On Monday, I took what will be my last exam for the foreseeable future.
I remember things best when I write them down, so I went through the course notes and typed all the key points into a document. I was going to hand-write it (better retention) but I started and my hand started cramping up after about 10 lines. I used to write pages and pages, but I haven’t for a long time.
So I typed instead. This means I can tell you that I compiled this course into 75 pages of notes. Mostly bullet points, but 19,362 words, or 98,274 characters (not including spaces). 3,362 lines.
And yesterday I took the exam. 5 pages, perhaps? 80 minutes allowed. I took 25 and then left before I changed the answers I wasn’t sure of endlessly.
75 pages, reduced to 25 minutes. Having seen the exam, I could go through and reduce those 75 pages to 10 or so. We were tested only on memorization – not on understanding. Not having had any sample questions, there was no way to tell that beforehand.
It feels like a metaphor for university. So much work amounts to so small a time to demonstrate that you know what you’re doing. The course is on software testing and someone could ace that exam and still have no understanding of writing good, clean, testable code. Someone could do badly at regurgitating the definitions but be a really good tester. Does it really matter what a “Point of Control and Observation” is? You don’t need to be calling a network port that in order to be able to write a good set of test cases around it.
This disjoint between reality and academia is frustrating me. In the age of the smart phone, don’t ask me to define – ask me to understand.
Also frustrating me is the discord between what the university values (research) and what students pay for (teaching). I pay international tuition. And the course I’ve been taking? We handed in our first assignment nearly a month ago, and have had no feedback. The second one, two weeks ago. No feedback. No sample questions for the exam. Next week I will hand in my project – and the outcome of the course, will end up as a grade on infoweb. No time to improve my understanding. No chance to learn from any mistakes I made early on.
I have straight As in grad school. In the worst case, this course brings down my GPA – something that with feedback I would have been able to avert. In the best case, this course maintains my GPA but I still never got the opportunity to improve. And I live to improve. Relentless improvement. Continuous improvement. It helps to know how you’re doing to assess what you can best be working on.
Can you tell? I can’t wait for my return to the real world next month. I’ll have to return to this vortex of despair that is academia in September, but it’ll be temporary.
Interesting article from Ben Casnocha on whether or not to go to college.