Posted by: atri | December 6, 2010

Final exam blog post

In this post I will point out some things that *I* think would be useful to you guys in preparing for the finals (as well as score well on the finals). Just stating the obvious: these are my thoughts and they are not guaranteed to work for *everyone*

In case you were not aware the finals is from 3:35-6:05pm on Tuesday, December 14 in KNOX 104. (Note that the exam is for 2.5 hours and not 3 hours.) If might be better if you come in by 3:30pm.

I will begin with comments related to preparing for the finals:

  1. Take a look at the sample final and spend some quality time solving it. Unlike the homeworks, it might be better to try to do this on your own.
  2. Go to the Office-hours-a-thon on Friday with questions on the sample final.
  3. The actual final will have the same format as the sample final: The first question will be T/F, 2nd will be T/F with justification, the rest of the three will be longer questions and will ask you to design algorithms (parts of them might be just analyzing an algorithm.)
  4. For the T/F questions (i.e. the first two questions), anything that was covered in class is fair game. If you want to refresh your memory on what was covered, take a look at the schedule page. If you want quick summaries of (almost all) the lectures, look at the student posts (more here) or review the lecture slides.
  5. For the remaining 3 questions, one will be on greedy algorithms and one will be on divide and conquer algorithms. The 3rd one might be related to dynamic programming. However, note that Chapter 2 and 3 in the book are basic stuff and almost any question in the final could fall under the purview of those two chapter. Finally, for dynamic programming, I promise that I will not ask you to design a dynamic program for a problem that that is radically different from what we have  encountered in class before, i.e. in the lectures or the homeworks.
  6. As you might have noticed in the sample final, there are questions that are either straight lifts from homeworks or are very closely related and this trend will continue in the actual exam. This means that you should review your homeworks (all of them) before the exam.
  7. If you are short on time and you are prioritizing the topics to study, keep points 4 and 5 above in mind.
  8. Sections in the book that were not covered at all in the class but were handed out as reading assignments: I can also ask any direct questions from them. In addition, it might be useful to read them to get a better feel for the material. In any case once you have read the material covered in class a couple of times, it might do your brain some good to read some different material.
  9. You can bring in two 8.5″X11″ review sheets (you can use both sides on both). Use this judiciously: they can be a very useful tool to note down some weird things you have a hard time remembering. However, do not spend a lot of time preparing these sheets: they can be huge time sinks without much payoff.

Next are some suggestions for when you are in the exam:

  1. Spend 5-10 minutes reading all of the questions in one pass: this’ll let the problems germinate in your subconscious till you actually get to solving them.
  2. You should have plenty of time for the exam: by my count a well prepared student should be done by spending one minute per point, i.e. 100 minutes. The exam will be for 150 minutes, so you will have 50 extra minutes.
  3. Once you reach the exam room, try to relax. Once you are there, you have done all the hard work, stressing out about the exam is not going to make the exam any easier for you. Relax, it’s just an exam! The worst thing that can happen is you will do a bit badly: but it’s just some course. Remember I got a C in my undergrad algorithms course. So even if you do badly in 331 life will still go on and things will work out.
  4. Keep in mind the point distribution and spend time on each problem accordingly. If you are stuck on a problem, move on.
  5. It might be useful for you to come in with a time-table in mind: how much time you plan to spend per problem– if you exceed your time limit, use point 4 above.
  6. The last question is going to be hard (and the bonus question is going to be very hard), so plan accordingly. It might be useful to not think about the last problem till you are done with the earlier ones. (However, see 1.)
  7. The very last question will be a fun question: if you want to blow off steam during the exam, feel free to work on that one.


  1. So, the last question is going to be both very hard and fun?

    • Anthony,

      Sorry for the confusion. There is going to be an extra problem *after* the bonus problem. However, if your definition of fun is a hard problem then the last two problems might be fun problems 🙂

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