My First College Paper- Reflection

Hey guys! I know I havent’ posted in SO long… The transition to college has been pretty hectic, and I can’t wait to tell you guys about all my adventures in a later post! Today, however, I want to talk about my reaction to getting back my first college paper.

The professors teaching this yearlong GE Cluster course on human aging were merciful— whatever grade we received on this first draft would not be entered into the grade book. We’d get back our papers with revisions from our TA’s and turn in an edited version next week for an actual grade.

Nonetheless, as I sat through that hour and fifteen-minute lecture, awaiting the end of class to pick up my paper from my TA, I was still antsy about seeing how my paper was evaluated. I felt that I had put forth my best effort on this first college paper, and I really hoped that such hard work would be rewarded.

At the end of class, I made my way through the flood of eager UCLA freshmen crowding the back tables where the papers lay. When I picked up my paper, I was in disbelief when I saw, etched in dark blue ink on the back right-hand corner of my paper, an 80%.

My first thought upon seeing this glaring number was, how? In high school, I’d consistently score top marks on my in-class essays. Sometimes, my English literature teacher would have me type up my essays so she could show other students examples of well-written pieces. So, as I stood before my TA, paper in hand, I couldn’t believe at what was glaring back at me. An 80. Mediocre. Sub-standard.

Upon first glimpse, this 80% may as well been a big fat F. Immediately, the all-too -familiar script started playing in my head— I’m not good enough. I’m a bad writer. I’m a failure.

Such toxic thoughts were exacerbated when I found out my good friend had gotten a dazzling 96% on her paper. Granted, she had a different TA grade her piece… but still. I couldn’t help but compare myself to her. I thought, How did she get that amazing score, and I didn’t?

After my initial wave of disbelief and disappointment, I took a step back, slowed my whirlwind of thoughts, and reflected.

First of all, this first paper was a practice round. It wasn’t going into the grade book. So the stakes are significantly reduced, which I should be thankful about. The professors anticipated that first-time papers would be error-ridden. The point of making this a draft, rather than an actual graded assignment, was so we could learn.

Secondly, this was my FIRST college paper! The first time you do something is always the worst. The key is to learn from your mistakes and keep improving from there. Sure— I was a strong writer in high school. Looking back, though, I didn’t start out that good a writer. The first 50/50 I received on an in-class essay was during second semester! I had to work my way up- learn from the mistakes of my earlier papers and practice a lot, before I was able to write effective essays.

Thirdly, I reacted to my disappointing score in a very fixed-mindsetted and naive way. According to Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and cutting-edge researcher on the psychology of motivation and success, one facet of the fixed mindset is believing that your present abilities cannot be changed, and thus, are a measure of your self-worth. Of course, I completely disagree with the first idea of not being able to change present abilities. But  I am not completely freed from the illusion of the fixed mindset. I saw that 80%, and, as if on cue, the self-deprecating script went off. To me, that 80% was an overarching measure of my ability, not just as a writer, but as a student. I called my intellectual abilities into question. But, I forgive myself. I get that learning to change your thought pattern takes LOTS of practice. I will learn from this humbling and eye-opening experience. Next time I’m greeted with a not-so-pleasing grade or rejection, I will ask myself, “How can I learn from this?” Instead of seeing the poor marks and diving into a frenzy of despair, I should be eager to identify my mistakes and, most importantly, learn from them. Mistakes are great! They fuel growth! If we don’t mess up, how will we know how to better ourselves the next time around?

So, after I finish this blog post, I will delve into my paper and record everything I can improve on for next time. Instead of being repulsed by the 80% (which, by the way, isn’t even that bad a grade), I will see it as a learning opportunity. I will adopt the growth mindset that Dweck preaches. I mustn’t see a low grade as a measure of my intellectual capabilities. We are all here to learn, not to be perfect. The point isn’t to get 100%’s all the time. There’s no growth in that! I’d much rather see myself improve with each paper I write or each exam I take. This is how I know I’m learning, rather than staying stagnant.

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