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Exam vs. Knowledge

  1. Jun 7, 2009 #1
    As I advance in my studies (electrical and communications engineering) I find that there is an increasing conflict between exams and knowledge. Somehow, my subjects seem to be exam-oriented in a way. That is, the subject is taught through a set of problems, techniques and concepts in order for one to pass an exam.

    It doesn't happen much, if at all, that a professor would sacrifice a lecture or 2 in order to tie the courses with each other and from there, go on to relate his course to real world needs under a clear and understandable framework; we need them to show us where are we on the road to being an engineer, where are we going and what are we working to achieve. This never happens.

    The course is taken almost as a stand-alone course, the only relation between one course and another is the assumption of how much background the students have over a subject. Therefore, the only relation students normally has with the course is the final exam. That is, we take courses, to ace them and compile key notes.

    Is this a normal result due to the increasing complexity of subjects (no professor can spare a lecture or 2 due to overload) or is there something wrong with the way I am being taught?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 7, 2009 #2
    - I see calculus/vector calculus/laplace in courses other than math (Cal I, II, II).
    - I learn what goes inside diode/BJT in one course and use them in circuit analysis courses.
    - I know the basic application of RLC/RC/LC.. circuits

    I am sure you also know these things so I don't understand what's the problem?

    (As for other part of the OP, it's the not school responsibility to teach you the real world, you need to learn it (or develop skills) yourself .. Universities cannot spoon feed everything)
  4. Jun 7, 2009 #3
    I had both kinds of classes. In one class I would be spewed all this information and asked to remember it for the final/midterm/quiz. However most of my classes were organized like so:

    1. Present info detailed in textbook
    2. Add extra details/proofs/outcomes/experimental results/latest info in lecture.
    3. Have 2 or 3 guest lecturers come in during the semester
    4. Base homework off 1-3
    5. Base exams off 1-4 + discussion section questions + other concepts discussed in lecture not in textbook,homework,discussion section,anywhere on the internet that you can easily find.

    So in this way, the exam was tailored to what was taught in the lecture and was usually written during the 3rd week before the final/midterm, rather than a pre-prepared exam with the lectures tailored to explain everything on it.

    I did notice the "effect" that you describe when I took my requisite quantum mechanics class. However all my astrophysics classes did not fit this model.

    Edit: I agree with the above post by root, what you learn is mostly what you study alone by yourself (not even in a study group because there you are studying with certain criteria). However I still feel that you learn more with the way I was taught (not trying to brag or something, just saying from experience), than if the cake was thrown into your face and you were asked to retain all of it and not let any slip to the ground.
  5. Jun 7, 2009 #4
    Sure, mathematics, calculus, circuitry, etc...they are everywhere, this is not what I am referring to. For example,why am I studying control system design? and what is its relation with communications, electronics and electromagnetics? Later on (usually by the final exam) I develop this relation and things start making sense. However, if that was clear before, it would have had a great impact on the way I received the module.

    The main issue is that most of my modules this semester are of the type 'learn, memorize, project memories on an exam paper, delete' . There is no real transferable knowledge that can be applied to other subjects.

    In a way, it is, because when I graduate, I am expected to be an engineer up-and-ready for the market. If I kept taking courses that are un-related to each other, how am I going to be the all-around inter-disciplinary engineer that I am supposed to be?

    On the other hand, I found that if I studied alone the subjects that I am taking, say in the summer, I can make a huge amount of knowledge and develop a framework for my study in general. Last semester, in my "Electric Materials" module, I did the exact thing, I learned by myself the concepts and the theory that I was supposed to. I ended up getting a C. Why? Because I didn't solve technical problems, that does not reflect any knowledge of the subject rather than the ability to memorize and apply silly techniques.

    I hope you have a better understanding of the problem now, this last example nailed it.
  6. Jun 7, 2009 #5
    You really don't know anything until you've done it in the real world. End of story.

    The idea of the lecture is not to show you how it relates to any of your past classes, or future classes. It's to give you the knowledge of key concepts. Your job is to master and apply those concepts to whatever job you have to do. That's where real world complications come in that no text book example or exam can ever mimic.

    For this reason, an exam really isn't a good indicator of how well you know a subject. You can get a 4.0 in this class, and then I can ask you to build me an electronic device with the knowledge you just learned. If you got 100% on your exams, but you can't build me what I asked, you'll be fired.
  7. Jun 7, 2009 #6
    I didn't have a clue why I am learning calculus in high school.

    No, I don't think employers have those expectations from the graduates.

    Solving those problems help you develop problem solving skills which are useful everywhere.
  8. Jun 7, 2009 #7
    I would be careful with your second statement. Employers certainly do expect you to do a good amount of work. Of course, you will have to be taught some stuff, but I emphasize the word some.

    Basically, if your not as close as ready to go as possible, they will hire someone else who is.

    I'm doing work for two different companies right now. It's basically deliver or my ***, not excuses. And, they did not give me 'on the job training'. You should have the skill to walk in and learn on your own what to do.
  9. Jun 7, 2009 #8
    Yes they have some expectations but they wouldn't give you some work where professional engineer stamp/seal is required. I think in America also, you need to get some 5 years of training under professional engineer and do an exam for doing engineering work.

    I worked 8 months for a start up implementing applications in .NET/Objective C/Java. I also didn't get any training. My employer helped me in designing the applications but for most part it was just me developing those solutions. It was really hard work because I never built any software application before (other than those school "hello world" projects). I want to work somewhere else for next term and I don't think I will find that intense work anywhere else for 4 another years (Most my friends were QA - they never got lucky enough to touch the designing part). I should add that though I ve never learned anything useful from my university but I did learn how to work hard/solve problems.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2009
  10. Jun 7, 2009 #9
    They can give you the work, my friend does it all the time. The PE signs off on it - he doesn't. That doesn't mean you wont do the work though. You don't need 5 years of training under a professional engineer or to take an exam to do engineering work. You only need to have a PE if you do work that legally requires the signing off of a PE. At the aerospace company I do work for, no one has a PE.
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