How I could have avoided my first D on a college exam

Female college student taking a book off of a shelf in a library

Surely an English major wouldn’t have ever had trouble with her writing, right? Wrong. In elementary and secondary school, I was always an avid reader, but I didn’t pay much attention to grammar rules. I thought they were tedious. Because I had a vivid imagination and, yes, because I did a lot of reading, my writing reflected that, and teachers gave me a lot of credit for effort and originality. Had I paid more attention to their comments about things like thesis statements, organization, and grammar in the margins of those papers, I might have been able to avoid getting my first D on a college exam in one of my favorite English classes, which was embarrassing. The professor wanted not only ideas but also wanted those ideas to be well written. After some hard work, tutoring, and review, I learned to harness my ideas with the gentle rules of composition and grammar, becoming an even better writer in the process.

Though I had always done well in reading and writing classes, math classes had always been a challenge. Early on, I decided that I couldn’t be good at everything and would just let the math thing slide. When school is over, why will I need math? I asked myself. To make a long story short, I needed math. Were it not for the basics I learned from one especially good teacher in junior high, I wouldn’t have made it through school, my career, or daily life.

Developing life skills

All of my teachers were right: I did do well in the world because I had strong writing and math skills. And I’m living proof that people can gain and refine these skills later than they might have liked.

In a volatile job market like the current one, writing skills are essential. The days of working one job for a lifetime are over. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person changes jobs about every four years, which means she is likely to hold as many as ten or more jobs in her career (Meister par. 1). This reality means that a person must keep her resume sharp and updated. Also, writing a strong cover letter can mean the difference between being ignored or given a second look. However, the need for strong writing doesn’t stop there. Once in a position, a person will need to communicate effectively with co-workers and the public. Good writing skills establish a person as a professional and earn her respect. Plus, these skills help her and her employer avoid misunderstandings and potentially costly mistakes.

The benefits of knowing the basics

Writing can give a person confidence not only on the job but also in personal and public life. Rather than feeling helpless to advocate for herself or others, a person with strong writing skills can craft letters to the editor and social media posts with the potential to reach a wide audience and effect change. These skills can also help people communicate wishes and concerns to city, state, or federal officials, the school board or other group with the power to respond to their ideas. Serving on boards and other volunteer activities often involves good writing skills as well.

Just as employers expect an employee to have good writing skills, they also assume that basic math skills are a given. Math skills make a person valuable in a number of potential jobs such as plumbing, electrical work, accounting, real estate, and the medical field to name just a few.  

In their personal lives as well, most people call upon math skills daily. Whether they need to complete a tax return, investigate mortgage rates, check the accuracy of bills, maintain a budget, or make a simple household repair, a grasp of math will make their life much easier.

As I have experienced again and again, the hard-earned life skills I learned in writing and math have served me well in both my professionally and personally. More importantly, I know it’s never too late to refresh them.


About the Author
Kelly Barth

Kelly Barth

A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Kelly Barth has lived in Lawrence, Kansas for 24 years. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Montana, where she studied with Rick Bass, Bill Kittridge and Greg Pape. She has received writing fellowships from the Missouri Arts Council and the Kansas Arts Commission and won the Langston Hughes Award for prose. Her memoir My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus (Red Hen Press) was published in 2012. She has been a Smarthinking tutor for 10 years and works part-time at the Raven Book Store as a clerk and social media coordinator.


Work Cited

Meister, Jeanne. “Job Hopping Is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials: Three Ways to Prevent a Human Resource Nightmare,” Forbes, Forbes Media LLC, 14 August 2012. Web. 15 June 2016.