Earlier I was telling a story about how I started to study masters in Nanyang Technological University. Today I am done with my first semester exams, and feel super happy about it. Decided to share about my first semester and exam experience.

About group assignments

I was talking about group assignments in my previous post, but still want to repeat myself: group assignments were the biggest shock of my first semester. It really took me time to accept the idea of doing one assignment with a group of other people and getting the same grade.

At the beginning I felt like this: Imagine you need to cook 2-eggs omelette, and you need to do it together with 4-5 other people and later write a report about how you cooked the omelette. So kitchen is full of people, someone says: let’s cook scrambled eggs, another says: no, we supposed to cook boiled eggs. Someone else says he never tried eggs before. Another person adds salt, while salt was already added…

But in reality, at the end we had 5 people, who learned how to cook a perfect omelette. One of them shared with others the recipe of omelette with cheese, another one revealed the secret of adding chili. A person who never tried eggs before became an eggs fan. I really enjoyed it at the end, especially Programming assignment, as at the end we were functioning like a real (and good one) development team.

So, group assignments were the biggest disappointment and the biggest enjoyment of my first semester.

About the courses

I took 3 courses this semester: Programming, Data Mining and Information Architecture & Design. None of them were useless. I think about 10-15% of the knowledge I learned I applied immediately in my work (or pet projects).

The hardest subject for me was Information Architecture & Design, as it’s not something precise like mathematics. For many topics we discussed in the class there was no 100% wrong or right answer. For example: “In your opinion, what are the benefits of ethnographic approach in conducting user research?”

My Design class (see if you can find me):

In the Programming course, we learned the whole bunch of stuff, everything just a little bit: Java, JavaScript, jQuery, AJAX, various CSS libraries, databases, etc. No modern frameworks, no popular programming languages, but still I enjoyed it a lot.

Data Mining course was full of mathematics, which was forgotten by me completely (even though my million-year-ago Bachelor degree was in Mathematics). So now I remember again not only what is cosine or logarithm, but also Bayes’ theorem and other stuff. The best part of this course was practical assignment - write a classification model using gradient boosting algorithm. After that assignment I got inspiration and some interest in ML, even joined PyData Singapore group on meetup.sg.

About the exams

Finally, about the exams. I feel the lecturers’ attitude towards exams is quite different in NTU compared to my university in Russia (Novosibirsk State university). From the day one professors were telling us about the exams. Like: pay attention to this chapter, it will be on the exams. Or: remember, on the exam you need to write at least two paragraphs about this topic etc.

So even though I study for the purpose of getting knowledge and enjoyment, by the end of the semester I got quite nervous about the exams. Last couple of weeks I studied every single day in the MRT trains and after work (or at least opened a study book and sluggishly looked at it).

All the exams were written, mostly open questions (except Data Mining that had many test questions). The exam itself is a very serious event: no bags are allowed in the exam hall, mobile phones must be switched off and put on the floor under the desk. The only things can be on the table are: student card, pen/pencil and calculator. Exam lasts 3 hours. Students are allowed to go to washroom, but the professor will follow you literally until the toilet door. There is no chance to cheat at all.

I can’t say the exams were too hard though. The hardest was Programming, as I needed to write a few pages of Java and JavaScript code on a piece of paper - no Google, no Stackoverflow, and the most importantly, no auto-completion of code. But still doable.

So, today was my last exam, and I am free until January! Only need to work - feels like nothing after the whole semester of working and studying. Looking forward to the next semester, already saw a next semester’s course list full of interesting subjects.