Thursday, November 18, 2004

Pressure Release

Exams for my classes are done for now. I won't have another one until exam week, so there's plenty of time to forget everything I tried very hard to learn. I was telling Ellie about last night's Pharmacology exam, and I realized I might be making my performance out to be worse than what it really is.

When I was an undergraduate all we got were multiple choice tests. I think that comes with the territory at a big university, or the Scantron company has made a deal with the devil and Michigan State. I'm thinking the former. When taking those tests often one of the answers jogs your memory and you know it's correct. One can walk away with a pretty good idea of how they did.

I haven't had a multiple choice test now in at least 3 years. Questions may sometimes be open to interpretation, and most try to get you to make some leap in understanding rather than remembering A influences B, though that has to be known too. The point is that grading is not as objective as it is subjective, though for the most part professors are very fair about the questions they ask. The area that troubles me is there is so much information to digest that one cannot reasonably study it all well enough to give a "perfect" answer. An excellent example came once again from my Biochemistry test.

We had a lecture on retroviruses, and spent a lot of time focusing on the life cycle of HIV-1 and how it replicates itself into the genome. I must have spent 1-2 hours learning the replication mechanism for HIV, which was a large part of the lecture. On the exam there wasn't any question on viral reverse transcription (the process that HIV goes through to become part of the host's DNA), instead there was a question on how a small part of the virus can promote a different region of expression. This was a tiny part of the notes compared to descriptions of the life cycle and mechanism of reverse transcription, and that was what was on the exam. I didn't have a good answer.

So when I talk to people about how I do on an exam I'm usually thinking about the part that I didn't know, not the parts that I did know. I've also got a superstition that if you think you did well on an exam you did not do as well as you thought you did, and if you think you did poorly you probably performed better than you think. That's why I don't like to talk about how an exam went. I usually just say "It was tough, but the questions were fair. I guess we'll see."

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