Monday, July 19, 2004

The nature of exams

Exams nowadays are very quick affairs. It takes less than a couple of days (is that too much?)
for the realization to set in, a couple of hours of thinking about what to read, some more to motivate myself, and the very last moments to get some useful stuff into my head. At the end of it, its not a surprise to find myself facing the exam paper, and being in the middle of an existential confusion as to where I am, what am I doing here, and what is the purpose of life (perhaps due to having been in a half sleepy haze while reading through the notes the day before, resulting in a sweet confusion, a breeding ground for all sorts of "basic" questions to arise in ones fertile mind, is this what the profs mean by "real learning" or is it "relearning" or better still "un-learning"?). The exams however seem to get done with in an uncannily similar manner, irrespective of what the topic happens to be. For example, the CF (Corp Finance) exam did start somewhat in the manner described above, and it tool me a full 15 mins to understand what I am doing. I had this huge CF book (Brealy, Myers) in front of me (it was an "open book" exam), and set of quite long questions talking something about investments, discounted cash flows, depreciation, interest, taxes, decisions, IRR etc. I was almost certain that the pages I was looking at in the book had never been glanced upon by intelligent life in the past, while any intuitive understanding of the subject was still to sprout in my mind. At the end of it, I seem to have been able to attempt all the problems, though I have a very hazy recollection of my thought process during actually "solving" the questions. Makes me wonder about the nature of intelligence. But that is a topic for another time.
In the meantime we covered some interesting stuff in IB - game theory, auctions (checkout Klemperer's site on auctions and economics), how the 3G auctions in UK were "successful" in raising an unearthly 22 billion pounds (UK used the money to pay off its debts!) and some advise on auction design (do check out googles investor site for what kind of methods they are pursuing for coming out with a "successful" IPO launch, which includes auction options). Both game theory and auctions are very interesting topics, and I hope I can do some good readings on them in the future.
Talking about exams, it seems increasingly difficult to get oneself motivated enough in advance of exams to read topics, specially if they are monotonous and drab. Perhaps thats why the readings handed out in our courses are quite diverse, from different sources, and sometimes not directly related to the exams, which is good (but for the fact that they are getting far too numerous in the second year, e.g. in the IB course it has not yet been 3 weeks, and we already have close to a 1000 pages of printed material to read, with more promised in the near future! Let alone the "suggested readings" and GK we are supposed to be "well-versed" with) .
I dont fancy reading a book just because I expect to be quizzed on it. It is not motivating enough. Trying to understand something new, and knowing that it will be useful in an interesting way in the future, or just for the sake of it, is much better. I do have a habit (good? bad?) of piling up myself with all sorts of books which happen to "span" the maximum amount of "knowledge space" my mind happens to occupy at a moment of time, and this sometimes leads to lost focus, and dire consequences in scheduling my time, and "preparing in advance" for the exams for which I am supposed to restrict to a much smaller set of topics. And before I begin to read one, I inevitably think about another, and end up with atleast 4-5 books in my bed, scanning them in some order (depending on my state of mind then, and of course the "context", is it exam time, free time, serious study time, tension time etc.), till finally the "goal" of having to read and finish a case or a book chapter for tomorrow's class or exam, takes up urgency, thus providing me with the "motivation" to read it! This could be a good topic for an OB (Org Behavior) case study - how to motivate oneself for studying for exams, which may lead into the interesting topic of whether exams are really necessary! I have a feeling that there is a unanimous decision (especially among, "experienced", professioanls with years of corporate life behind them) that they are definitely NOT. Atleast in the way they are designed. Perhaps the IB prof could try and take a look at "exam design" instead of "auction design" to come up with a solution which"extracts the maximum VALUE out of the (poor) students", which currently happens to be a one-sided understanding of the nature of VALUE in the life of a student by the professors.
In fact, I seem to face similar "problems" (of motivation) while writing to a blog, which does bring me to the question (seriously) about what blogs and blogging are for?? Is it to let out pent-up-emotions? :)
Is it to "educate" others, rather in the sense of sharing information about what one does that others cannot, or rather happen not to? Is it just "conversation" (rather one-sided one for some unfortunate folks)? Is it the be-guiling nature of the "cyberspace" which attracts all sorts of characters to discard their wordly traits and pose as something new, fresh and fantastic, a figment of their imagination, an unattainable goal for which they strive for, but which the harsh nature of the real world quite certainly denies them? Is it a survey, free-speech, an ego-manical tendency to inflate oneself with the promise of being famous in cyberspace, and having enough "fans" and "eyeballs"? What do you guys think? :)
It could turn out to be a chaotic combination of all these, and of course a lot more for which my "bounded rationality" is currently incapable of apprehending, for all I care. The truth remains that I may or may not continue to write these pages, and hope that there remains a semblance of reason behind the entire effort!


At 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there dude,
Didnt get ur name. But nice blog. Good to see another blog from IIMB. Me a PGP1 student here, cya and keep up the good work,
Sanjeev Garuda

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Sanjeev,
Thanks for the compliment!


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