Fall 2004 term at UVic - Post Mortem (Long)

Going back to school this year has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I've learned so much about myself and about the expectations of society throughout this process. I think I matured more this year than any other year of my life.

The idea was hatched in February or March of this year. By April our house was sold, by the end of June we had renovated our new house, and in August I started going to UVic a couple of times a week to see Math tutors. I knew I had to take two very difficult Math courses right away, and with no Math experience in 10 years, it was going to be even more of a challenge.

As I've said throughout the term, my tutors were great and were the difference between success and failure. But I had to make the call and follow through, and I'm very proud of myself for admitting I needed help, seeking it, and going regularly. In the past I probably wouldn't have managed that.

In hindsight, I should have started regular tutoring for Calculus even earlier! Early July really. What I've learned is the concepts and methods aren't hard, but the algebra is. In high school, I had all of the algebraic transformations in my head, I could recall them and apply them quickly. That is a skill that takes a LOT of practice. There are so many tricks and obscure patterns that one needs to recognize to do many problems. More practice might have gotten my algebra up to par before the term started... as it turned out, that was my undoing in Calculus. Despite a huge amount of studying for the first midterm, I failed it. And not because I didn't understand the material, but because I kept making minor algebraic mistakes that compounded into wrong answers... forgetting negative signs, expanding or factoring polynomials incorrectly, etc. Stupid stuff.

The class did so bad on that first midterm we had take the same test again. Yes, the same test. The next time I got 29/31 instead of 14.5 out of 31. I was upset I didn't get 100%. I stupidly changed an answer I had right the first time, thinking it was in a more simplified form. It wasn't, it was in a more incorrect form. ;-)

I was better prepared for the second midterm, and got about 75% on it. On the third midterm, about 58%. The marking for that test was really tough. For all three I really understood the material. I've never done that badly before when I actually understood the material. I certainly had never failed a test before after studying as much as I had.

I studied for a whole week for the Calculus final. It paid off. I left the test thinking I did extremely well. I'll find out in January what I got on the test. I must have done really well because I got a "B" for my final grade! Ten years ago I got a "D" in that course, without trying. I must have been way better at math then than I am now to manage a D with as little effort as I put in back then (read: none).

My other Math class (Math 122) started out really easy, thanks to the head start my tutor gave me, but then became much, much harder. Despite that, I continued to get very good grades on assignments and midterms, and ended up 6th in the class out of 59 going into the final.

Oh the final, what a mess. I didn't have much time to study for that test, it was on December 10th, my Calculus final on December 7th. And I didn't study enough. I did nearly as much as I had energy for, but I could have done more. Still, I don't think any amount of studying would have prepared me for what was to come. The other section of the course was taught more advanced portions of a few concepts, and the test reflected that. On a few questions, I was completely in the dark. I wasn't even sure if I passed the final. Somehow, I got 81% on the final. In January I'll be able to see my test to see how I managed it. I have no idea. The questions I answered, I must have done VERY well on. I ended up with an "A" in that class, which is great, but I slipped from 6th in the class to 11th. Damn.

If I had as much time to study for that as I had for Calculus, maybe it would have been different. Kind of a bummer really, that you work hard the whole term and then the exam schedule dictates your fate to some degree. With final projects and assignments late in the term it just isn't feasible to start studying early enough. I'm trying not to make excuses, but wait until you read when my Linguistics final was.

Linguistics... the whole term I saw this as my "easy A" class. It was easy. The tests were easy, the assignments easy. And then the final was schedule for the same day as my Calculus final. Calculus at 9am, Linguistics at 7pm. Thank goodness it wasn't the other way around or I wouldn't have studied a minute for Linguistics. As it was, I studied the afternoon of December 7th. After 3 hours of studying I realized I couldn't possibly learn any more... everything I looked at from the term, I had memorized and understood! Very lucky. The final was very easy, I had over-studied, if you can believe it. I finished the course with a high "A". Somehow, I managed an A despite the unlucky exam schedule. Yes!

Last but not least, my favourite class, Computer Science 230 - Computer Architecture and Assembly Language. We only had one midterm, I got 21.5 out of 25. I screwed up some stupid Math on the first page of the midterm, doing addition of 2's complement binary numbers and just barely messing up writing a negative fraction as a binary string in IEEE single precision floating point notation. The rest of the test I had perfect. Sigh. Math. The assignments were very easy, but I had a super obscure bug in one assembly language program I just couldn't find in time (it was one character missing on one line - the program worked on the simulator but not on the microcontroller board). I had a great partner for the project, which was written in C and a lot of fun. We got 11 out of 10 on that. I don't know how, but I only got 28.5 out of 35 on the final exam. I was sure I had over 30. Damn. I ended up with an "A" in the course, somewhere in the top 10 in the class out of over 60. I should have done better in that class. I admit I kind of neglected it, despite my interest, because it was so easy and came so naturally to me. I could have and should have gotten an "A+" in this class, and Linguistics, upon reflection, but I'm still satisfied with and proud of the grades I got.

Final tally... 3 As and a B. GPA: 7.25 (out of 9), or an "A-" average. I never got anywhere near that kind of average at UVic before, except for the summer of 1998 when I took one class and got an "A" in it. I'm very happy with that average!

Final outcome: 4.5 units awarded, I didn't get credit for Calculus since I was already given credit for it 10 years ago when I got a D in the same course. By the end of next term I'll be pretty close to being 1/2 way done my degree. That means at the pace I can afford, with work responsibilities, it will take at least 3 more years to finish. (I need 60 units for my degree)

Next term: I'm taking a Calculus class again, Differential Equations. I'm taking the course that follows Math 122... Math 222, Discrete and Combinatorial Mathematics. That should be interesting... "Combinatorial arguments and proofs; deriving recurrence relations; generating functions; inclusion-exclusion; functions and relations; countable and uncountable sets; graphs."

I'm also taking Software Engineering (SENG) 330, Object-Oriented Software Development.

"Aspects of object-oriented analysis, design and development. Definition and comparison of object-oriented metrics. Overview of classical functional metrics and their effectiveness in measuring productivity for management or design quality of OO-systems. Verification methods for OO-software and how it differs from functional design testing. Maintenance and reuse issues."

I looked at last term's course website for SENG 330, and it looks like it will be very interesting, but also a lot of work! I have a different professor than the one that taught it this term. Last term they learned Hibernate, among other things.


Written on December 23, 2004