Academic Ingenuity: Part II

link to Part I: Knowing the Subject

No student shall knowingly procure, provide, or accept any unauthorized material that contains questions or answers to any examination or assignment to be given at a subsequent time.
No student shall complete, in part or in total, any examination or assignment for another person.
No student shall knowingly allow any examination or assignment to be completed, in part or in total, for himself or herself by another person.
No student shall plagiarize or copy the work of another person and submit it as his or her own work.
No student shall employ aids excluded by the instructor in undertaking course work or in completing any exam or assignment.
No student shall alter graded class assignments or examinations and then resubmit them for regrading.
No student shall submit substantially the same material in more than one course without prior authorization. 

Academics is a game of intellectual acuity. Academic ingenuity is when you outplay the game.

Academic ingenuity occurs on 3 fronts:
1. knowing the subject
2. out playing the professor
3. beating the field

Part II: Out playing the Professor:

When Matt Damon sat down at the card table in the movie, Rounders, he knew the game was more than just the cards, it was also about being able to read the people at the table. In the same way, a student should not only learn the material but also read the professor.

It is a sad reality that most professors at academic institutions have teaching quite low on their list of priorities but for an understandable reason. Promotion and raises have to do with academic research accomplishments, not teaching ability. The difference between a tenured professor and an assistant professor is typically dependent on the quality and quantity of published articles his or her lab can produce, not how many outstanding students he or she nurtures.

The difference in motive between students and professors is staggering. As a result, course material gets recycled over and over again. In the first post, you’ll find that at the bottom of the website lies this line:  Materials from my class last year are available here. Most of the materials are the same or similar, but some topics will be covered in a different order or changed in emphasis. 


Take for example Mechanical Engineering as another case study. If you are a ME student at UCSD you have undoubtedly seen this website before: It is a compilation of courses offered over the last two years. Let’s take MAE143B offered in spring 2010 for example. A professor leaves his course website online and it contains homework assignments, solutions, midterms and finals, and various other resources.

Now if I were a ME student and knew that I would be taking MAE143B sometime down the line, I would save everything on this website for future reference. Within departments professors know one another an the likelihood of professors sharing teaching notes are quite high. Take MAE3 for example. Prof. Nathan Delson has taught MAE3 for a long time and as long as he is at UCSD that class will be his to teach. He doesn’t vary the material much quarter to quarter and everything is online:

One great way to get a read on your professor is via (click here for UCSD). Not every professor is going to be on there but many are. We’ll find the reviews on Prof. Delson and you get an idea that the course is pretty intensive, so factor that in when scheduling courses! (review)

Academic Ingenuity: Part II

A student heading into this next year will have a full quarter’s scouting report on what kind of course load to expect and most importantly, what the professor thinks is important (evident in what he tests in past midterms/finals). Professors do not change styles from one course to the next. The teaching style remains the same and only the subject matter changes. Once you are familiar with a specific professor, try to take as many courses with him as possible. If you hear a professor is really tough, it’s simple: avoid that professor like the plague.

Often times, a professor has his own dedicated website and you will find all his previous courses on there. For example, in spring 2009 a Professor Miroslav Krstic was the professor for MAE143A and his course website was: A quick deletion of the end of the address reveals all the courses this professor also teaches MAE 143B (

Ingenuity requires discipline. A quick creative search of your future classes can yield many resources that put you way ahead of your competition.

Another reality is that people who are part of a community usually score better results. Sure having a study buddy helps and sharing resources help. The real reason is that knowing students who are older than you always help give you insight into a professor’s teaching style.

ie. Professor Keller (alias) is a professor in the BENG dept who always provides more questions on a test than a student could finish in an allotted time. It does not matter that students can’t finish the test because he eventually curves the class grades at the end anyways. Without knowing this, many students spend a little too long on the first few problems and find themselves having no time to finish the 9th or 10th question in the exam, often leaving them entirely blank. The most basic equations would have yielded some points on a question, even if there was not enough time to properly finish the questions. Knowing this, the key to this professor was blitzing through the test a first time and jotting down every equation related to the questions. Then tackling the solvable ones first before moving on to the tricky questions.

Students who were aware of Prof. Keller’s techniques did fairly well in the class. Others who did not were clearly flustered and served the lower end of the curve.

Whether you are in a fraternity, sorority, fellowship, or society, get to know the students who are older than you in your major. They can provide a wealth of information and sometimes an old exam or two. I have seen peers of mine who still have boxes of their old academic stuff. Old physics and chemistry notebooks, old exams and lectures. It’s a great feeling when you can go into a class fully confident that you know exactly what your professor holds in his bag of tricks.

As the old hustle adage goes, “If you can’t win at 5 card stud holding 7 cards, you don’t belong at the table.”

Next: Beating the field

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