## Tag → college

When I first made myself commit to posting weekly, I was trying to make myself spend a little time every day of the week thinking and writing and whittling away at old drafts. Instead I’m here at 10:40 PM basically starting a brand-new post. Oh well.

I last blogged about music in 2013. I tagged two other posts with “music” since then, but neither is particularly deep: 8 Songs for 18 Years and Drop-In Filler. Let’s continue the tradition of self-analysis part IIs from nowhere…

I meditated a little bit in Conversations about “lacking experience or interest in a lot of the commonly discussed culture.” I think this applies to me and music as well, although not as fully. Back in Taiwan, when mentally bracing myself for coming to the U.S. for college, I sometimes worried about not knowing enough about pop music and bands and not listening enough to popular albums, and having trouble integrating into the culture for this.

Turns out, among the communities I wandered into and friends I made, it was a more frequent obstacle that I didn’t know enough about classical music and composers. Whoops. Some of the names rang faint bells from either music class or conversations with high school friends who did do classical music, but I could not identify or remember any styles or eras, and would remember composers only by unreliable first letters or unusual substrings of their names.

(all the times that you beat me unconscious I forgive)

angst [████████  ] (8/10)

We’re overdue for one of these posts, I guess.

(all the crimes incomplete – listen, honestly I’ll live)

Last-ditch feeble attempts at cleaning and reorganizing my desk and shelf before I figuratively drowned in academics led to me finding

• the Google physical linked puzzle, which I placed in the Kitchen Lounge to nerd-snipe people, successfully
• a Burger King crown from the previous career fair
• ID stickers from the Putnam, one of which is now on my keyboard cover cover (← not a typo), just because
• assorted edibles, like candies and jellies, which I ate; as well as the half-finished Ziploc bag of candy from my FPOP, six months ago, which I just tossed in the trash
• a box. It’s just, like, a box. I don’t know what goes or went into it

I feel more in control of my living quarters. Marginally. Guess I’ll be fine.

(mr. cool, mr. right, mr. know-it-all is through)

Pros and cons of having a departmental advisor in your area of interest:

When I first realized it might be helpful to start trying to remember the correspondence between MIT courses and their numbers, I expected a list of mnemonics for this correspondence would be one of those Things That Should Exist On the Internet. I’m pretty surprised it doesn’t. I mean, MIT has, what, at least 100,000 alumni; as far as I know, nearly everybody who goes there speaks the number correspondence fluently, so they have to learn it; and the science of mnemonics has been with us since the ancient Greeks and people who understand its usefulness can’t be uncommon, especially not in such a prestigious institute of higher education.

What gives?

I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just that nobody has posted their mnemonic set on the Internet out of embarrassment? My mnemonics are pretty bad too, but hey, Cunningham’s Law — if you’re reading, feel free to add better ones in the comments, or to criticize my horribly unenlightened and stereotypical characterizations of your courses, to make this thing better. Or maybe it’s out of concern that nobody else will find it useful? I get that feeling but my streak compels me to ignore it now, as it has for the last dozen posts or so. Or maybe they just didn’t optimize for search engine findability, so I can’t find it? I hope this post fixes that.

Actually, I guess the most likely reason is that maybe most people don’t actually have all the course numbers memorized with perfect recall, only the handful of most common ones they and their friends are in, and it’s perfectly fine to ask for clarification when an unknown number comes up in conversation, so nobody ever feels like they need to bother with mnemonics for every single course. Feels sensible to me.

But anyway, I’m not most people.

The most comprehensive resource of courses and numbers, including their history, appears to have once been at http://alumweb.mit.edu/clubs/sandiego/contents_courses.shtml. Many, many links point there. Unfortunately, it is dead and I cannot find its new home, if it has one. Fortunately, there is an archived version on archive.is; on the other hand, I am not sure whether any updates have occurred since it was archived. A more recent version with course populations from 2005 is this chart linked from the MIT Admissions blog post Numbers are names too.

All through high school I had really high standards for myself. Not the grades, mind you (I admit, humblebrag, my grades were always uncomfortably high, probably as an expected but still sad byproduct of this process (yes, I’m actually complaining about grades being too high. I don’t want my report card to have lots of Bs or Cs, but I really didn’t need to pour enough resources into schoolwork that I graduated as valedictorian, when there were so many other personally and socially meaningful things I could be dedicating effort into creating — but that’s a subject for another post (humblebrags all the way down. Somebody get some internet pitchforks and poke some sense into me))), but simply how I managed my time for doing homework.

In my opinion: not very well. I always spent too much time surfing the internet and doing things less urgent than homework, then ended up sleeping at midnight or one o’clock or whenever often to finish what I should have done earlier.

And yet, compared to many of my friends (definitely not all, though), that’s not late at all and the amount of buffer time I had between finishing work and having it due was positively luxurious. But then, I suppose, I didn’t have the same amount of math homework. But to counter my excuse, I had additional responsibilities such as practicing olympiad problems and preparing weekend presentations and translating the school newsletter. So I don’t actually know if my workload was significantly lighter than average or not, ergo I don’t know whether my time management skills were significantly better than average or not. It seriously doesn’t feel like they would be.

And allegedly, even when I’m procrastinating, it’s more productive than my friends’ procrastination, maybe even Paul Graham’s good type of procrastination. Often when I gripe about how much my former self procrastinated they will ask me what I’ve been doing and, after hearing the answer, tell me this. What have I done to put off homework? Oh, I did some olympiad math problems, committed to my GitHub projects, read a bunch of programming blogs, organized my old chemistry notes from two years ago, and surfed the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Yeah. Total waste of time. Meanwhile certain friends surf 9GAG whenever they get the chance. (Which is not to say that I don’t procrastinate in obviously unproductive ways sometimes — I surf reddit, YouTube, and TVTropes of course. Sometimes I even just read my own blog or dig through old folders in my computer. I’m weird. But anyway.)

If you remember, Part 1 was here and my goal is to construct a theoretical system of standardized tests that I would be satisfied by. Here’s what I’ve got. As usual, because of the daily posting streak I have openly committed to, standard disclaimers apply.

• We’d have a first-tier test like the SAT, except this will be explicitly designed not to distinguish among the high performers.

The goal of the test is to assess basic proficiency in reading, writing, and mathematics. Nothing else. Most good students, those who have a shot at “good colleges” and know it, will be able to ace this test with minimal effort and can spend their time studying for other things or engaging in other pursuits. Students who don’t will still have to study and it will probably be boring, but the hope is that, especially if you’re motivated to get into a good college, there won’t be much of that studying.

For colleges, the intention of this test is to allow them to require this test score from everybody without having to put up disclaimers that go like,

there is really not a difference in our process between someone who scores, say, a 740 on the SAT math, and someone who scores an 800 on the SAT math. So why, as the commentor asks, is there such a difference in the admit rate? Aha! Clearly we DO prefer higher SAT scores!

Well no, we don’t. What we prefer are things which may coincide with higher SAT scores…

Life update: I got my driver’s license from the place where I learned to drive. Then I drove home from there with my mom, and it was zarking terrifying.

Also, WordPress says it has protected my blog from 38 spam comments.

Early in the morning tomorrow, I have a small surgical operation, so I can’t sleep too late. (Well, it ended up being pretty late anyway. Darn.) Therefore I think I’m going to do something unprecedented on this blog for the daily posting streak: I’m going to post an incomplete non-expository post.

Yes, the only purpose of the title is to get initials that are four consecutive letters of the alphabet..

One of the more argumentative post sequences on my blog involved ranting against standardized tests.

My very first stab was probably the silly satire directed at the test everybody has to take that takes up two hours per day of an entire week. Once college became a thing in my life, I wrote a humblebrag rant after I took the SAT and then a summary post after I snagged this subject for an English class research paper and finished said paper.

It should be plenty clear that I am not ranting against this part of the system because it’s disadvantageous to me.

But it should also be said that I’ve read some convincing arguments for using standardized tests more in college admissions (Pinker, then Aaronson). Despite the imperfections of tests, they argue, the alternatives are likely to be less fair and more easily gamed. The fear that selecting only high test-scorers will yield a class of one-dimensional boring thinkers is unfounded. And the idea that standardized tests “reduce a human being to a number” may be uncomfortable for some, but it makes no sense to prioritize avoiding a vague feeling of discomfort over trusting reliable social science studies. Neither article, you will note, advocates selecting all of one’s college admits based on highest score. Just a certain unspecified proportion, one that’s probably a lot larger than it is today.

And although I wish the first article linked its studies, I mostly agree with their arguments. So this puts me in a tricky position. These positions I’ve expressed seem hard to reconcile! So, after arguing about all this with a friend who told me things like

I think you fail to understand how anti-intellectual american society is

(comments on this statement are also welcome) I think some clarifications and updates on how I feel are in order.

(Frivolous blog content, posted as part of a daily posting streak I have openly committed to; standard disclaimers apply)

Out of boredom and curiosity, I graphed how many emails colleges sent me, excluding the colleges I actually applied to. I am being extremely polite and just calling them emails. I’ve wanted to make this for a long time, but it wasn’t until I saw this post about an email experiment on waxy.org/links that I understood which tools I could use to quantify my emails. (And then I actually made it and procrastinated posting it here for two months. If you look at my GitHub page or activity you might have seen it already, though. Oops.)

I don’t think the results were expected. Other than saying that, I leave the interpretation up to the reader because I’m on a tight blogging schedule. Cool? Cool.

Step-by-step instructions:

A PSYCHOLOGICAL TIP

Whenever you’re called on to make up your mind,
and you’re hampered by not having any,
the best way to solve the dilemma, you’ll find,
is simply by spinning a penny.
No — not so that chance shall decide the affair
while you’re passively standing there moping;
but the moment the penny is up in the air,
you suddenly know what you’re hoping.

— Piet Hein

(By the way, apparently spinning a penny is a terrible randomization process; studies have shown they come up tails 80% of the time. Tossing or flipping is better but there’s still a faintly biased 51% chance it lands with the same face it started with (PDF link). Entirely irrelevantly, is the meter amphibrachic? Nice. I’m sorry, but the impenetrable English names they give to metrical feet just sound so cool.)

As May 1 has been coming up, I’ve been half-seriously giving this advice to others who still haven’t decided. But I knew this wouldn’t work for me. I knew where I intuitively wanted to go all along.

The reasons holding me back were more… reasonable. Mostly the money. Call it an id-superego conflict.

I don’t know if the difference between my choices would mean I’d have to take out loans, or work a lot during college, or both. I don’t think either of those things would be difficult. I think tech internships over the summer could just cover the parts assigned to parental contribution (which I’m not going to let my parents pay, unless they start earning a lot more money than expected) and I think I have the skills to get those internships. But of course that’s a tradeoff. Maybe there will be something more self-actualizing or more helpful to my future career that I could do during the summer. I’m not so sure that I’ll find the same drive to program for a job instead of for a personal project I really want to use myself, or for putting off something more boring. I don’t know yet.

(Get it? Drive? Program? Um, never mind, I guess that’s a hardware problem.)

This post, or most of it, was published password-protected once because… well, I explain that below. (To the one person who actually bothered asking me for the password, just so you know, I did add and rewrite parts. More than a few.) I forgot how distinctly powerful a disincentive a large 2300-word block of text is to the average person, especially when the subject of half of those 2300 words is teenage angst (I’ve already linked to xkcd 1370 in enough places so I’m not even going to embed it here) interweaved with an insufferable amount of rationalist jargon. This will probably filter my readership more than sufficiently already.

I have still decided to protect one detail of the thought process, though. But even after that, I guess I do care more about how many people read this than I do for most of my other posts, so here’s a primitive attempt to gauge interest; if you choose anything beyond the first choice, I would also appreciate if you leave a comment, even if you don’t think you have anything to add:

edit: This poll has been removed, it wasn’t very interesting anyway.

I haven’t posted for a long period again, but I don’t feel too bad about it.

Well, until I look carefully at my blog draft folder and remember that I have 90%-finished drafts about the two debate competitions I went to (November 2013 and March 2014), and winning the previous Mystery Hunt (January 2014), and my summer trip to Penghu (July 2013). Which will probably never get posted out of awkwardness.

Oops.

But I’ve been busy, completely righteously busy, with college apps to write and algorithm classes to teach and speeches to write and a math club to sort-of lead and all the typical homework besides.

And then (for those of you who don’t have me as a friend on Facebook) I got accepted to MIT and Caltech early.

And for a few days after that, I checked Facebook about sixteen times a day for the Class of 2019 group discussion, except for one day when I really needed not to, thanks to the power of committing to my HabitRPG party to do something. I am increasingly learning that procrastination is something that has to be actively and strategically fought. But that’s not what this post is about.

College.

First, I got worked up about the test. Then I got a score and ranted about it on this blog. (I’m still uncertainly hoping that didn’t come off as arrogant. Let me add, I did not get a perfect PSAT.) Then a friend pitched to me the idea that I write an article about it for my school newspaper, which I did. It was far too long. As if that weren’t enough, I then decided to examine whether the SAT was an accurate prediction of “academic ability and success” for my English research paper. Now I’ve come full circle to this blog, where I’m going to try to synthesize and conclude everything, free of the shackles of the research paper format, to allow me to move on with my life. This post contains bits lifted from all three essays and lots of new stuff; I’ve been editing it for so long that I feel like I have it memorized. Its word count is around that of the newspaper article plus the research paper, i.e. far far far too long.

But whatever, nobody reads this blog anyway and I have to get this out of my system. When I said I wanted to “move on with my life”, I really meant my winter homework. Oops!

Disclaimer: I am not an admissions officer. I have not yet even been accepted to a prestigious university (despite rumors to the contrary…), for whatever definition of “prestigious”, unlike some of the bloggers I’m referencing. So some of this is pure speculation. On the other hand, some of it is researched and referenced, and I think the pure speculation still makes sense. That’s why I’m posting it.

Okay, here we go…

Let’s start with the question of accurate prediction. The SAT is a useful predictor, but not as useful as one might assume. Intuitively, it ought to be more accurate than other metrics because it’s a standardized test, whereas GPAs other awards vary by habits of teacher and region and are hard to compare objectively. But as a study from the College Board itself (PDF) found:

the correlation of HSGPA [high-school GPA] and FYGPA [first-year GPA in college] is 0.36 (Adj. r = 0.54), which is slightly higher than the multiple correlation of the SAT (critical reading, math, and writing combined) with FYGPA (r = 0.35, Adj. r = 0.53).

Of course, that doesn’t mean the SAT is worthless, because combining the SAT score and high school GPA results in a more accurate metric than either one alone. But by “more accurate” I refer to a marginal improvement of 0.08 correlation.