Computer Science Students Association
unc chapel hill

QUAL practice session
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QUAL practice session 
Come to the QUAL practice session to learn what to expect from the QUALs. All students interested in learning about the QUAL are welcome to attend.
Monday, September 11th, 2006 (tentative)
afternoon (probably either 3:30 or 5pm--TBA)
Sitterson 011 (tentative)
Jeff Terrell (jsterrel at cs)
The session will have two parts. The first is the mock QUAL: the professors ask one student questions like those found in the real QUAL. The second is a discussion of qual-taking techniques and advice.
QUAL presentation [top]
Russ Taylor has prepared a presentation explaining the QUALs.
Students' advice [top]
Greg Coombe's web-page of QUAL notes

My preparations included reviewing the main concepts covered in the tested classes. The review put me on the same page as the professor asking the QUAL question; I would be prepared to understand the context of the question (even if I do not know the answer). In my experience the QUAL questions start with material from the class and build up to problem-solving questions not encountered in class.
-- Dorian Miller

My random thoughts on the qual that may contradict the advise I've seen: certain professors and/or courses DO require study.  One of my quals was like a final exam for a class.  It had been 1.5 years since I had
taken that course and had I not studied, I would have been out of luck. Granted this was only the case for one of my three exams, but I would NOT advise walking into (certain) quals without having looked over your notes from the course!
-- Susan Fisher

My thoughts (which agree with Dorian's and Greg's):   I want to emphasize that if you don't have them down already, review the _basics_ of each class. For example if you are taking a QUAL covering COMP235 and you don't have a good handle on concepts like sampling, reconstruction, aliasing,
convolution, linear systems, gaussian, Nyquist frequency, etc., then you need to review.  The first questions in any good qual will be concerned with basic concepts.

Knowing the basics benefits you in a couple of ways.  First, it starts you off on the right foot with the examiners -- they see that you can answer some basic questions and are ready to move on.  Second, it starts you off on the right foot with yourself.  Answering some early questions gives you the much-needed confidence that Greg describes, and gives you a running jump at the more difficult questions.  Finally, it puts all present on the same page (Dorian's words), so that the examiners can lead you over more difficult
ground without losing you.

The end of a good qual session will have you reaching a point where while you may be able to discuss your intuition for a question, you won't have the answer.  Ideally, this is after a good bit of discussion of ideas /
questions for which you either have or can come up with answers.  Even more ideally, the point at which you become stumped is at or beyond the point at which the examiners begin leading you into territory that is an active area of research (and thus you probably haven't learned much about in class).

The QUAL can be very scary, but in my opinion it is a good metric to use for Ph.D. qualification, when combined with grades and faculty "sponsorship". Perhaps more important than anything: If you don't do well, or if you fail, don't give up.  Take it from someone who took the QUAL twice. :)
-- Mark Harris

Start off by writing the question, or the key points on the board. Helps to clear out ur thoughts, focus on the problem at hand, and avoids any confusion in misinterpreting the question. Most important its a vital tool to buy time to arrange your thoughts :)

Then think out LOUD. Write out ur thoughts on the board. Even if you are lost, it helps to speak out what ur thought process is. First advantage is that you'll (most probably) be saying something knowledgable, even if it is not related to the question asked. That is better than just standing quietly and staring at an empty board. Secondly, the professor can guide you towards the right answer more easily.

Sound confident. Its easier to create a positive impression that way. If you are really smart and manage to answer all questions confidently, the examiner might let you off without taking u to uncharted waters.
One suitable way to get confidence wud be to have QnA sessions bouncing off ideas and questions w/ fellow examinees.

Finally, study before - and not at the last minute. Prevents you from mixing half baked ideas that u just read something abt at the last min. Relax and think w/ a clear head. Sometimes the examiner might be looking for a much simpler answer than you are trying to present. So go grab a beer, watch a movie, play some foosball or just chill out the day before the qual!
-- Avneesh Sud

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Computer Science, Sitterson Hall
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3175 USA
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