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Monday, October 26, 2009

The most hated on

I hate studying for exams. One of my greatest strengths is my ability to assimilate a large amount of information in a very short time; I've developed this as a result of six years of hating studying for exams. (Edit: I should clarify that I'm not particularly proud of this skill. It lets me get away with being uncommonly lazy.)

Just because I can do it, though, doesn't mean I have to enjoy it. I'd much rather be doing problems, or even writing summaries, than just pouring information into myself. As a happy medium, my favourite method of exam preparation is working through old exams.

Two of my four exams this trimester are utterly without precedent. Metrics this year is being taught by a different person, and in quite a different way, from previous years. As a result, last year's exam is not a very good guide to this year's. All we have to go on is the structure of the midterm and the content of the problem sets. This is not too bad; it's not that difficult to generalise from one to the other.

Macro has undergone a serious change in structure this year. Although the content covered seems to be broadly similar, the exam format we've been told to expect is totally different from last year's exam. We have two sections of two questions each, and a choice only on section B. Last year had six questions with a simple choice of three. We have, apparently, "a mix of essays and problem solving". Last year's questions were all essay questions.

In addition to the decrease in choice - we get to leave out one, whereas last year's lot got to leave out three, lucky bastards - we're also suffering badly from a lack of precedent on content. In a course with problem sets, it's generally safe to assume that the exam will be at a similar level to the problem sets. This course has had only one problem set, and that related only to the second half of the course.

As we are given to expect "a mix of essays and problem solving" in both sections, we'll probably be faced with at least one analytical exam question based on the first half of the course (which we won't have an option to skip). Although we've been given analytical material in spades in the assigned reading, it's not clear at all whether we're expected to have learned this in much detail. Do we need to practice only techniques which were demonstrated in class, or do we need to understand all the hard-out math in the academic papers we've covered? Are we going to be asked to prove known results or derive unexpected ones? Will we be given the assumptions or asked to lay down our own? Will there be calculus?

Asking Dr Macro any of these questions draws a response along the lines of "all the course material is examinable". Yep. That's... so helpful.

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