There are some issues which come up from questionnaires, from conversations I have had with students on the course in previous years, and questions I wished I had been asked. Here's an answer to them.
Why doesn't this course just have the usual lectures?
Not a lot of learning takes place during lectures, so I've freed up some time for independent reading. The question sessions are now used by me to give an introduction to the set reading for the week, and as an opportunity to ask questions about the set reading for the previous week. You'll still have access to the electronic slides I created for the original lectures, where most examples are done step-by-step.
So what are these `question sessions'?
They're your chance to ask me questions about the material you've been set for the past fortnight, and for me to give you a leg-up on the material for the coming fortnight by explaining the technically most difficult concepts.
How are the examples classes going to work?
The first four examples classes are there for you to get help with solving the exercises, including some hints regarding the assessed exercises. I will be there with (hopefully) three demonstrators. In the last week we'll mark the assessed exercises.
Can I change to the 10.00am examples class even if my last name starts with a letter from A to L?
Somebody's got to take the nine o'clock slot, and the best I could think of is make an arbitrary separation. The only possible clash is with a course taken in another department, if you have such a clash talk to me.
Can I change to the 9.00am examples class even if my last name starts with a letter from M to Z?
There's a known clash with COMP30421, and if you take that course then come to the 9.00am examples class.
Why aren't the notes shorter, more like the bullet points we get in other lectures on the slides?
This course is fairly mathematical and analytical in nature. This kind of information can't be put into bullet points.
But why is there so much of them? After all, we also have the question sessions and examples classes to go to!
I'm trying to explain the material as best I can. So that I can include examples and take things slowly I need the space.
So if the notes are so good, we don't have to come to the scheduled activities??
Would you have passed your A-levels in mathematics with just a text book? The notes are there to give you a firm account of the material, the question sessions are there to help you understand what's in them, and the examples classes to let you practise solving related problems of the kind that will be in the exam. It's your choice whether to take advantage of these but don't complain to me later when you realize the course is tougher than you thought!
Why do the slides look so different from the notes?
Because they are about a different way of explaining things.
Why do you insist on us doing things in the examples classes? You can explain it all much better, and that's what you're there for!
Because I know from experience that those who do not start working for the course during term have a very hard time preparing for the exam later.
But we don't do a lot of work for other courses during term time, we just work very hard after the end of term.
This may work for some courses, but it doesn't for ones which have deep conceptual issues. And all mathematical courses are like that.
Why are there two versions of every exercise? And why do we only cover one of them in the examples classes?
To give you something to practise on during exam preparation, a question whose solution you haven't seen before.
Why this emphasis on practising?
Because that's what half the exam is about: Asking you to apply techniques which you have hopefully practised throughout the term. If you haven't, you won't be able to do well. It's like trying to pass A-levels without ever solving any examples yourself.
Couldn't you at least hand out solutions to the exercises?
I know from experience that it's too tempting to just try to understand the solution rather than trying to solve the questions from scratch. But that's not good enough to get you through the exam!
How much are the assessed exercises worth?
They amount to 20% of your final mark. The remaining 80% come from the exam.
How are you going to assess us?
With every assessed exercise you'll get the number of marks it will be worth. In the last examples class of the term marking will take place. You will have written answers to however many exercises you attempted, and I or a demonstrator will ask you to explain (some) of your answers. If you can do so you'll get the marks for them, otherwise we'll have to assume you just copied the solutions from somebody else.
How many marks are you going to deduct for incorrect answers?
Your using the correct technique is more important to me than minor errors. You can still get full marks even if your final answer isn't quite right, as long as you prove you understand the proper technique. If your application of the techniques is only correct in part you may only get partial marks for an exercise.
What if I am ill during the semester?
I expect you to be able to catch up with anything you missed during the term unless you have been absent for more than a week. In that case you need to contact me as soon as possible to make arrangements.
What's the examinable material?
Everything that's in the notes.
What about the examples and exercises?
They too. But the examples are just that, examples for the application of techniques, and I want to see you apply those techniques in the exams.
I don't ask for minute details, but am trying to find out whether you've understood the main issues. When detail is an issue in a question I usually give you some choice.
How similar will the exam be to those of previous years?
Very. You've got seven exam papers to compare.
If I think I understand the pattern of your exams, doesn't it make more sense to prepare for fewer questions but very thoroughly?
That's a risk you'd take. In 2002/2003 I gave a lot of information about the exam, and many people told me they'd prepare for just three questions. Then they found that they couldn't, after all, solve one of them (in that case because they hadn't understood strategies when there are elements of chance involved), but they had no other question to try instead. There were some low marks in that year. A lot of people complained about that, but their complaints were found to be unjustified.
Why isn't it good enough to just read through all the course material and learn that thoroughly?
Because the exam is trying to test understanding. If you can only repeat what's in the notes then that won't be good enough.