Wednesday, 31 October 2007

A251: TMA-2

Its time to face up to TMA-2. This is a difficult one for me, with all the time out for exam revision and also being half-term I've struggled to read all I was meant to for this TMA. I am running closer to the wire to the due date than I ever have before.

Unlike during my school days, I have always done my work well before the deadline (rather than the night before!). I usually have the TMA's ready at least a week before, and in some case up to a month before on some courses. This time I started the TMA a week before the deadline - but did just a few words on it - it was mostly a symbolic gesture.
I started in earnest 4 days before hand, which is dangerously late for me - thank goodness for the eTMA service - what with postal strikes and other things!

The TMA is in two parts this time.

The first part is to look at one of a selection of websites and write a critical review of it, going over the good and bad points and its attention to detail, credentials etc. I picked the one about Mohenjo-Daro an ancient city in the Indus valley. The course teaches you a series of metrics to apply to a website as a way to gauge how relevant and reliable it is - called PROMPT. 500 words or less are required. I'm done in 100 more or less, and have to work at doing some padding and trying to think of what I've forgotten.

The second part gets you to write a 1000 words on "What is a city?". This is quite a bit more tricky than you might think, especially when dealing with ancient civilisations.
Anyway, as usual I struggle to get up to the word count. However the thing that sustains me through this exercise is I'm writing a new reference formatter for zotero tailored to the A251 requirements - which are a little odd in places. With the incentive of doing some technical work I can get through it. I'm definitely missing the more surety of science based disciplines. I mean, biology essays are tricky, but you are writing about some definite concepts. Here you have to weigh opinions and state concepts but I find it all rather unsatisfactory. Just like the rise of agriculture the basic conclusion I think is who knows? Experts agree to disagree and in the end there is no definitive answer - I mean, what do we mean by city anyway, as compared to a town. Its all a matter of definition and rather nebulous.

I look with increasing longing at some of the science short courses... but at the same time there is only one more TMA and an ECA to complete this - I CAN do this!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

S204: The exam

Oh well, the day had to come. I've been revising for some time. You want to know about transport in phloem or xylem? I'm you're man. Different types of membrane transport, ask me!

So the exam is at 10:00 until 13:00. I got there at about 9:40, and saw a couple of people from the tutor group. There were a lot of other exams taking place too - the hall held maybe 50. S204 had the middle column of tables and I was in the middle of that. I think there was one person who didn't turn up out of about 5-6 places. Quite a few other empty seats around in other parts of the hall too.

We had the pre exam briefing and had to stash our bags and phones in the indicated places. The desks were barely big enough for the question book, the answer book and the range of pens and pencils I'd brought. I unwrapped a couple of sweets I'd brought, and then the lady announced we could start.

The first set of questions looked OK - there were a few I had no idea on, but I managed to find 9 I could answer out of the 12. The part B looked horrifying at first glance. Nothing there that really played to my strengths. I managed eventually to pick 3 that I could have a fair crack at though. The data analysis I skipped over in the first read through - you have to do them, so there's no point scaring yourself.

Then I turned to the essay topics. I was hoping desperately for something on fluid transport in plants. Not to be - the plant question was about plant survival in dry conditions. I knew the answer to that, I had four points ready for a short answer question on that, but I couldn't turn four points into an essay unless I was feeling really desperate.
There was a question on membrane structure and function - after pondering this for a bit, I thought it was reasonable. Part of membrane function is the membrane transport and I could manage that. So at the back of my mind I planned on that, and hoped that an hour or two from now all the derails would be back to the front of my brain.

I picked my way through the short answer questions - I managed a reasonable answer to most of them, and a slightly shaky answer to a couple. Part B I did manage to answer - but some of the answers were more shaky than others.

Going back to the data interpretation, there was a Hofstee-Eedie plot to draw on supplied graph paper. Well that was ok at least, except you had to plot two lines on the graph. This takes time, and you also have to be careful with these plots, as the line through the points has to extend to the origin. I've done one or two where the graph has a great scale, but then the line goes off the page before hitting the axis. I did a quick sketch graph to check before plotting it for real, and had to extend the X axis quite a way. I had no problem working out Vmax, but got confused about the Km constant. Couldn't remember how to invert the formula. Luckily I remembered the gradient was also the Km so used that. Not so sure I got the signs right.
The other questions were about fungi in compost heaps and temperatures in the thorax of a bee. I think I put something reasonable down for each.

Then the essay. I'd done well for time and had a bit more than an hour left. When it came down to it, I knew more than I thought about membrane structure, and drew quite a reasonable diagram too. I included as much as I could recall on various aspects of it, and got to 5 or 6 pages worth. I remembered to have an introduction and a conclusion, some diagrams and some examples. My writing by now was looking rather poor, it has never been great, so I slowed down a bit. I coloured in my diagram a little to show more details and added some labels.

I finished up with 15 minutes to go. I checked through some of the answers, I couldn't face some of them though. I spotted one glaring error in a short answer question, and fixed that.

Then I attached all my sheets together with the clips provided. Filled in the question numbers - which there wasn't enough space for! Attached the question sheet to the back, and was just about to put my PI number on the graph paper (it didn't ask for it but I thought it might be worth it) when the lady told us to stop writing.

How did I do? Who knows - I suspect plenty for the pass mark of 40%, but I'm hoping for more than that, but who knows.
Next S204 Prev S204

Monday, 8 October 2007

S204: Mock exam

One of the later items you get shiped in the course is the specimen exam paper. This is an example exam paper together with answers that you can do yourself to get a feel for the exam.

I did it today, under exam like conditions - 3 hours, just pen/pencil/calculator and me.

Its quite an interesting exercise, in a masochistic sort of way. I did reasonably OK on it, and I hadn't looked at it before hand to make it as reasonable as possible.
I did ok on the first part where I found enough question (9/12) to answer that I could manage. Lost a few marks here and there, but no disasters.

Part B there seems to be a preponderance of fungi related questions which always brings me out in a rash. Not nearly as well done there, dropping about half the available marks.

Then the data analysis section. Not terribly well done there either - getting just over half marks. I'm quite hard on myself when marking my own work I find. I need to write down more of the obvious conclusions I think, and not get too detailed.

The essay I picked was on water transport. I wrote about 6 pages on this, and I think covered everything pretty much. I imagine I'd loose a few marks here - you always do on essays, there are few occasions you can possibly get full marks.

So - well not a disaster - I would have passed the course, but I'd have like to have done better.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

S204: Revise, revise, revise

All the TMAs are in, all the boxes ticked, there is only the exam left, so there is just revision to be done.

This is not the most fun you can have, it has its own peaks and troughs. You revise a section of the course, and feel all keyed up for it. Then, looking at a past exam paper you find a question on that section, and typically I find I can either answer somewhere between 1/4 and 2/3rds of it, or they use one of the more obscure terms - like autochthonous (I mean, really!) and suddenly you are all at sea. If you knew what the word meant you could have a stab at the answer. In the above case, I suspect this is derived from latin, and apart from a possible guess at something to do with automation and time, there is no headway to be made (its neither of those BTW). Its in the book, I should have learnt it, but there are hundreds of such words!

Anyway, I spent a lot of time going through short answer questions. You have to do 9 out of 12 or these in the exam, and then 3/6 - and they cover everything. So its a good way to check your understanding. To share the pain, I keep posting question I come across, or invent on the S204 bulletin board for others to answer, and some post their own back. Its a good way to see how well you're doing.

The data analysis segment of the exam is difficult to revise for - there is some biology there, but its much more related to interpreting or plotting graphs, making reasonable predictions and so on.

The essay section is the worst. Write for 45 minutes on one of the 5 topics given. If this hits one of the areas I like, I'll probably be ok. If it doesn't - I'm going to struggle. We know by now the broad areas they will be on, so you don't need in-depth knowledge of everything, but you do need deep knowledge of some parts. There is always the horror that it will be an oblique question. I have a reasonably good knowledge of the inner workings of plant transport systems - which is one of the areas. However an old paper has a title "Environmental factors affecting photosynthesis". So I have nightmares that there will be something like "Water transport in the rain" or some such. You have all this knowledge about water transport, but suddenly most of it is not applicable to the question. Arrghhhhhhhh.

Still - two more weeks and I'll know how bad it can get. Who knows, I might be surprised - and I'm hoping in a good way.