Thursday, December 05, 2013

Post mortem on IBR3 exam

It rained all night; there was even some thunder and lightning at around 6am. Most people were only too pleased that it was finally raining, but I wasn't: rain has always made me feel depressed.  I suddenly had this terrible thought that the IBR3 exam was on Wednesday and the IBR2 exam on Thursday, which would mean that I had missed one exam and had prepared for the wrong exam ... but it was only the amygdalae playing tricks on me.

I drove to the train station in the car (because of the rain), rode to Tel Aviv - and on the way realised that I had forgotten to pack my calculator. How would I answer the statistics questions without a calculator?? As I would be arriving in Tel Aviv an hour and a half before the exam, I assumed that I would have time to buy one ... if I could find a suitable shop.

I wandered around the area where the exam was to take place, taking note of a shop which might sell calculators (it hadn't opened yet), when I discovered that I was almost directly opposite the anonymous office building in which the exam would take place. So I went in and asked whether I could borrow a calculator - no problem.

The examinees had been told to arrive at least 30 minutes before the exam, which was scheduled to start at 9:30 (so be there at 9). I was there at 8:15. Another person turned up at around 9:10, a third at 9:20 - and the invigilators turned up at 9:25! So much for half an hour early. After some fiddling around - it seemed that the two others didn't have books in which to write their answers - we finally started at 9:45.

My heart sank when I read the paper. Instead of being presented with someone's methodology section of their thesis and being asked to criticise it, there was a short discussion between a candidate and his supervisor. The candidate didn't seem to know anything, or at least had a very naive view of doctoral research. My job (as well as his supervisor's) was to set him straight. Unfortunately, the questions were worded in an unfamiliar way which made writing the essay fairly hard. I wrote for nearly an hour, barely filling two pages. 

I knew that the second half of the exam would be statistics, for which I was prepared, so I was looking forward to this. The first question was, as expected, asking for a chai squared analysis of some figures; this was easy and I got it out of the way quickly. But the second and third questions had me stumped: is the average educational level of the managers from the companies whose mergers failed significantly higher? (I may have got the wording slightly wrong) Higher than what? The third question was the same, only asking about managers from companies whose mergers had succeeded. 

In desperation, I started looking through the formulae which we are given, trying to find something which matched this description. At first, I thought that I had a suitable formula, but the answer that it gave seemed to be completely wrong, and anyway I was missing one term. After thinking about this for about ten minutes, I realised that I could calculate the missing term and then calculate the variation of each group against this. The difference between the two groups is that one group numbered 24 whereas the other group numbered 34; 30 is a magic number in statistics, so one group had to be tested against certain values (the t-statistic) and the other group against different values (the z-statistic).

I do not know whether this is the answer that they were looking for. If it was, then I would have done ok, but if not, then 22 points went down the drain.

The final question, as expected, was to write a short report regarding the statistics results. This was easy.

I looked at the paper again, checked that I had calculated the chai squared correctly, looked at the clock (about 11:50) and realised that staying would not improve any of my answers. So I left the exam, feeling exceedingly dejected. I would not be surprised if I didn't pass the exam.

Normally at this time of the year, one writes about the miracle of Chanuka: how oil which was normally sufficient for one day lasted eight. People often use this when writing about basketball, how Maccabi Tel Aviv win a game against all odds. My Chanuka miracle in the past few years has been that the examiners (MBA and DBA alike) have always asked questions to which I knew the answers. This time, there was reversion to the mean: I didn't know the answers.

The only thing which slightly improves my mood is that in six months time, they probably will ask questions to which I know the answers.

Incidentally, the two other examinees (women in their 30s) were sitting for the second (maybe third) time their finance exam for the MBA. I have never seen them before, which is not surprising in light of the statement that one made when she said that she didn't attend any of the lectures nor the practice sessions. This is someone who wants to get an MBA? The other still has to pass accounting.

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