Instructions to study computer science

[Suomeksi]

This page is (and will be) a collection general instructions and tips for studying courses of computer science and engineering department.

How to write a good homework answer

Reserve enough time.
If you try to give a good answer you cannot start looking for the material only in the morning of the deadline day (unless you are very familiar with the topic, of course).

Read the given material.
The assignments can seem very difficult if the subject is not familiar. Answering the questions is easier if you first study the material and then answer the question.

Read the questions carefully.
You pass more surely if you answer exactly to what the question was. If you answer “beside” the question, your answer might fail. Also, make sure that you answer to every part of the question.

Plan a clear and well structurized answer.
Think about what you want to say and in which order. A good answer is brief and easy to read and understand. The assistants cannot quess what you have ment if it’s not written down clearly.

You can also present your own thoughts on the topic, if you want, as a part of your answer.
You do not have to agree with the course book, nor with the professors, nor with the assistants, but remember to justify or explain your opinion.

Write in your own words.
“Cut & Paste” is plagiarism. If the assistant can’t see that you have understood yourself what you are writing about, your answer will most probably fail (because the answer does not show that you have fulfilled the requirements of the task). If you copy, your get a punishment from cheating. So write in your own words.

Remember to include a list of your sources
Especially, if you are using other sources than those given in the assignment, it attach a list of references to your answer and mark in your text where you have been using the sources. Guidelines for making a reference list are also available.

When the submission is in plain text:

Submit a clean textfile.
When the submission is asked in plain text, this usually means that the answers are read with a simple text editor or for example with the UNIX command less. Do not submit html-coded text or Word documents. Instead submit a simple text file, formatted with proper line breaks.

If asked, use line length of 80 characters
Longer lines makes reding the text really difficult with the system that the assistants use for giving feedback. Making answers with an UNIX editor (for example emacs or pico) is recommended.

Do not send URLs, unless it is clearly requested in the assignment
If an assignment (e.g. essay) should be submitted as an URL, this is explicitly mentioned in the submission instructions.

A good exam answer

A good exam answer is very much like a good homework answer. Read first the instructions for a good homework answer and then look at the list below.

Read the question.
Read the question very carefully. You will only get points for the answers that answer the question asked in the exam. If the question has many parts, answer all of them. Check also how many points the question can give. 6 points requires more extensive answer than 2 points.

Structurize your answer clearly.
A well done structure of an answer is already half an answer. Doing the structure division will help you to remember all the possible point of views in the answer that might otherwise be forgotten.

Use tables and drawings.
Usually a hard problem can be perceived and explained easily with the aid of tables and drawings. Use table and drawings.

Do not explain too much.
If you explain too much and list unrelavent things, it gives the person who grades the exam a feeling that you really don’t know what you are explaining. Explain only what has been asked in a compact and exhausting manner.

Answer only one question at a time.
Do not answer to questions 2 and 3 together or the subquestions a and b together in the same answer. If the questions are separate maybe you should focus your answer differently in the different answers. This way also you won’t miss any questions. You can always refer to other answer in you exam paper.

Write something.
Don’t leave a question unanswered. In many cases a hard question is also hard for everyone else. When the person checking the exams sees this, he might be more lenient in the checking. If you put down what you know, you can get points. If you leave a question unanswered, you cannot get points.

Write also intermediate stages.
Write every intermediate stage into your calculations. Write down also you assumptions. If the result of your calculation is wrong, but you have written down the intermediate stages, you might get points. If you have not written down intermediate stages and the result is wrong, you won’t get any points.

What is a good essay?

Organize your essay well.
The contents of a good essay correspond to the heading and dicsusses the essential issues of the subject.

State arguments, show points of view.
A good essay shows that the author knows the subject. It is also objective and analytical, that is, the author approaches the topic from different points of view and states arguments for different standpoints.

Is clearly thought also clearly written?
A good essay is clear and easy to read. The reader is not expected to guess the thoughts of the author. In a good essay reader is able to follow author’s train of thought and see how the author came to a certain conclusion.

Do not copy.
A copy of some other authors texts is not a good essay. A text constructed of copied pieces is chaotic, disconnected and unnatural. The author of the original text has carefully considered the position and meaning of the sentences in certain context. The same sentence might give totally different impression in a different context. The facts presented in the essay are naturally based on the literature in the list of references, but they should be presented in the current context, not directly copied.

Be critical when using sources.
When using uncertain and contradictory results, look for several parallel sources. Be critical about the sources – in what context are they “true”? What is the “agenda” of the author? All articles are written for some reason in some context.

Instructions of Avoin Yliopisto have been used as a source for these instructions.

About the layout and the structure

The essay has to be submitted using the given essay template, so that the essays will have congruent and professional appearance. The following list concerns the structure of the essay:

Abstract
Essays, reports and publication usually have an abstract. The abstract acquaints the reader with the contents of the essay. It is an independent unit which can be understood without the presence of the actual essay. The meaning of the abstract is also to make the reader become interested in the essay.
The abstract is often in a different style, e.g. italics or indention, to be distinguishable from the essay itself.

Table of contents
This part is not necessary in essays. For long reports it might be usefull.

Introduction
The introduction gives a reader the background information and introduces the reader to the topic of the essay.

Main text
The body text …

List of references
There is separate document on how to refer to external sources.

Further information
Links that are related to the subject but are not actual sources, can be collected under the heading Further Information. Links are listed in alphabetical order and each link has short description.

Co-operation in the homework assignments

The homework assignments are primarily individual work. Alternatively pair work is allowed on some courses. This means that each student (pair) must return an individual homework assignment. Co-operation is, on the other hand, allowed when working on the homework problems.

So how much co-operation is allowed?
We cannot give a limit for the amount of co-operation, but we can explain why we want everybody to do individual (or pair) work. This will also give you an idea of what we expect each student to do on their own.

When you learn something new, you learn it in stages:

  1. You can repeat what you heard/read:
    “The pike is a fish, the pike is a fish, the pike is a fish, the pike is a fish …”
  2. You understand what you heard/read:
    “There are many kinds of fish. Typical for fish is… For example the pike is a fish.”
  3. You can explain and apply what you have learned:
    “This is a trout. The trout, just as the pike, is a fish because…”

In the first two stages it is fine to work together. Ask each other, read different source materials, discuss different alternatives and solutions. Compare how you have understood the material. Working together helps you find all the facts and understand them.

The last part, on the other hand, should be done by each student her(him)self. The goal is that you learn things well enough to be able to apply them in new situations – this is why it is important that you do the last part, that is write the homework that you return, on your own (or with your pair). Nobody else can apply the knowledge you have gathered.

Do not give your answer to your friend or put it available in general. If your friend copies your answer and returns it as his/her own, you too may get punishment because you have helped in cheating.

Links to instructions elsewhere