Exams and Me

August 20th, 2008 . by Jason

All summer long I have been dreading taking the Qualifying Exam. The Qualifying Exam is offered once a year and is considered to be the Iron Gates through which all EE graduate students must pass. The lucky make it through alive on their first attempt, while others succeed at their second. The rest, well, they are cast into the fiery furnaces of entering the workforce.

Technically speaking, you are only required to take the test after completing two academic school year semesters as a graduate student. Having entered in January I only had one under me, so taking the exam was not a requirement for me and realistically I am not even qualified to take the Qualifying Exam. Upon my arrival at Purdue everyone I talked to said that I should just try it anyways, as if taking a four hour exam is like a walk in the park. The exam consists of up to four questions from each of the eight areas of EE offered at Purdue. In the exam you need to answer two questions from your area of study and then pick any other two questions. My field of study, Fields and Optics, had only three questions so I easily decided to take those and then figured that I know enough about computer engineering to be able to answer a question from that set. I spent all summer studying for this exam and the dreaded day arrived.

I arrived at school thirty minutes before the start of the test and there was already a long line of students waiting to get into the room, so I decided to spend some time in my office. Twenty-five minutes later I caved and went to wait in line, where I conveniently ran into someone from our ward who was attempting the test for the second time. He mentioned that it was best to use a pen on the test since it copies better so I frantically ran back to my office to grab my pen.

They handed out the test packets and I can honestly say that the packet was at least 150 pages and it took me a good 5 minutes just to locate the questions that I was going to answer. I attacked the three fields and optics questions first and I felt like I did decently on them, until I got home and reflected on them only to realize that I made a few dumb mistakes. I had saved the computer engineering question for last and when I flipped it open realized that I didn’t have a clue. I scribbled down a few answers, but quickly realized that the ten points out of a hundred that I was going to get on it was not going to help me beat the exam so I frantically flipped through the humungous stack of questions in search of one that I might be able to score more points on another one. Then I found it, the question made for me. It was in the VLSI section of the test and it seemed too good to be true. I took a couple quick glances at it and knew that I would need another answer book because I was throwing out the computer engineering question. I took maybe thirty minutes to answer all four parts of the question which gave me enough time to try to work out a few more details on the Fields and Optics questions.

To pass the test you need something like 280 points out of 400; however if you only get 240 you can get a conditional pass. If you get a conditional pass you are given a list of tasks to satisfy and if you complete the tasks you get a stamp of approval. On my test I’m fairly confident that I’m not going to get the 280 points, but I may just get over 240, especially since I’m thinking I got 85 points on the VLSI question. I really should have gotten more, but I know that I answered the first part wrong.

I should get the results back sometime next week, so we will have to see what happens…. I will probably be more nervous to open that email than when I got my mission call.

On a happier note, tonight I took a language placement test for French. I’ve always wanted to take some French classes, but there was no way I was ever going to take a French class at BYU which I won’t get into. Being that I haven’t really spoken French for four years I was slightly nervous that I would be placed into one of the beginning French classes. This evening I hesitantly walked into the computer lab where the tests were being given and I panicked. Everyone in the room had on headphones and was busy clicking away. I never felt extremely comfortable listening to French people talking to me, it just wasn’t the same as the Ivoirians. Their accent, and grammar use were just so different. Being that it has been so long since I’ve been in a conversation in French this made me nervous. So, I checked into the test and took a spot at a computer in the corner, placed the headphones on my head and filled out the form on the computer. And then it began. There really wasn’t much of an intro and before I knew it there were French voices in my ears and questions popped up onto my screen. It was like I was taking the 6th grade listening comprehension test all over again. I carefully listened to the conversation and answered the questions as they were said. I managed to pull together what was being said in the first three conversations, but the fourth and final listening question almost got me. It seemed like I didn’t understand a word of the first paragraph of what was being said, fortunately, I got the rest of it and was able to guess at what they were saying at the beginning.

The next section was all about grammar. I was somewhat relieved that there was no more listening, but I was not too excited about the grammar. It wasn’t often that I ever had to write in French on my mission except for the occasional note or two. The questions weren’t that hard and if I read them under my breath I could easily pick out the correct word to place in the blank. On a couple questions though I wasn’t sure what was right since the African slang would be one way, but I thought that it was probably not right. Anyways, I made it through.

At the end of the test, which only took twenty minutes, a bright green screen popped up congratulating me on testing out of all of the beginning and intermediary French classes. The proctor saw it on my screen and gave me a little congratulations and asked me where I learned French, since obviously it wasn’t in school (or else I would need to take a placement test). We had a short conversation and he offered me a couple of recommendations for classes.

Now I no longer have to fear that my French sucks. I am looking forward to taking a non engineering class this fall, it should be fun.

Now if only the results of my Qualifying Exam turn out to be just as good…..

One Response to “Exams and Me”

  1. comment number 1 by: Alisha

    Nice work, Jason! I took the same test (and didn’t do nearly as well) for Spanish, and it IS totally stressful!