Effectiveness

Yesterday I spent all day in the cafeteria, studying for the software engineering exam. Again the 30-minute slots for the oral exams were spread over three days, of which yesterday was the first, while mine was this morning. This gave me the opportunity, again, to ask those who were examined on the first day how it went and what the professor had expected them to know. Also, two of my co-students who were hanging out in the cafeteria before their exams are as avid flashcard users as I am, and we used the time to ask each other questions from our card decks. This really helps a lot to clarify things and see them in context. At some point you have mapped all information to the specific way your own flashcard asks the question, and evidently this can be a problem if the question is posed differently.

First however I was in for a slight shock, because literally with the first question that came up I drew a total blank. A couple of weeks ago I had gone through all lecture slides yet again and completed my flashcards, so naturally I thought I was at least in principle aware of everything there was to know. But in fact I had completely missed the slides for the entire last lecture, which included such fantastically theoretical and detailed subjects as process models (the spiral, the V, Rational Unified Process and all that). When I came out of my shock praised my foresight in selecting a second-day date for the exam and spent the next two hours transferring all this stuff onto flashcards and memorizing them. It’s always amazing what you can accomplish in a very short time in the last few days before an exam. By evening I knew all those things by heart. Needless to say they didn’t come up in the exam!

Still, the reports from the exams on the first day were not good. Whereas last term the professor had really just had a nice relaxed talk with us, this term, my co-students said, he was probing with a certain determination for specific buzz words, and if they were not forthcoming, the grade was instantly lowered. In fact, over the entire first day I didn’t hear of a single A+, not even from those of us who were extremely well prepared. So I tried, with a dogged determination, to do what I usually avoid to do at all costs  because it just makes me jittery–cram an awful lot of things into my short-term memory in the hours just before the exam. But this time it was necessary. Because, as I realized rather late, I had not really paid attention in class because all this project management stuff made a certain amount of sense in the big picture, while the details were instantly transferred to flashcard and memorized, in isolation. So I used the remaining hours to re-read all lecture slides and try to find the structure of the lecture, how the different topics interconnected. It’s easy to lose track of that over the course of three months.

Still, I attended choir practice in the evening, just to unwind, and amazingly slept well, again. In the morning it was raining cats and dogs and I arrived in the cafeteria wet as a drowned rat, shed my assorted outer garments, and reviewed the lecture slides yet again, in a comparatively easy mood now. It’s amazing how one can be jittery as hell well before a thing starts, but then suddenly calm when one is actually facing it. And really the exam was comparatively relaxed. In fact, I didn’t have the impression that the professor was after specific buzz words, or very detailed knowledge. Most questions really tested my general understanding of the development process and project planning, though there were are few knowledge transfer problems. Still, with the experciences of my co-students in mind I used the slightest provocation to disgorge everything I knew about a subject in a staccato burst, and then some more just to hint that I could easily go on if I chose. In the end that was the only small criticism: In a future exam I should rather be more structured and talk more slowly. Though as they say, in the end the result counts, and that was an A+. It was still good to be well-prepared, just to avoid being insecure. And in fact, compared to last term’s exam where my feeling was I had only been asked a couple of questions that hardly scratched the surface of the lecture contents, this time there had been quite a lot they wanted to know, from quality assurance and testing over writing offers to project planning and the agile principles.

Mind you, I probably overdid it again. One of our group who is notoriously late to start preparing and had reviewed the slides for the first time two days ago, just got out with an A+ as well. But then making triple sure I am well prepared is just the way I work. I can be efficient if I must, but if it’s important I prefer to be effective: Make sure of the outcome, more or less regardless of the cost.

Now I have exactly 48 hours to prepare for the last exam, the oral presentation of my adaptive systems project (the maze) on Friday. But that’s not going to be a lot work because really I haven’t achieved anything worth mentioning since the mid-term presentation (which anyway was a late-term presentation). I will just summarize the contents of my written paper and be done with that. Answer some questions and hope that, in spite of my networks not learning anything, and of my refusing the professor’s buddy’s job offer, the professor will grade me kindly. Anyway there’s not a lot I can do about it now.

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