Academic placement / validation

Discussion in 'Military Academy - USMA' started by MidwestDad, Jul 17, 2017.

  1. MidwestDad

    MidwestDad Member

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    Just curious if the new cadets receive any feedback on course placement prior to reorg week.

    Letters are about a week behind real time events so even if it has been done we wouldn't know.

    DS aced the AP calc B/C test; I'm not super enthused for him to place out of calc but they will put him where they see fit. No idea how the BCT placement test compares to the AP either; I believe both can affect consideration for math placement.
     
  2. jl123

    jl123 Member

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    FYI. He only places out of calc, or any course, if he chooses to do so. They don't force any cadet into a higher level course.
     
  3. Elisabethromy

    Elisabethromy Member

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    I wouldn't count on hearing anything until the recognition week.
     
  4. MidwestDad

    MidwestDad Member

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    Well his last letter dated July 14 says he validated calc and will be in 'Jedi Math' this year. Sounds like a challenge but I'm sure he will meet it.
     
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  5. VelveteenR

    VelveteenR Just gathering dust in the nursery... 5-Year Member

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    DS validated calc, chem, physics, and intro IT and chose to start ahead in those course streams two years ago. Absolutely no regrets and no harm to GPA (A+ in Jedi Math). There are way more benefits to validating, IMO, than holding back to (only potentially) preserve the GPA which, again IMO, is high-school mentality. His schedule now has open slots for more interesting courses or double majoring and some of those advanced courses weight more positively toward the GPA. Our son told us back then that validating those initial courses spared him potential boredom of repeated material as well as eliminating courses that are taught in a baptism-by-fire style which is partly why they are viewed as "Plebe-killer" courses. He said the more advanced courses are not taught that way.

    I also like what @LongAgoPlebe had to say on this topic this thread:

    http://www.serviceacademyforums.com/index.php?threads/testing-out-of-classes-at-usna.45878
     
  6. MidwestDad

    MidwestDad Member

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    Yes - I agree on the 'GPA mentality.' On related note DS' older brother received 27 [!!] AP credits from his state school; graduated in 3 years and was finishing his first year of grad school when he received a job offer in his dream field and city. Still doing grad work long distance with approval of faculty advisor; now he will have a Masters degree and one year of professional career experience 5 years after HS when many of his peers will just be finishing their undergrad.
    I know this doesn't apply directly to SAs but LongAgoPlebe has the right perspective.

    I had not considered the 'plebe killer' aspect of the '101' level courses but I can see how that factors in.
     
  7. jl123

    jl123 Member

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    Validating courses is an excellent option for those with a firm grasp of the subject material. Not as critical in social sciences, but for borderline validation cases in math, validating can lead to a miserable time in Jedi math and a frustrating experience in higher level engineering courses. The focus for these students should be to develop a mastery of the fundamentals rather than progressing faster (tortoise vs hare thing). Most of the students having trouble in my engineering classes had trouble with the math, not the engineering material.

    GPA is extremely important at West Point, and unlike many high schools, there is no "grade bump" for advanced courses. As the major component of class rank, it determines what opportunities are available upon graduation. It also weighs heavily on what graduate school opportunities will be available down the road.

    A small positive or negative difference in grade in a couple of core courses will not have much impact on the final GPA. Going into Jedi math and getting B+ or better is great and sets up future success. Getting B- or lower indicates a lack of mastery and portends unnecessary future difficulties.
     
  8. another13mom

    another13mom 10-Year Member

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    My cadet validated a few (math and physics) and chose not to accept in order to make plebe year less stressful. Some kids thrive in a hyper competitive academic atmosphere; some prefer the grade bump of a second round of exposure to material. GPA is 60% of rank; rank determines way too much of a cadet's existence. If your cadet is comfortable with letting the chips fall where they may, then go for it. Mine wanted time to develop friendships and play a sport.
     
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  9. Casey

    Casey USMA 2015 5-Year Member

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    I've posted a couple other places about my experience in validating classes. I validated almost everything I could and I wouldn't have changed being placed out of courses or into more advanced sections looking back. GPA is important at school, but if you work for only your GPA, you're going to be the most unhappy cadet, unduly stressed, and miss out on a lot of things. I didn't focus on GPA, took the opportunities provided and ran with it. I was a team captain for a competitive club team that traveled almost every weekend year round, volunteered for a youth group, helped establish the writing center where peer tutors help with other cadets' writing, served in a high level cadet leadership position, and graduated in the top 5% of my class with my branch of choice.


    The pro's of validating summarized:
    1) Open up more course space to take courses you want to take. This is huge with all of the required classes as it gives you more time to do research or an independent study down the road in your major, start a major early, double major, or take courses in other departments because they interest you.. The first two are important considerations if you have aspirations to put together a more competitive application for grad school scholarships coming straight out of the Academy than the typical cadet would be afforded. Taking courses out of your department can just be fun (I took a tactics class for kicks in the strategic studies department because I wanted to, and it ended up being one of my most interesting classes overall. I was a mechanical engineering major; there was no requirement I even come close to taking that course).
    2) The caliber of academic potential you end up in class with tends to be on the much higher spectrum of your class overall. Everyone has different strengths, and being a good Army leader doesn't require you to be an academic genius. That said, I walked into classes knowing I wasn't the smartest kid in the room which pushed me to work harder than I would've if I had just been in a regular level course where I could coast. The discussions we had at times sometimes blew my mind at how smart these people were. There also was a strong correlation between those folks being the folks in higher level cadet leadership positions, both in sports and in the Corps' leadership, because there as a correlation between their drive to succeed that carried outside of the classroom.
    3) Lighten up your course load, because you have less requirements to meet. I averaged over 20 credits a semester. Being able to only take 4 academic courses one semester was one of the most refreshing semesters I had and freed up a ton of time for some outside projects that I was working on and team participation that I wouldn't have had otherwise. If I hadn't validated classes, this wouldn't have been possible, because I would not have met graduation requirements in four years and I wasn't a Corps Squad athlete.


    My final note on the subject, there are very valid reasons to not validate or place out of a course, but West Point is the place to learn as much as possible and challenge yourself to see what you can handle. The Academy is meant to put as much stress and pressure on you in an artificial "safe" environment so you build up your tool kit for time management, faith in yourself, and learn how to leverage your resources to get the mission accomplished at the end of the day. You owe it to your future Soldiers to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to learn and grow before you graduate so when you show up to your unit, you're as prepared as was possible to be that person, who at the end of the day, might have to make some really hard calls. None of that has to do with what your GPA was when you graduated, your class rank, or even what branch you ended up in. You're a leader at the end of the day, no matter where you end up in the Army, and hopefully you've done everything you can (and continue to do so) to be ready for that responsibility.
     
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  10. jl123

    jl123 Member

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    Validation is clearly beneficial to top students.

    The fine print:

    Results may vary and are not indicative of future performance. Additionally, the general guidance on validation on this forum is not a personal recommendation for any particular cadet and does not take into account the aptitude, experience, or other activities or needs of the cadet, and may not be suitable for any particular cadet. Before validating, cadet should consider whether validation is suitable. Cadets should consider advice from this forum as only a single factor in making their validation decision while taking into account their current abilities, goals, and academic and military environment. ;)
     
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  11. time2

    time2 10-Year Member

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    ^^ True of most things posted on this forum. People are generally offering their OPINION on whatever the subject happens to be. Good to recognize the difference between opinion and fact. Some also tend to sprinkle in enough factual information with their opinions that it is hard to separate one from the other.
     
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  12. DrMom

    DrMom 5-Year Member

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    MidwestDad. The kids who are really good at math LOVE Jedi Math. They are in class with other kids who are good at math and enjoy math--and typically with a prof. who recognizes their talent and potential. It might be a bit of an ego thing too...who wouldn't want to be in something called 'Jedi Math'? My math/science genius loved it. He thought it was exciting. Also, if your kid has the chance and is really good at math, he might look at taking the validation course for probability and stats--even if he just had it for a few weeks. My #1 took the validation test and got credit for a full semester; however, he came out of IB HL Math rather than Calc BC.

    All of this validating opened up the opportunity for a minor in something he was really excited to do, an honors thesis, and the chance to take a lot of extra fun physics courses that were not in his major, too. Like stated above, he was encouraged to apply for a grad school scholarship opportunity, received it, and is now finishing up a masters program. He will be 22 and have a masters and be a 1LT. It is pretty crazy. He also played a sport while at USMA...so it is really on the student.

    It really depends on the student. Some students find it hard enough to be there and just keep up with the schedule that moving to a higher level math--if math has always been a struggle--might not be worth adding to the daily burden. However, if your kid is great at math and likes it, it is a great opportunity to learn more. Remember every year there are kids who successfully compete for and earn prestigious, life changing graduate school scholarships. If your kid is an academic hot shot, why hold back?
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2017
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  13. VelveteenR

    VelveteenR Just gathering dust in the nursery... 5-Year Member

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    @Casey, I suspect you're female; otherwise, I'd think you were my son. ;) Nice post.

    I suspect kids on the cusp or who struggle with a subject would not pass the validation exams, so moving up would not be an option. Also, a kid who barely passes a validation exam most likely would be counseled to stay at the lower level. For those who show clear mastery of subject matter, moving up has all the benefits @Casey posts, and repeating carries the potential GPA danger @LongAgoPlebe nicely argued in the thread linked above. But, as also mentioned upthread, no cadet is forced to move up and plenty of advising is available to help a cadet make the best individual choice so, no worries, your cadet will be guided to his or her best option.

    Our son is one of those academic kids, but he explained to us that due to the diversity of talents and interests in the corp that the OML rubric accounts for, just about every cadet ends up with his or her first or second choice of branch and post, top academics or not; they are not all vying for the same thing. Plus, G/BRADSO is an option for some to help them get where they want to be.

    The military is not like high school. GPA is only one leg of the OML; it isn't an academic race. Being in the top 5% academically does not translate to the same OML. Our son has a friendly rivalry with his roommate of two years. They have about the same OML. This kid kills it on the military and fitness legs, and our son tutors him academically. They are a great example of the cooperative competitive spirit of the corps. Each of them will get where they want to go stronger for learning to lean on each other's strengths. Our son says that is the lesson he will take away from West Point long after his GPA ceases to matter.
     
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  14. Casey

    Casey USMA 2015 5-Year Member

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    I said somewhere in there that I do believe there are valid reasons not to validate, but most people that didn't that I know ended up regretting it; that population wasn't from the top academic students who regretted it, but you're more mid level academic cadet. Reasons for validating include wanting to get a better foundation in the subject, having an easier class that doesn't require as much effort early on while trying to figure out the time management piece that will become the hardest constant challenge for them over the four years, or if you're a cadet who has validated quite a few classes, being placed in a course that you'll end up with a different population of students than you would've otherwise interacted with outside of your major (they bring different perspectives which you can learn from and you meet more people than having the same group of students that you have in class over and over again).

    With that said, those folks who regretted it saw it as a waste of course space when you have such limited time at the Academy to take the courses you want or didn't get any better of a grade than they would've if they had moved up a level because they took the course for granted despite knowing the material and just didn't study (happens in physics and chemistry all of the time). The other advantage of validating classes is you'll end up having more permanent faculty than the rotational professors who may only have a year or two, if that, of teaching experience. That can make a huge difference in being able to understand the course material just based off of presentation, and those more experienced professors tend to have much more background knowledge in their field (doctorates, research, etc.) and alternate ways to present material to reach students with a different learning style that the rotational faculty don't have that gives them more depth to reach from and enrich the class. This isn't a knock on rotational professors; there are some that are absolutely incredible, but there is also a reason that as you start to get out of core courses and into more advanced courses, you are much more likely to have one of these permanent faculty (military or civilian) than the senior company grade/junior field grade officers that are there on 3 year teaching rotations.

    So summarizing, I'm not saying that cadets should validate or not. Based on my experience, I'm much happier for having validating courses, and I think there are more pros than cons especially again when you put the Academy in perspective for being a place that is meant to 100% challenge you as much as possible. I only brought up where I graduated to put into perspective you can graduate high in your class without focusing on GPA. If I had focused solely on GPA, I really don't think I would've graduated higher in my class. If anything, I would've dropped in my rank, because for everything that I was successful at, I had a ton of help from teammates, friends, teachers, etc. supporting me.

    Just a quick highlight, I still remember one night I was up way after taps in the day room working on a problem set and I was completely stumped (I do not advise doing this...I was definitely breaking at least 5 different rules that I can think of off the top of my head. I had missed class for some reason or other and the textbook wasn't helping me out at all with understanding what I was supposed to do. One of my buddies who lived in a different company area got up (she was an incredibly early sleeper) at 0200 to come to my company day room to help draw out the problem on the board and walk me through what I needed to do, no questions asked, without any complaints or questions asked (also breaking a handful of rules herself to come over to my barracks to do so). That doesn't take into account any of the van trips where my teammates and I helped each other out on homework or after practice or any of the million other times someone went out of their way to make sure that either myself or one of my classmates was successful. None of that was because of GPA, and those are the same people that I can call at 0200 in the morning on the East Coast to get advice on how to handle something in my company because that's the only time that time zones work out for me to be free to call them now with where I'm stationed at times. West Point is a special place, and the military just continues those bonds after graduation.


    Yes to being female, but it sounds like your son has a good head on his shoulders and is going to continue to do well if this is the kind of feedback you're getting from him :) No one gets through West Point alone. The folks who try are not the ones that are well liked in their class, and it is very transparent when people are working for their GPA only (which carries over to the Army and its easy to quickly peg who is working for their evaluation and not because they actually care about doing well at their job). Everyone has a strength, and the best leaders I've interacted with figure out what those strengths are to put people into positions to succeed, not dismiss them because they have weaknesses in other areas. Hope he keeps working hard and best of luck to him!
     
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  15. jl123

    jl123 Member

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    You have given an excellent analysis on the benefits of validation, but this particular reason seems to contradict current thought on validation. There is growing concern among academicians that AP courses taught at a high school level do not provide the foundation necessary for upper-level coursework.

    A Wall Street Journal article addressed this subject:
    • "...some schools, including the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University, have scaled back or are reconsidering how much credit they give students for AP exams. They question whether a high mark on the test is really equivalent to mastering college-level course work."
    • "....colleges are pushing back, saying the AP courses aren’t on par with their classes. They also say that too many exemptions from classes can take away from a shared undergraduate experience with other students."
    • "At the University of Pennsylvania....found that students who used AP scores to skip introductory courses fared worse in upper-division classes than those who took the full sequence at Penn because they weren’t as well-prepared."
    Success in upper-level courses at West Point, or any other elite college, depends on a solid foundation in the fundamentals of the subject. If a cadet comes in with that foundation, moving on to more advanced material is beneficial, otherwise it is a struggle.
     
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  16. jl123

    jl123 Member

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    To address the notion that repeating a course may lead to a lower grade due to boredom. There is no adequate support for that hypothesis and it is illogical.

    I graduated at a time when there was no validation. Everyone took the same courses, even those entering from college. I do not know of a single instance where a cadet ended up with a low grade in calculus, physics, chemistry or any other subject in which they were repeating the same course they took in college. Quite the opposite, in fact - many gained a better understanding of the material. At worst it allowed them to maintain a good grade while freeing up time to concentrate on other areas. While we would have been thrilled at the opportunity to double major or minor, repeating courses did not have negative consequences and in many cases was quite beneficial.

    On a related note, "plebe killers" are not really something to be avoided. They earn that moniker because they are the first truly college level courses that many students take. More advanced courses would kill just as many plebes that are still bridging the gap between high school and college level work.
     
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  17. oldcorpsdad

    oldcorpsdad 5-Year Member

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    I am of the "Do the best you can" school. If a Cadet is looking to find ways to slide and make life easier from the beginning, I suspect that this will parlay into other areas. I validated a few courses ,from AP tests many many years ago. It opened up extra electives and was to my benefit in the end. My DS who graduated a few years ago validated a ton of courses (five I think) and it opened up all sorts of opportunities. Yes he took tougher courses and got very little sleep. In the end it earned him a two year scholarship to MIT right after graduation. He went off to his basic course with a masters in engineering from MIT as a 1LT. Each Cadet needs to pick their own path. My parents had no say in my course selection and I took none in my sons. It was his path to pick and make. He succeeded or failed on his own merits and efforts. Have your son do what ever he thinks is right and best for him and let him forge his own path.
     
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  18. Casey

    Casey USMA 2015 5-Year Member

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    I don't disagree with needing a solid foundation in the subject. I wouldn't be surprised though if there was a correlation between schools teaching to the AP exams themselves and not focusing on the material that would also be a reason for this. The AP exams are just a snap shot of a student's abilities in the subject matter, and every year they tend to be extremely repetitive. There also is a whole industry based on test prep that makes millions every year not increasing a student's proficiency in the subject in question but how they take tests. Its not surprising considering you shell out close to $100 for each test. Parents want results if they're going to be paying for them, and if their student ends up with a 1 or 2, that money was a waste. In today's society unfortunately, a lot of that blame then gets placed on the educators than the students for not preparing them well enough which feeds into the focus for test prep and less on actually learning the material.


    I saw it; I had quite a few classmates that complained they should've studied more and scored less on a test than they could've because they thought they remembered more than they have. I've also done it in different instances. When you think you have something pat, you don't spend much time on it which can lead to a false sense of security and you don't prepare as well because you know you can wing it. It isn't a bad thing necessarily. Cost benefit analysis says spend the time where you actually need to spend it so you'll do the best overall. Some of my engineering classes or even the physics II class I took were a great example of this. I knew that because we had the textbooks or reference sheets that I had enough knowledge to figure it out day of a WPR rather than study and make my life easier the day. The results generally were a lower score than I would've otherwise gotten (in one case in particular, definitely way, way, way lower than I wanted haha).

    If you'll see in my statements, I never used absolutes. I'm talking that it can happen to some. Anecdotally, I've seen it happen, and I know the experience myself. Most people will do exactly as you said and get a better understanding of reviewing the matter again, but at the same time, there are other possibilities. Its very, very rare in a debate that never and always will be terms that can be 100% proven. My only goal of being here bringing up my experiences is the same as you I would imagine in helping people make informed decisions, but at the end of the day, its their choice. Its been fun debating this. I'm sure it'll come back up in 4 or 5 months or so.
     
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  19. jl123

    jl123 Member

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    Good discussion. I do believe cadets should challenge themselves, but should do so based upon a thoughtful assessment of their abilities and goals and not jump blindly into something because someone else said they should (even well meaning teachers and administrators).

    My words of caution were partially based on the experience of a friend's DS, who jumped into Jedi math and struggled - passed validation exam and counseled to take Jedi even though he had a 3 on B/C exam (that should have been the red flag). Additionally, as a humanities major, Jedi math really didn't fit his academic interests and goals.
     
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  20. Mdebczak@aol. Com

    Mdebczak@aol. Com New Member

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    My son is also in Jedi math. What is that exactly? I know its advanced math but is it only for Plebes?