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Blog Computing Science 2U - Information Management 2 30/May/2003

Far be it from me to say that this was a bad exam, sufficed to say it was an

Outrage.

Here was an exam in which fast writers were rewarded, at the expense of those without bionic hands. I fail to see the point in this: since when was shorthand a professional skill of Computer Scientists? I don't remember that from the Professional Issues lecture.

Consider this question:

4. (b) You have been asked to evaluate a simple software game with some young children (aged 5 years). Describe and justify your evaluation strategy. [2 marks]

That's 2 marks, out of 80, in a 105 minute exam. A comparable question might have been asked in a CS-1Q exam, except there would be 7 or 8 marks on offer (out of 100), in a 135 minute exam.

Here's another classic:

2. (a) Discuss each of the following SQL statements indicating how they relate to relational algebra operations....
iii.
SELECT * FROM
(SELECT * FROM children RIGHT JOIN pets ON children.houseNum=pets.gardenNum)
UNION (SELECT * FROM children LEFT JOIN pets ON children.houseNum=pets.gardenNum)

Aside from the bizarre syntax (why not OUTER JOIN?), this isn't even correct SQL syntax. Also note that it has no counterpart in the relational algebra, as far as we have been told (as in part iv.).

It's also important to note that, in the sample paper and past papers for the defunct Data Management course, question 2 consisted of writing SQL and Relational Algebra queries.

It gets worse. Compare these two examples, the first from the sample paper, and the second from yesterday's exam paper:

2 b. Consider the following universal relation and set of functional dependencies:
U(A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J)
A,B,C → D,G
A,B → E,F
B → H
C → I,J
E → F
I → J

i. Create a second normal form version of the database [2 marks]
ii. Create a third normal form version of the database [4 marks]
2. (b) Consider the following scenario

Customers view houses that are for sale. Each house is recommended by one estate agent. Each house is surveyed by a surveyor, who is employed by the customer. Surveyors can only work within a specified postcode area. Throughout the whole house-buying process, customers are advised by one solicitor. Each house has a current owner.

[Page Break]

The following universal relation describes a viewing event:

Viewing-event(customer.name, house.idnumber, customer.address, house.streetnumber, house.postcode, house.price, agent.address, agent.name, solicitor.name, surveyor.name, owner.name)

i. Identify any functional dependencies between the attributes of this relation, stating any assumptions you may make. [2 marks]
ii. Transform the Viewing-event relation into second normal form. [2 marks]
iii. Transform the Viewing-event relation into third normal form. [2 marks]

I don't think I even need to pass comment on that.

The paper is full of over-ambitious questions like that. Most of the worst offenders include the golden phrase, "With the aid of examples," which tends to involve making up a database in one's head, in order to get the marks for the question.

I hope this rant serves as a cautionary tale to those taking this exam in the future - I certainly wish that I'd known this when I went into the hall yesterday.

Cheers,

Derek.

 
CommentsComments 

Gary said:
I absolutely bombed question 2. Those questions were absolutely bizarre, especially the trick questions on relational algebra (I never noticed until afterwards).

Q1 was ok (maybe even good), Q3 was excellent (but then again, markup has always been a favourite for me), and Q4, as you said, had some bizarre point allocations.

The last part where you had to theoretically build an amazon DB in your head: WTF? Not enough time.

All in all, I thought it could've been worse, but was very bad for time.

Oh well, AF and FP are looking nightmarish, so better get back to that.

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