Hello! Greetings from my textbooks, notebooks and piles of practice exams! Yes, that’s right. It is currently finals week here at the University of Illinois. Only a few more days until summer! But until then, tests which cover everything you’ve been learning (or were supposed to learn) over the past few months must be completed which will determine your whole future. No pressure. Currently I’ve taken one final, have two more tomorrow and my last final will be Friday morning. Then I get to move to Michigan and start work on Monday. Yep. I know. It’s a quick turnaround, but it’s exciting! So, I haven’t written a Joy of Engineering post because I’ve been stuck under quite a few textbooks, but I wanted to find joy in finals, so here we go.

My joy of engineering is faith.

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NFK 118 Chapel Cover, helping out with a church retreat earlier this school year.

As many close friends know, I’ve experienced statistically significant spiritual growth over the past year. When I lived Houston, I really struggled to find God in my life because I had no community or support in a city where I knew very few people. Upon returning to Illinois, I slowly increased my involvement in the Catholic community on campus. When I encountered struggles, I always had friends with in this spiritual family to fall back on who loved me and guided me in growing closer to God. Even though this semester was even busier than last semester, I was able to serve on a retreat and increase my attendance at daily mass and prayer time. And I found so many more joys in my life, even though I was busier. God is responsible for my joys. In Him, all things are possible. And so my joy of engineering is faith.

My joy of engineering is faith because I know that whatever happens with final exams, God has a plan for me. I have faith that my studies will be well spent just as the time I take off of studying to go to daily mass or go pray in the chapel will also be well spent. I have faith that God will help me grow in whatever way he sees fit and that he will help me succeed this week. By succeed, I mean take finals to the best of my ability. I do not want to define my success by a grade on a final, but by how these exams fit into God’s plan for me and how they help me grow closer to God. I find joy in knowing that I am not alone through the struggles of studying and completion of challenging final. I have faith. I have God.

Regardless of your beliefs, I think you should also find joy in having faith in yourself. Never ever think that you are stupid or that your questions are dumb as you study for finals. Instead, look at your textbook and admire how many chapters of new material you learned this semester. Redo homework problems you struggled with and be amazed by how much better you understand them. Take joy in having faith in yourself because you have learned so much and have conquered the semester.

I cannot begin to express my love and gratitude to my friends who have shown me Christ over the past year through Koinonia, small group, mass, etc. Thank you to all of Illinois’s Catholic community for being fellow children of God!

I miss homework.

In less than a month, I will complete my final exams at Swansea University, finishing my semester abroad. Two of these exams are worth 100% of my final grade. One exam is worth 90% of my final grade. My final exam, the only multiple choice test I will receive this semester, will be 50% of my final grade. To be honest, the thought of all my grades relying on one test performance terrifies me.

Dr. Sheldon Cooper demonstrates how I feel about studying notes without practice homework problems.

I would have less of a problem with the ways grades are determined in the United Kingdom if I had more of an opportunity to practice what I’m learning. Over the past three and a half months, I have had only five homework assignments to work on and turn in promptly. My classes which rely on finals alone to determine final grades have not even offered optional homework problems. Old exams from past years are the only study tools I have and the answers are not included.

I’ve truly realized the true value of homework and I can’t wait to return to the United States where the value of homework problems as a learning method is more fully realized. I know I will eat my words in no time upon returning to Illinois, but let me share with you the reasons why homework is actually kind of really awesome.

5 Reasons Why You Should Stop Complaining About Your Homework

  1. You have the opportunity to develop your problem solving skills. Since elementary school, teachers expect students to solve problems, but students receive little instruction on proper problem solving techniques. No, I don’t count the scientific method we learned at the beginning of every junior high science class because I remember memorizing the steps for a quiz and never consciously using the scientific method again. This teaching failure causes a deficiency in these skills. The best remedy is to use homework problems to become a better problem solver.
  2. You have the ability to practice and apply what you’re learning. Here in Wales, my only opportunity to apply knowledge is with past exam papers which cover all of the class material in a mostly non-linear fashion. I’ve had very little opportunity to check my knowledge and understanding of concepts as I go. Homework, no matter how tedious, ingrains habits and methods to complete complicated problems into your brain. Last semester, I complained about how tiresome solving matrices became after the fifth homework problem, but now I actually miss it.
  3. You’re forced to study the material. It’s easy to say you understand something after reading it, but the truth comes out when you try to apply what you’ve learned. Homework makes you think beyond the words on the page. Learning does not mean understanding. Understanding comes from applying what you learned and making connections. Homework is the catalyst that turns learning into knowledge.
  4. You receive feedback on your work so you know what you don’t understand. In the UK, professors aren’t supposed to post exact answers to their past exams, even though these exams are all we have to study. In the US, my heart always dropped to see a red line slashed through the last half of a long homework problem. But this also told me how to fix it. For that, you should be grateful.
  5. You’re making major mistakes on small homework problems instead of the exam. In retrospect, homework is worth a mere fraction of your grade, no matter your education system. However, most of my grades result from homework and my reaction to graded homework. I practiced concepts in my assignments, understood what I needed to study more, and focused on the hard problems from past homework assignments. I missed hard problems on small homework assignments, but this led to focused studying so I could succeed on important tests.

This being said, there is such thing as too much homework. Students with an overload of assignments (myself included) may go through the motions and might look for shortcuts instead of seeking learning from coursework. There must be balance. I would love to see a couple more assignments from my classes in Wales to better check my knowledge and understanding.. The other solution is to create practice problems with guided and unguided solutions. Generally the UK describes its college education system as less supported than the US, but that does not mean UK classes should offer no support.

Overall, homework is a great opportunity to learn. Please, take advantage of it next time it’s offered to you.

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