5 Hours

8 AM on the last day. At least I am here, all in one piece. Nor have I suddenly taken ill, so far. I have even slept soundly and nearly enough. The exam can come.

Still three hours to wait though, and it’s still a scary exam in which reproducing highly detailed factual knowledge will be expected from us, as well as keeping dozens of fairly similar yet subtly different procedures apart, to the extent of comparing them with respect to some obscure and reasonably unlikely attack. As in, consider the cipher block chaining and the counter mode for block ciphers. Is it riskier to re-use the initialization vector or to transmit it unencrypted, and do the two procedures differ in that respect? Oh yeah. I love that kind of question. It twists my brain and puts a knot in my stomach.

And there will be no point buffer, i.e. the grading ceiling will be the maximum number of points achievable in the exam, and then some. It’s bad enough when it’s the maximum number, period. In that case, by the definition of our grades, you need 95 per cent of the points for an A+, and from there down in 5 per cent steps. But this professor, in a recent exam, expected 69 out of 70 points for an A+. 95 per cent would have been 67.

Kind of reminds me of our eldest daughter’s math teacher. She gives an A only if you make no mistakes at all, and never an A-. Kind of like the A is the holy grail of math, and math is about getting everything right. As if. Our daughter is in the math program for third-graders at UHH. For this, they selected 50 out of over 50,000 school children from her age cohort in the entire city according to their math skills and general cognitive intelligence (by the by, 42 boys and 8 girls; that’s gender equality for you in Germany today). In fact her logical thinking and abstraction skills are way beyond her age. At 5 she explained to us, in general terms, why the sum of any two odd numbers must be even. And this girl has a B+ in her school report for math. Because she makes an occasional mistake. She still is the top scorer in her class. Truth is, school math simply bores her.

Oh great, how I digress. Point buffers. Yeah, this is one of those exams where you have to get everything right, like our daughter in math. That alone makes is stressful, in spite of the more than generous two hours we’ll get to take an exam that judging by the Altklausuren can easily be done in 30 minutes. At least that’s something. But yeah, I’m scared. I want it over with, but with a good grade. Now more than ever. In spite of doing this for the 24th time there is no routine. Every exam is, in a way, the first.


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