Competitive/Collaborative Programming Class

ICPC Computer Programming Contest Prep

Problem Solving in Computer Science

Fall 2012 -- CSC 2700 Section 02

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The first thing you need to realize is that you EARN a grade in a class. You have probably thought of it as "what grade is the teacher going to give me?". Actually, the teacher sets the criteria (rules), you play the game, and in the end you get a grade that corresponds to how well you have played the game.

If you are not aware of all the rules, it is much more likely that you will get a grade that is less than you felt was appropriate. Learning the rules, and taking advantage of them increases the odds of you getting a grade that corresponds to the amount of effort you put into the class.

    Another way to say it:
  • Think of the class as a contract
  • Think of the homework to turn in and the tests as receivables of the contract
  • Think of the the grade you get as the payment for the contract

Like any contractor, the quality of the work you do (homework/tests/projects/...) depends on many factors:

  • Your prior knowledge
  • The knowledge you acquire during the contract
  • The effort you put into the product (receivables)
  • The skill with which you utilize the knowledge you have accumulated

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Attending Class

Class attendance is critical to success in most classes. Rarely does a teacher give a test that has nothing to do with what was covered in the classroom. Properly managed, the time spent in the classroom can be very beneficial.

    The following three steps are critical in reducing the time needed to prepare for tests:
  • Review your notes from the previous class. Arrive at class a few minutes early (3-5). Take this time to get your notebook out, briefly read over the notes you took last class. Spend a minute trying to predict what this class will be about.
  • Listen and take notes. Listen to the teacher. Take notes based on what seems important. Make sure each page of notes has a date and the class on the top (helps keep them straight). These notes are the only thing you will have to remind you of what was covered in class. Take them diligently.
  • Review your notes. Sometime that day, read carefully through the notes you took. Add to your notes whenever thoughts occur to you that you forgot to write down. Add any questions that come up while reviewing the notes (very useful for when the teacher starts class off asking for questions). Wait at least 30 to 60 minutes after class before reviewing your notes, but do it the same day as the class.

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Preparing for Tests

Most teachers prepare and give out tests to their class. It is important to know if the teacher personally prepared the test (normally) or if it is standardized or a collaborative effort. When most teachers make a test, they devise questions based on what is current in their minds (the lectures they have just done). They also tend to build tests similar to other previous tests (get them if you can).

    To study for a test, do the following steps:
  • Make a test. Sit down, with a blank sheet of paper and try to make a test for this class (this should take about 30 minutes). You should try for at least 10 questions.
  • Take the test you just made (this should take 30 to 60 minutes).
  • "Grade" your test. Review your notes (this also includes any additional materials that you have collected - old tests, handouts). As you go through your notes you should find the necessary information to determine if your answers are correct. You may also find topics/ideas for new questions - add them to the test along with appropriate answers.

Quit studying at this point. Any additional cramming will just confuse what you already know. Get a good night's sleep. When you get up the next day, review the test (and its answers) that you made up.

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Taking Tests

Being in a proper frame of mind is essential for performing up to your potential during a test. Try very hard to arrive on time (a few minutes early). Get everything you need for the test on the desk, put everything else away, and spend a couple of minutes relaxing. Before the test, determine how long 1/2 the period is (less 5 minutes).

  • Take a few minutes (no more than 5) to read the questions (you might consider scanning the test from back to front).
  • Divide the number of questions into 1/2 of the time left. This is how long you should take answering each question. Put your watch where you can glance at it. As you use 1/2 of the allotted time on each question, start jotting down important points and go to the next question.
  • Use the remaining time to review the test (check over the answers you wrote) and to flesh out the questions that you did not complete.

With this approach, you will never lose points because you did not get to question so-and-so. You may leave a few points because you left a question before you had to time to answer it in detail. But, if you follow the plan, you will have more than adequate time to go back and complete any questions that you left half-done.

It is important not to linger on a question. You are sharpest in the earlier part of the test. Use that time on as many different problems as possible. As you tire and your thoughts become muddied, it is best to be only elaborating on previously listed points, not trying to answer a question from scratch.

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Why It Works

I believe these steps work. Any one of them helps. Together they work much better as a whole. I know they improved my grades.

Grades and learning are two independent things (in most classes). These steps avoid cramming (most information crammed the night before is gone within a few days). These steps attempt to use many of the known techniques for enhancing recall/learning.

Piaget believed that preview/view/review was the best way to teach. Many of these steps take advantage of the concept of previewing material, then viewing in greater detail, and then reviewing it.

Many researchers believe that the more links (cross-references) a memory has, the more likely you will be to retrieve that memory when you need to. Each of these steps is designed to tie information to as many other points as possible.

Most people are better at dealing with people that dry facts. By realizing that tests are the product of the teacher, this brings people into the equation instead of just random questions from a body of information.

The subconscious mind tends to process anything it sees. The act of previewing something starts the subconscious mind processing. This improves the odds of the conscious mind having the answer when it needs it.

By separating the acts of learning and making good grades (when appropriate), it allows both to be done easier. Learning occurs best when tension/conflict are at the lowest level. Learning also occurs best when you are not comfortable, when you are not in control. Good grades tend to result from calm, in-control situations.

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