Academic Ingenuity: Part III

link to Part I: Knowing the Subject
link to Part II: Out Playing the Professor
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

Beating the field
Now if you are in a pre-med type class, tough luck. There really is not a solution to beating the field than outstudying and outperforming your fellow students. If the previous two aspects of academic ingenuity are not of much help, this last one won’t be either.

Academics competition is like a golf tournament in that all scores are relative. You rarely see a tournament where champions win by scoring below a set number of strokes. The cut line dividing the players who continue past the preliminary rounds and those who get sent home is a fluid line. Imagine if a tournament said “only players that score below 80 can make it to the next day” only to have an incredibly windy day. The competition may only be wittled down to 3 players the next day, the tournament would be a complete dud.

The explanation is highly enhanced in young professors and assistant professors. Once again, knowing the professor helps beat the field. A professor cannot fail everyone in class, this is for certain. If everyone in his/her class flunks, it reflects horribly on the professor. Exams are a gauge of both how well students understand the concepts and how well a teacher performs in the classroom. Imagine a professor reporting to the department “I am an amazing teacher, but all my students failed my class”. You won’t find that professor teaching very long at that university. Inevitably every professor has a range of students that need to do well in the class for the professor’s sake.

Universities are businesses. They sell students an education by proclaiming how high the average GPA is or how many of their students go on to bigger, better things. A bell curve like the one depicted below, with the class mean ~50% would be an eye sore and a blow to a university’s PR.

Academic Ingenuity: Part III

Academic institutions would never allow a whole class to fail. 

Professors typically have a good grasp of how grades shape up and therefore are confident in their ability to change a few questions on a test to get the grade distribution they require. Therefore most grades are not curved for each midterm, but if you keep the overall shape of the class in mind you will know more precisely what kind of effort you need to exercise for a given test. A good rule of thumb is to always, always over study for the first midterm. In a class where there are two midterms this piece of advice is advantageous to you in both the following scenarios:
1. The test is easy and you do well, but so does everyone else. No harm done and you’re right in the thick of the race with everyone else.
2. The rest of the class does extremely poorly and you score above the mean. Most professors compensate by issueing an easier second midterm or final, this is where you can relax a little bit since you know generally everyone will do better and you can ride the wave.

Having the presence of mind to understand where you stand relative to the curve helps in managing your time and resources. When finals rolls around always review where you stand in each class and which classes to push and which classes to retreat your effors. It is unwise to tackle each final with same zeal and voraciousness.

Beating the field requires some insight in how you choose classes. The general breakdown of each class goes like this:
10% Homework/Discussion
40-60% Midterms
30-40% Final

If it is apparent that finals are so crucial to the overall grade, it is logical then to have the best finals schedule possible. Most universities have an pre-set finals schedule such that if your classes are a certain time on MWF or Tu/Thur the finals for that class will correspond to a given day and time during the finals schedule. All this is available information prior to even signing up for the class. Example finals schedules: UCSD UCLA.

Course planning is just as important to securing a good grade as doing well on tests. Avoid difficult professors and take that class that will have a final on Friday when your other three are M, Tu, Wed even if it’s a night class at 7:30pm. You’ll suffer for 10-15 weeks but how much more painful is it to see your entire quarter’s efforts spiraling down the drain from a horrible finals schedule. With tuition ranging anywhere from $12 – 53K a year and rising, do you really want to take that chance with your grade? 

Schedule A

Finals Schedule
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri
8am – 11am Final_A
11:30am – 2:30pm Final_C
3pm – 6pm Final_B Final_D
6:30pm – 9:30pm

Schedule B

Finals Schedule
Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri
8am – 11am Final_A
11:30am – 2:30pm Final_B Final_D
3pm – 6pm Final_C
6:30pm – 9:30pm

which of these schedules would be easier to study for?

While on the topic of tuition, there is a growing trend of students of students finishing 4 year programs in 3 years. The financial benefits of this mindset is staggering and with certain majors is significantly easier to do than others. If you have desire to achieve this it requires discipline and an intimate knowledge of your department requirements for your major and college graduation requirements, but that’s a whole new series.

A final word. Careers can end in college before they’re even started. Don’t cheat. It never pays.

One comment

  1. hahaha, i remember you telling me all of this freshmen year =D i like sched A just cuz i finish early and i can go home earlier, but yah… definitely don't do as well. last year my final schedule was one on monday, one on tuesday, so i got the best of both worlds =P

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