Thursday, October 25, 2007

How To Do 5 Exams in 3 Days And Stay Sane

In the previous days we had the final exams. The way that INSEAD organizes it is to put all the exams in 3 days, and let you go for a 4 days vacation. They keep you studying and submitting group assignments until the last minute, so you only have the weekend to study.

First of all, you must be on top of things throughout the period. Otherwise it will be difficult to study everything in a few hours.
Most of the courses are closed book, one A4 sheet allowed, so everybody spent their weekend in preparing Cheat Sheets (I have no idea why they call it that way - it is completely legit). Those are word documents in a 5 sized font, with all the material of the course packed in it. (completely worthless in real time).
We got several exams from previous promotions, so we had little time to solve them all.
Basically it is 3 days of studying all day long.

The Exams Themselves
In order to do 5 exams in 3 days you have to be superman. Otherwise you just have to rely on the Z-Curve to do the work for you. The grading policy is that everybody get their grades in a scale (sometime 1-100), and then the professor checks the average and standard deviation. If you are more than 3 standard deviations below the average you failed. Your grade is the number of standard devations you are from the mean. It means that if they give us an easy exam, everybody will get 90, and then if someone gets a 70 he fails the class! so they try to make an exam with an average of 50, and a wide spread of grades.

If I had completely lost you by now: The grades are completely relative. They give us very very very difficult exams, in order for the average to be 50. It means that not only we did 5 exams in 3 days, we did very fuckin difficult exams as well (pardon my french).

Now, I come from the Technion. I am used to difficult exams. But such a marathon I have never done in my life. Lucky for us we are all in the same boat, so if I had to suffer everybody else had to suffer as well (I am a nice guy, aren't I?). Because the grades are completely relative, I probably had to do miserably horrible in order to fail.

Two funny things about the Z-Scores. They brain-washes us into hoping to get difficult exams. So I heard a girl who was not so strong in Finance actually coming to the professor and asking him to give us a hard exam! People here have completely lost their minds.
Also I heard talks about colluding and doing lowsy on purpose (it's like a prisoner dillema if you think about it). Of course it was a joke, but a funny one (of course this can never work - this is not a Nash equilibrium. You should probably work on your game theory if you don't understand me).

First Exam - A Group Exam
A group exam is an exam you take with your study group (well, dah!). In the leadership course we were given a case, and we had to sit for four hours and write one paper about all the sheety things that happened in the case. Of course we had to put as much terms from the course as possible, linking to buzz-words, and like any history exam in high school - write as much as possible.

Think that you are given such an assignment to do alone. You would probably finish it without any problems. It's not that hard - read the case for 30 minutes, think for another 10, write 20 pages for 2 hours, check your spelling and you are done (kind of like writing a blog ;)

But if you do it in a group it becomes much more complicated, as 5 people want to write the exact same thing in 5 different ways. Ironically all the ways are completely ok. We had a planning session before the exams and you could hear the shouting from the cubicles in the South Wing! We agreed to some strategy (and of course changed it 180 degrees in the real exam).

We divided ourselves into 3 sub-groups, each group will write about a third of the problem. We were 5 so one of us was left writing alone. We read the case, and sat for half an hour trying to figure the structure of the paper. For each of the 3 topics we assigned as many buzz words as possible. And at last we sat to write (who is going to write on the computer almost ended in a fight, but I was the bigger man). Of course the one person who wrote alone finished earliest.

At last we finished and submitted the paper. I was named before the exam the leader of the group (Because I possess some of Henry Fonda, from "12 angry men", and Ghandi leadership qualities. Ohh sorry I fell asleep for a second, because I was the first in alpha bethical order). What can I say, leadership sucks (Maybe this is what they have tried to teach me in this leadership course). I had to come 10 minutes earlier to take the case, and stay 30 minutes after we were done to wait for the assisstant to come and pick up our paper (I was starving).

Regular Exams
It was all part a very big scheme. First Nikos, the professor from economics, told us not to worry too much because the exam is going to be piece of cake, and we will finish it in half the time. Of course I did not study for this one (priorities). 2 and a half hours in the exam I was still trying to figure out what the hell is Cournot equilibrium (he specifically said he would require us to calculate the damn things).

Then in Finance we got a question about call stock options. Did we not study enough material in the course that the professor could ask questions about stuff that we ACTUALLY DID learn? I recall that he specifically told us that options are for Finance 2. I calculated the points - 18 points out of a 100 for something we learnt nothing about. Of course the question could be solved by pure simple (or not so simple) logic.

I knew that the accounting exam is going to be the hardest (call it a hunch or a sixth sense). It was. And the thing is that it was the forth one. I had 2 exams on Monday, one finance exam in the morning (not a picnic), and only then came the One. I thought that I was going to fall asleep in the middle of the exam. The professor told us that never tries to trick us on purpose. It is always done by accident. Well, too bad I am not insured because I counted at least 3 accidents in the exam.

And after this one I had the entire evening to study for the statistics exam coming tomorrow. Of course I fell asleep right on the 2006 exam in 22:00. I woke up the next day, rushed out of the house, only to discover 5 minutes into the exam that I have forgotten my statistics tables (you simply cannot calculate anything without them). So I improvised (Donald Trump would have been proud). I programmed my calculator to perform the ntegral for the normal distribution (so lucky for me the claculator replaced some of the tables). Superman or not? Of course I screwed the easiest question on the exam (old habit of mine).

Let me summerize (and with that I leave p1 exams behind me for good, thank god for the memories) by saying that doing so many exams in such a short period of time, without any time to prepare is more a mental challenge than an academic one. It doesn't really matter whether you have answered everything right, because everybody is on the same boat. What matters is how much you have actually learnt and will take with you to the next periods. I can proudly say that I survived this week (They should give you a certificate: "Did 5 exams in 3 days and remained sane"). p2 starts, and will go by in a second, and then we have 6 exams in 4 days. A breeze compared to p1 (I am sure...)

P1 Ended - Go P2

It's been awhile since I have last written in my blog. It's been really hectic around here. Now that the exams are over and I have some days off, I can tell you about some of the things we have done in the past few weeks.

I will dedicate this post to summerize the first period academically. Later I will post on some of the more interesting things that you need to know about INSEAD.

We studied 5 courses, and I also studied spanish. I can say that it was very busy. Here is what happened in all 5 courses:

Definitely one of the more difficult courses. The material is complicated, and in the 7 weeks we had to learn about the time value of money, how to valuate companies and projects based on NPV and future cash flows, and how to price risk.
We had some group work (somewhat limited), and plenty of exercises and readinings. I can say that this is the course where I heard a lot of complaints from the other students about the way that our professor taught it. I guess that like in all places some of the professors are not as good as the others.
The math requirement was limited, and the challnge was more understanding the concepts. Some of the students have a lot of experience in the area, so when they asked questions it was last Chinese for me. And there were some classes in which I felt completely lost (especially when the professor put some English letters on the slides without explaining what they were). But overall I think that I have taken from the course what I should have.

We had a great professor for that course. Every lecture was like a stand-up comedy show. It was a very basic course in micro economics. If you had seen supply and demand, monompoly pricing, and oligopoly games you should hae exempted from the course, because it was really slow. The professor was very afraid to confuse us with derivatives (of straight lines - it is very simple), so he insisted on explaining everything with "Marginal" this and "Marginal" that. For me it's more confusing, but the subject is easy to begin with.
I can say that I have studied a basic course in microeconomics before, and it had been much more difficult than our course.
The more interesting part was the Game Theory part. We learnt about Dominant strategies, Nash equilibrium and more. I will dedicate a seperate post to this part of the studies.

Financial Accounting
Here we arrived to the least pleasant course. Now I understand why I wouldn't want to be an accountant. The professor was very good, and he brought from his experience to teach us how to interpret financial statements, and how managers tend to manipulate them. The goals of the course were to understand company valuation and managerial decision making. The excelent professor made the subject interesting, but challenging. It is definitely not intuitive.
However, the professor uses cases and he cold called us on class - so we had to be perfectly prepared to every class. This was very tiring, and he managed to hijack our time form the other courses. Also he did not let us into class if we came late (even by 5 seconds). He said "You are late you have to leave), and then you had to turn around, no arguments, and walk out the amphi. He actually came to class 5 minutes ahead of time, stared at the clock, and the second it turned 15, he started the lecture and you could not enter.

This is a breeze if you have some background in probability and/or statistics. This is hell if you are a lawyer (ot have no background). It is a very basic course in statistics, but with a lot of material covered (binomial, poisson and normal distributions, hypothesis testing and p-values, and linear regression).
Some of us were bored half the time, while the other stared at the slides without understanding what's going on.
The professor did his best to narrow the gaps. The course material is very original. I don't want to spoil it for you, so I won't say much, but as an example they tried to teach us what is sampling, so they brought M&Ms bags, and we tried to see if the number of red M&Ms in the bag is indeed 1/6 of the bag like the company promised. So everyone got a bag of M&M and we actually counted the number of each color. Than with the data we assessed whether the company is not so accurate (and the company is indeed not accurate). A brilliant experiment to understand this subject.
Also the professor tried to show us how newspaper and other sources manipulate the data they present to us in polls. The most famous is what happened in Florida in the Bush-Gore elections, but plenty of other examples were given (there was a competition of who brings the most radical manipulation from the most well-known source).
Moreover, we did some surveys and the professor showed how he can bias our answers with the way that he asks the questions. Very intertaining. At one time he gave us a list of words such as "Probable", "Possible", "Likely", "Slightly", and we should have put a percentage for each word that an event will occur. For instance I said that if the event is probable to occur, it means that it will occur in 90%, and if there it has slight chances it means 20%. Other students gave completely different numbers, and the most extreme, a girl in my class gave 10% for probable, and 90% to slightly possible. Go figure! It is amazing how different people think differently sometimes.

Leading People and Groups
I looked forward to the leadership module (you can learn all the other stuff reading books, but this is were you can honestly improve), and came out somewhat disappointed. We covered conflict resolution, negociations, group dynamics, influence, cultural differences and more, but the overall feeling is that we only scratched the surface. We had to write two essays - one at the beginning and one in the end. What can I say, it is completely BS to write that you have learnt something in 1 and a half month. I had to write about my strength and weaknesses as a leader and show what I have learnt. Lucky for me, after 8 school applications (and one blog) I am trained in BSing for several pages.
The most interesting lesson was the feedback lesson. In our study groups each of the 5 of us gave feedback to the other 4 (and received feedback as well). I find it hard to deliver feedback , but I managed to do all right. The other people delivered me the feedback that I expected to hear, but it was an educating experience to hear from people I had known for such a short time about myself. I will definitley take their comments into account in the future.
There were other very fun experiments but I don't want to spoil them for you so I won't continue.

Several points:
  • The academic level is not of a masters degree. Each course by itself is an introduction to a topic.
  • The difficulty comes from the time pressure, and the vast information they bombard you with. You must learn these things very fast if you don't want to stay behind.
  • INSEAD structure the courses nicely, in the amphi, the readings, and all the courses combined, and by studying so much stuff hopefully all the important pieces of information got through (I will only be able to tell for sure in the future).
  • Although we have to invest time for our careers and socially as well, in the last few weeks I was more into the academics. It is hectic!
  • The atmosphere was excellent, and people are very smart. All the students came here to study hard and fast, and to have fun in the process.
Looking forward to P2. We will study Finance 2 and Managerial Accounting, but also Leading organizations, Proccessed and Operations, Marketing and Strategy. Should be interesting.

I will dedicate seperate posts to the exams, and the language courses.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Japan-Korea Week

Last week was the first national week of the year: Japan-Korea Week. All the Japanese and Korean students did their best to bring activities and attractions to INSEAD. It was a great effort ftom their behalf. Ken from my study group, a proud Japanese, got on average 2 hours of sleep last week.

It all started on Monday, with the Japan-Korea delegation crashing the amphi with traditional customs, and show a movie they have created. There was a long list of activities for the week: A market (and a special T-Shirt), Korean breakfast, Korean and Japanese games (Tug-of-War is a rope pulling game, with my section coming second place after the tenacious E2), Japanese Lunch (those shushi where gone in a second - what a demand!), Origami school, Talko drums performance, Korean Dinner, Kimono & Hanbok Tryout, and last the Drunken Businessmen Party.

In the middle of the week we had a Karaioki Bar of the Week thing. Every week the student council sets up a different bar in Fonty with happy hour prices between 9 and 10. This week it was dedicated to our friends fromthe far east. The bar had many TVs and basically the students just screamed the song together over beers and very large glasses of cocktail.

The Drunken Businessmen Party was something else. Good atmosphere, nice place, and a lot of karaioki and booze. The hit of the night was the Soja Bomb: They take a glass of beer, and put two chopsticks on top of it. Then they put a shot of Soja (like a korean Saki - really strong) on top of the chop sticks, to create a fearsome structure. They put it all on a tray with a towel in front, and you have to hit your forehead on the towek (not kidding), making the shot of Soja drop into the beer glass, mixing the alcohols. Then you have to drink all of it in my shot. 3 of those and 2 Saki made my head spin (but not like my friend who drank 7 Sojas).

Monday, October 1, 2007



Advetures as Academic Rep
Ever since I got here I wanted to do something different. I figured that INSEAD is the place to take initiatives and engage in activities that I have not done before. I looked for several things that could interest me, and finally decided to become a Section Rep.
In the first two periods we are divided into 4 sections. Each section has 5 representatives: The Social Rep (responsible for drinks, events, activities, champaigne fines for people who are late or fall asleep in classes), Academic Rep (responsible for all program related issues), Career Rep (responsible for connections with career services), Campus Rep, and IT Rep. The role that suited me most was Academic Rep, and I was elected for the role (let's say that no-one wanted the position more than me).
And so I found myself dealing with all sorts of situations: the class did not understand the material in one of our classes, so I engaged several activities to handle the matter: I am in touch with the professor and we aligned to make the subject more approachable to the croud, and I organized a session where students from strong background in the subject sat with the students who found the subject hard; I arranged (and taught) an Excel Workshop for my section (next week I do it again for entire class - pretty scary); I delivered messages from the professors to the students and vice versa. Quite a challenge, and a little time consuming- but a lot of fun. I found it fun to have people discussing the professors and the lessons with you, exchanging stories and suggestions. Very fulfilling position. Yesterday I had a meeting with Dean Fatas, who wanted ro hear from us the major issues that we faced and how we are handling our duty.

Student Council
In the last week it was announced that the next Student Council would be elected next week. I collaborated with a team that runs for the position. After we get elected (of course we will) we will be in the Student Council starting p3. Should be very interesting and a unique experience for me.

Our team is called INSEAD Impact, and we have a proactive agenda. Our moto is "Easier INSEAD For You - No B.S.", and we have a bull (no relation to Meryl Lynch) with cross on it to emphasize the last term. We worked all week on posters and flyers (lots of hard work), and we had a presentation.
Our competition are a group called "Show Us". They decided to turn INSEAD into an american high school (Veronice Mars or something), and made a campaigne with all the accessories and tararam. Agenda was not really necessary in their case, but it should be a closed call any how.

Voting ends tonight, and results are tomorrow, so I will update when we win.