It has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve managed to get finger on keyboard, and blog. So long that I’m worried I’ve forgotten how to do an adequate job of it. Much like the sportsman coming out of retirement for one last push, please forgive the rough edges and the slow start, but you are more than entitled to believe that the end result will be a flourish recalling the glory-days.
My excuse is simple and predictable: exams. Second year has and will always be a living embodiment of hell itself, for almost every university degree. However, the examination period this year struck me unlike any other. During this time, I’ve had very few nice words to say about the university, myself, or the computing department at Imperial, and as several TV shows always say: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Fortunately, that’s never been a motto I’ve subscribed to, and based on the 5 tortuous papers I’ve sat these past two weeks, I would like to have a mini rant. Everyone has a different method of revising, be it: early in the morning or late at night, in the central library or chained to their own desk; fully suited or comfortably naked. Some like reading, some like writing, some like doing, and others like visualising. Whatever your style, it all combines into a series of past paper attempts.
These papers are completely useful, because it abstracts away from the broad descriptiveness of lecture notes and the steady progression of problem sheets. The four questions on your desk are of an identical style, format, font, wording and grading as the paper that will determine your future in a few weeks, days or hours. When you can conquer these past exams, you can make it to the next year.
For most subjects, students have easy access to past papers and answers, and can approach them however they like. I prefer to attempt questions, research lecture notes and tutorials I’ve completed to fill in any blanks in my knowledge, and, failing any inspiration from those, reverse engineer the answer sheets. I learn more by working through the process, than by reading a wordy bullet point. But one thing I can guarantee, is that by the end of my attempt, I will come away knowing what my examiners expect from me if they were to pose a similar question in May or June.
This is the case for the EEE department, as well as most of the other departments around Imperial. However, this year I took 5 modules with the Department of Computing, and they have no such policy. In DoC, we get no answer sheets, which would be fine if the problems sheets throughout the year were comprehensive and of an “exam format”, but again, DoC has no such policy. For vast periods of this past month, I’ve felt like I was in an incredibly unhygienic aquatic area without a means of forward propulsion.
Having to decipher past exams, when you have no means of discovering the intention is demoralising, when one is revising. In many cases, I saw questions appear in these papers, which were not present in problem sheets, and were very vaguely described in lecture notes. Some unfortunate year of students were presented with a question that they were never told how to answer. Internet research does of course help, but ultimately, you are blindly guessing what the marker wants, which is impossible for anyone beneath Professor Xavier (Imperial students are good, but not THAT good). Examinations have never been an accurate representation of intelligence or reflection of real life, but for me, this exam period has taken all of that to the extreme. While it is fair and justified to say this is their way of challenging us, weeding out the chaff, if felt more like they wanted me to fail.
**pause, with a deep cleansing breath**
And now I’m calm
That 650 word rant was just what I needed after a tough two weeks, I still have an Artificial Intelligence exam coming up on Monday, but it’s a subject I really enjoy, so I don’t expect it to be too taxing.
One thing I will say, is while I found DoC to be an incredibly tough department, and would love for them to ease up by including past exam answers, there are those who fully commit to them for 4 years and really do have to work their cotton socks off to get their degrees. I can criticise all I like, but the quality of the students they and the rest of Imperial produces really is an undeniable rebuttal to anything I can write in this small student blog. Heed my post as a warning, no matter what department you apply to, you will have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Their is wonderful, comprehensive and, should you choose, sordid social life waiting for you at Imperial upon entry, but it is around this time when you pay the price and really prove your worth.
It seems tough and unappealing when I write posts like this, but when I can boast that I have at one point been employed by my dream company before the age of 20, it all quickly becomes worth it.
Thanks for reading,