 ), misreading the problem (drawing a semicircle instead of the stated "circle), transposing the variables of differentiation (e^(st) differentiated via S instead of via t for an inverse Laplace transform).

 

I am so unbelievably pissed off with myself at this point, because I feel like the amount that I know the material and vigorously study for it is completely independent of my test performance.  All my professors that I have shown my tests to tell me that I clearly understand this material completely and fully, and that something mechanical is going on.

 

At this rate, I am going to lose my fellowship and I question whether I can justify taking out copious amounts of loans to continue this downward spiral.

 

What is going on with my head?  I don't get it.  I am at a loss.  I attend every class, take all the notes, visit the office for questions, spend hours and hours studying and nailing down all the concepts, and performing exceedingly well on practice tests.  I lead discussion sessions where I assist people who are behind on their assignments, showing them easy ways to remember the material and learn the equations.  I can recall perfectly the copious amounts of equations written out in my test study sheets and I understand how to derive them all, and the implications and applications of the theories.  But, when it gets right down to it, when presented with a test in a test environment, I either get incredibly nervous, fidgety, or feel calm and simply transpose numbers and misread questions.  These aren't careless errors!  I take great care to address these when studying ahead of time.

 

I keep questioning my adviser whether I am simply being lazy and not studying enough, but he continues to correct me and say "nope, you understand this.  Something else is going on."  Well, what is going on?? This has never happened before.

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As an addendum: I like doing this material.  This stuff is fascinating to me.  I love to learn it.  I love to go out of my way to teach people it and show them some cool real world applications of it.  I am truly passionate about these concepts and I belong here.  My adviser repeated this mantra to me over and over.  "You belong here.  You are on a fellowship for a reason.  This is a very prestigious program and I saw your application.  I know what you are capable of.  I never question whether or not you belong here at all."

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I can't tell you want is going on... this seems like a really weird situation. It sounds like you talk to your professors about this but keep doing so. See if you can get extra credit assignments to get Bs in your classes. If your professors know that you understand the material and are trying this hard then I bet they will work with you to get your B. It sounds like you understand this stuff and will be great with your reserach. I would just see if your professors are willing to give you Bs to get to that point.

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Guest Gnome Chomsky

It seems like you over-prepare for the practice tests and become overwhelmed when anything "new" shows up on the test. You said yourself that the test was something you didn't study. Just because you can do the practice tests, doesn't necessarily mean you'll do well on a test. It's easy to think you understand a concept after being given the answer and practicing it over and over. Truly understanding the material is when you can solve any type of problem, even something you haven't seen before. You might want to change up your study method. Instead of preparing for the same types of questions, throw yourself a curve ball and try to solve something you wouldn't expect to see. 

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Not to be an armchair psychologist or anything, but have you ever been tested for ADD or other learning disorders? Particularly the difficulty in reading test questions and transposing digits is a common indicator of certain types of learning disorders; if we see this in our students at the secondary level, we're supposed to encourage them to see our school psychologist.

 

That sounds unbelievably frustrating. However, I'm glad to hear that your advisor is so understanding of your situation, and he's 100% right: you are there for a reason! Keep it up!

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Guest Gnome Chomsky

Not to be an armchair psychologist or anything, but have you ever been tested for ADD or other learning disorders? Particularly the difficulty in reading test questions and transposing digits is a common indicator of certain types of learning disorders; if we see this in our students at the secondary level, we're supposed to encourage them to see our school psychologist.

 

That sounds unbelievably frustrating. However, I'm glad to hear that your advisor is so understanding of your situation, and he's 100% right: you are there for a reason! Keep it up!

That's what I was thinking, but then wouldn't he/she have had the same problem in undergrad? 

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That's what I was thinking, but then wouldn't he/she have had the same problem in undergrad? 

 

That's true. Honestly, I don't really know much about learning disorders -- was throwing it out there, just in case.

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Not to be an armchair psychologist or anything, but have you ever been tested for ADD or other learning disorders? Particularly the difficulty in reading test questions and transposing digits is a common indicator of certain types of learning disorders; if we see this in our students at the secondary level, we're supposed to encourage them to see our school psychologist.

 

That sounds unbelievably frustrating. However, I'm glad to hear that your advisor is so understanding of your situation, and he's 100% right: you are there for a reason! Keep it up!

 

This was what I was thinking too- although people with ADHD/LD will usually have issues before grad school, oftentimes you see people who can coast on their intelligence for awhile, until they hit a point where that isn't enough. That point could be grad school. OP, I would talk to your office of student disabilities services or whatever it's called at your school. They should be able to refer you to resources to figure things out. I'm a psychologist in training, which is hardly better than an armchair psychologist, but to me it sounds like something is going on above basic understanding of material & study skills.

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Not to be an armchair psychologist or anything, but have you ever been tested for ADD or other learning disorders? Particularly the difficulty in reading test questions and transposing digits is a common indicator of certain types of learning disorders; if we see this in our students at the secondary level, we're supposed to encourage them to see our school psychologist.

 

That sounds unbelievably frustrating. However, I'm glad to hear that your advisor is so understanding of your situation, and he's 100% right: you are there for a reason! Keep it up!

 

I transpose numbers, but I have dsycalculia and math is something I hate because of it. I think however, adult onset ADD is not unheard of, so it might be worth checking into? 

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I was calm going into the test.  I felt like I was going to do fine.  I was not worried about it whatsoever.  I had completely studied for it and the professor told me that I clearly know enough to do well.  It wasn't an issue of whether I didn't understand the underlying concepts.  It was more an issue that the type of question was a special class of problem whereby I had to recall pre-derived equations to apply.  I didn't know it was that class of problem, so I derived it from scratch and was able to get about 60% through the test before running out of time.  If someone said "Oh, antisymmetric cross-ply with uneven thickness, that's been solved for already, use these equations on this slide and plug it in."  I knew all the other classes of materials, but the entire test was on this particular thing.  Even without knowing that the equations were pre-derived in the notes, I knew exactly what to do to approach the problem manually, but obviously it would have taken a very long time to solve.  Maybe it was just bad luck.  But, this is a systematic problem as well.

 

Hearing the ADD comments are a bit of a relief.  It seems that everyone is on the same page.  My adviser brought up that very thing to me, as well as other professors.  They have also recommended to me that I go to the office of disabilities to see what can be done.

 

I was diagnosed with ADD as a young child, but I opted to stop having treatment for it on my own accord when I was an early teen.  I developed coping strategies to get me this far.  Apparently, grad school is that breaking point where my coping strategies are falling apart.

 

I was getting A's on all my tests in my much more difficult pure-graduate classes last semester, until the very end when things started breaking down.  I haven't recovered from that.  Is it possible that suddenly I am not studying right, after studying right for so long?

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I think it would be a good idea to get assessed by a clinical psychologist, as some people have already suggested here. Have you noticed a difference since you started taking medication? Medications often cause side effects and I wonder if the medication could be impacting your scholastic abilities...

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Well, my performance seemed to start taking a nosedive without any medications for assistance.  So, I am already talking to a psychiatrist and a psychologist in attempts to resolve the problem.  It's frustrating because this entire semester has been attempting to fix the problem from all sides: vigorous studying, seeking external assistance to try to find different study techniques or see if anything else is wrong.  I wish I could stop this train wreck from happening.

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That sounds frustrating considering how hard you've been working. If things don't start to improve soon, remember that you could take a leave of absence until you get some answers and solutions to your problems. Best of luck!

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I'm not an ADD expert, but I don't think it would hurt to get yourself checked out. If I remember correctly, one of the hallmarks of add is a tendency to overlook details (i.e. errors like incorrectly transposing digits) and difficulty following directions (i.e. drawing a semi-circle instead of a circle). Also, is it possible that you are "zoning out" during class without really realizing it, therefore causing you to miss things that the professor is emphasizing?

 

It's difficult to give you an answer from the information you provide since you make it sound like you're doing everything right, but clearly something isn't working. Good luck!

Edited by aucinema
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If you do suspect ADD then seriously get it checked. I have a pretty bad case of ADD and no matter I did in college, I was a B+ student who did not impress teachers at all. I basically made it through on intelligence but then I started my masters and had to get medicine. I seriously went from an average/ bellow average student to straight A+s on everything I do. Taking ADD medicine has completely changed my life.

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I would guess that the stress and depression don't help your exam scores. It is probably also the case that the more you notice your unexpectedly bad grades, the more anxious you become about the tests, so the worse you do on the next one, etc. 

 

Maybe allowing yourself to relax about the tests would see your scores go up - you don't have to revise everything and know all the material off by heart. If you are willing to settle for imperfect scores then you will probably make fewer mistakes overall.

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I have multiple doctors assisting me with getting sufficient (current) documentation ready to present to the scholarship committee and the disability office.  Everyone around me is telling me the same thing: that I know the material but something else is going on.  All the doctors are telling me unequivocally that I have some form of ADD.

 

I am concerned since now I am actually on medication and this work is suddenly easy for me to do.  I have no problem completing assignments in a day that once took me a week with multiple office visits.  However, the damage has been done, and now it is vigorous damage control.  I do not know whether it would be possible to take an incomplete and finish the exams at a later date, or what.

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I have multiple doctors assisting me with getting sufficient (current) documentation ready to present to the scholarship committee and the disability office.  Everyone around me is telling me the same thing: that I know the material but something else is going on.  All the doctors are telling me unequivocally that I have some form of ADD.

 

I am concerned since now I am actually on medication and this work is suddenly easy for me to do.  I have no problem completing assignments in a day that once took me a week with multiple office visits.  However, the damage has been done, and now it is vigorous damage control.  I do not know whether it would be possible to take an incomplete and finish the exams at a later date, or what.

You might be able to talk to the disability office and see what administrative options they offer. Between having the documentation of the disorder, the professors knowing you are knowledgeable, and the turn around from the medication that there is something they can do to minimize the damage caused.
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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, unfortunately there is still no good news.  Recent test grades showed that I am still messing up on the simple things.  Even on the most recent test, the first problem was identical to a homework problem which I correctly evaluated with zero assistance, albeit with a simpler setup.  But, during the test, for some inexplicable reason, I did the problem differently.  It's like my brain just short circuits during an actual exam.  If I had just copied the way I did it during the homework, it would have been fine.  This is profoundly frustrating to me.  I have never struggled so hard trying to get decent test grades in my life.

 

I will be submitting the paperwork that I've been compiling with doctors to the disability office tomorrow.  Something is definitely going on.  It might just be my emotional resolve that has been so thoroughly eroded and I simply have had no time to step back from it all and reach some sort of stable mental equilibrium.  I clearly know the material, but my ability to perform in a test environment is horrible right now.  Even more, I have the qualifying exam coming up.  This should be interesting.

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Well, unfortunately there is still no good news.  Recent test grades showed that I am still messing up on the simple things.  Even on the most recent test, the first problem was identical to a homework problem which I correctly evaluated with zero assistance, albeit with a simpler setup.  But, during the test, for some inexplicable reason, I did the problem differently.  It's like my brain just short circuits during an actual exam.  If I had just copied the way I did it during the homework, it would have been fine.  This is profoundly frustrating to me.  I have never struggled so hard trying to get decent test grades in my life.

 

I will be submitting the paperwork that I've been compiling with doctors to the disability office tomorrow.  Something is definitely going on.  It might just be my emotional resolve that has been so thoroughly eroded and I simply have had no time to step back from it all and reach some sort of stable mental equilibrium.  I clearly know the material, but my ability to perform in a test environment is horrible right now.  Even more, I have the qualifying exam coming up.  This should be interesting.

How's the medication working for you? Are you regularly seeing a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist? Good luck on the exam!!!! I hope everything goes well.

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The medication is doing wonders with helping me stay focused during homework and getting tasks done outside the test environment. Unfortunately, it seems to have not helped whatsoever in assisting my performance during an actual test. I must have some form of test anxiety, with each subsequent lackluster test performance building up a negative history which just fuels the fire. I just want some single good grade to feel good about. I'm not asking for much at this point. I want the stupid mistakes to stop. This has never happened to me before. Ever since last November, it's like I have completely forgotten ol how to take tests. I was able to pull off perfect GRE math scores, getting A's on all my initial grad school class tests, and now I just walk into exams hoping that "finally, now's the time I can break this streak of shockingly bad test performance." Something deeply mechanical is wrong with my brain. It's like something got activated and is just spiraling out of control. Everything I've been doing has been trying to fix this problem, and I'm getting worn out. I'm an uneasy combination of pissed off, sad, tired, defeated. Why can't I pull off the simple 98-100%s my colleagues with whom I study can pull off without even attending class? I used to be able to do that.

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The medication is doing wonders with helping me stay focused during homework and getting tasks done outside the test environment. Unfortunately, it seems to have not helped whatsoever in assisting my performance during an actual test. I must have some form of test anxiety, with each subsequent lackluster test performance building up a negative history which just fuels the fire. I just want some single good grade to feel good about. I'm not asking for much at this point. I want the stupid mistakes to stop. This has never happened to me before. Ever since last November, it's like I have completely forgotten ol how to take tests. I was able to pull off perfect GRE math scores, getting A's on all my initial grad school class tests, and now I just walk into exams hoping that "finally, now's the time I can break this streak of shockingly bad test performance." Something deeply mechanical is wrong with my brain. It's like something got activated and is just spiraling out of control. Everything I've been doing has been trying to fix this problem, and I'm getting worn out. I'm an uneasy combination of pissed off, sad, tired, defeated. Why can't I pull off the simple 98-100%s my colleagues with whom I study can pull off without even attending class? I used to be able to do that.

Remember that frustration never helps! Sometimes it just takes time for everything to settle down. You do worse when you put yourself down and trying to force good result to come out. It's important to understand and accept your condition and move forward. I understand this is a frustrating time for you and I hope you have someone that you can talk to. I'm sure no one will truly understands what you are going through but I believing a patient listener can really help gather your emotion and pull yourself together during exam time. Good luck!

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Hang in there. You are doing all the right things by consulting with doctors, advising your profs and connecting with the disability office. Until you find more answers, remember that daily physical exercise is very helpful in managing stress and can help improve memory and concentration. If you aren't already getting daily exercise, I'd highly recommend it. 

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