Monday 7 June 2010

MAstron Update: One subject done, five to go

I sat the "open book" final exam for my Modern Astrophysics course on Saturday/Sunday (the exam questions were put online at 10am on Saturday and we had 24 hourse to complete our answers and email our submission to the lecturer using our secure JCU email account). I downloaded and had a quick read through the ten questions on Saturday morning when I brought DS1 back from his piano lesson, and then I droppped off the family at the nearby shopping mall so they could spend the afternoon visiting the library and doing some shopping while I had some "quiet time" at home to work on my examination paper.

The good thing about an open book exam is that you don't have to memorise a whole lot of equations and constants for the exam (they're a quite a lot of constants and conversion factors used in astrophysics!), but on the downside everyone will probably do quite well as they can all look things up in the textbook, tutorial solutions and lecture notes. So I was hoping to be able to double and triple check all my solutions in order to get a good result. Since a lot of the questions were simply variations of the questions we had already done in the tutorial assignments, I expect most of the other students will "ace" this exam.

However, it turned out that the exam was a lot longer than I had expected (the ten questions had multiple parts and in total the paper seemed equivalent to about three of the normal weekly tutorial assignments - which usually took me 3-4 hours each week to complete, plus a couple of hours double checking the working before sending each assignment in). I started working on the exam questions when I got home around 2pm, and worked straight through (apart from a short dinner break) until I completed the last question just before 5am. The final question on how relativistic time dilation affects the observed half-life of muons travelling at 0.99c was a bit of a worry, as I got two different solutions depending on how I calculated the gamma factor (one answer was obviously incorrect, but I couldn't see why!) At 5am I wasn't in any condition to re-read the chapter on relativity and work out where I was going wrong, so I thought about catching a couple of hours sleep and rechecking the calculations before the exam submission had to be emailed prior to 10am on Sunday. In the end I decided to just call it quits, email my work in "as is" and go to bed.

As I had previously picked up on a couple of silly calculation errors when I was checking through my answers along the way, I expect I'll lose several marks in the first nine questions, as well as possibly getting very few (or no) marks for Q10. I'm guessing a raw mark of 80%-85%.

The exam cover sheet also reiterated that student marks will be scaled so that there aren't "too many" HD and D grades given out. Oh well, all I can do now is wait four weeks until the final grades are published online.

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