What P/NR taught me
Looking on the bright side, practicing self-care, and more lessons from first semester
Your instructor has released grade changes and new comments for Midterm 1. Seeing that email, I felt dread. I knew that I had done poorly on my 5.07 (Introduction to Biological Chemistry) midterm. I didn’t want to see my grade, yet I wanted to know what I got. My fingers shook as I opened the website and the moment I saw my score, my heart sank. Seventy out of 100. A C–. The lowest test grade I had ever scored. Below average. While I was still absorbing the fact that I didn’t do well, a voice inside of me whispered, “At least I am on Pass/No Record (P/NR).” This fact raised questions that I used to ignore. Shouldn’t I be glad that I got a passing score in my class? Why was I letting a number define me so much?
The more I pondered my attitude towards grades throughout the day, the more I thought about how hard it was to remove my unhealthy fixation on grades. Ever since middle school, I had viewed grades as a reflection of my self-worth and intelligence. I objectively knew that my attitude was not right, yet I found it challenging to break free from this mindset that I had held for many years. After reflecting upon my realization that day, I decided that now was the time for me to change this negative mindset. I couldn’t keep delaying this moment.
A few weeks after seeing my score, I gradually began to fully embrace P/NR instead of telling myself to get As in everything. Despite this change, I still tried my best on the second midterm for 5.07. When I saw my score of 74, I had an unexpected reaction, but in a good way. Normally, I would have been very sad and remained shell-shocked about how I didn’t do well on a test. This time, however, I focused more on the positive. “Well, at least I improved by four points,” I told myself. “Also, this class is not designed for first-year students.”
P/NR made me aware of the importance of self-care, a practice that I tended to overlook in high school. I realized for the first time that instead of expecting myself to get everything right the first time, I should accept the fact that I would make mistakes along the way. MIT has P/NR for first-semester freshmen for a reason. The transition from high school to college is quite big and involves not only adjusting to more difficult curricula but also various aspects of college life, such as living in a dorm and learning how to be an adult. If it weren’t for P/NR, I would still be obsessing over itty-bitty points I lost or fussing about small things like missing a question on a problem set. In other words, not having P/NR would allow my high school mindset to persist. I highly doubt that I would have otherwise taken the time to pause and question whether my approach towards learning was ideal.
Besides encouraging me to adopt a healthier mindset when it comes to academics, P/NR has taught me to embrace a lifestyle that has a balance of work and fun. A year ago, I found the idea of giving myself unstructured free time on the weekends unimaginable. Now, however, I force myself to leave campus every once in a while to explore my surroundings, from the Museum of the Fine Arts to the Harvard Museum of Natural History.
Because of P/NR, I am better at telling myself that there is more to life than grades and test scores. Four years of undergrad may sound like a long time, but in reality it is short, so I had better live my college experience to the fullest. I want to look back on my college years not with remorse for caring too much about getting all As, but rather with happiness about the unforgettable memories I formed here.