PL: Exam FormatHow are the exams done in this course?

About the exam format

In the past, two formats were offered, and the choice was made via a poll. The first is a conventional in-class exam, and the second is an out-of-class exam with “practically unlimited time”. However, in all cases the class has chosen the latter, so this is how the exam is done now. Note that the choice was not about the amount of material or the difficulty of the exam, as both formats would be on the same material, and at roughly the same difficulty.

Choosing a day

We will agree on some day for the exam, usually by a poll. For most of that day, the WVH labs will be reserved (late morning through evening, actual hours TBA). You may come anytime during the day, log in, and take the test. There will be no practical limit to how long you stay, and you can even leave and come back later if you need to.

Unfortunately, getting the labs reserved for a whole day is impossible during the week, so the exam will happen on a weekend. We will try to minimize the number of people who cannot make them and arrange some alternative accommodations if possible. (And of course, if anyone knows of a way to get a sufficiently large lab during the week, I’ll be happy to do so.)

(Note that this does not affect the final, since labs are available then.)

In the exam

All lecture notes, homework solutions, and past exam solutions are available — via an application that you will use to do the exam. You can also bring anything else that you want to have available, but please remember that you will have all of the course materials available so usually there’s no need to kill additional trees and pour ink on them... Since the testing application is interactive, you can also ask for additional relevant information during the exam if you think that there is something that will help, and it will be added for everyone to see (if it is indeed something that helps everyone).

Note that while this is mostly true, there will be a specific rough time to start, and if you want to come much later (or earlier), then you should let us know. Also, you can leave and resume the exam later, but let me know about it: such breaks can be very counter-productive, since you’ll need to spend time again getting into your test zone when you resume, so I generally advise people to avoid breaks. (Note that I don’t mind if you bring food or whatever)

Finally, while there is no practical time limit, if you end up staying for 6 hours or more then you are very likely not going to make any real progress, so do not plan to actually spend the whole day in... If you do spend too much time, I will at some point start telling you that you should hand it in.

The exam is still planned for an under-two hour time frame, but since you have unlimited time, most people will do a full second pass to re-check answers, and you should therefore expect around 2–2.5 hours if you’re comfortable in exams, or around 3–3.5 hours if you’re not and might do more than two passes. Extreme cases: if you’re a fast exam-taker, the type that doesn’t look back on what you wrote, then you’ll probably spend the same short time too; on the other end, if you’re very pedantic and grab every possible minute then you might find yourself spending 4 hours or more. Again, for the latter people: staying for longer times will generally not help, as your returns diminish to zero...

Remember that I don’t mind food & drinks, so feel free to bring whatever you’ll need. In addition, feel free to organize a pizza order, but do so ahead of time, since during the exam you’re unlikely to get many responses. (And I’ll be happy if you do organize a pizza or something similar, and will even give you a karma point...)


While grades are not really curved, the numbers usually come up in expected patterns. In case of a disastrous test (e.g., if a few questions turn out to be confusing for most people) we will do a more lenient grading, and possibly reduce the weight of that exam.

Note that in most cases the possible exam score goes well above 100. This is done so you can skip a question and still get a 100. When all grades are weighted and summed, the exam grades are still considered to be “out of 100”, which means that if you do all questions and get more than a 100, then it will serve as a bonus for your overall grade.

Master students: note that both the midterm and the final exam are for all students. (The final is usually scheduled for the 4400 class part well before it gets shown in your schedule.)

About the Exam Application

As mentioned above, the exam will happen in the WVH computer labs, with a specific application that was made for this purpose. The application has an interface that shows you a bunch of “text file” pages. These pages include all textual content from the course: the class notes, interpreters, homework texts and solutions, as well as texts and solutions to past sample exams (that are given out for preparation). Also, there is one such page for each of the exam questions, and an editable page for you to write your answer.

The editor is based on DrRacket and has similar functionality (includes most of its keyboard bindings, syntax highlighting, and indentation). You will not, however, be able to run your code. This is to avoid making a hard project-like exam where you spend time debugging code. In addition, the application has a simple text messaging facility, which is used to send you notifications (e.g., when something was clarified), and for you to communicate with the instructor.

The application doesn’t save any content on the machine that you use. Instead, updates are sent to the server every few seconds, and that’s where your work is saved. You do not need to explicitly save files, they are always kept in sync. This makes a robust system: you don’t need to remember to save or submit your work, and even if your computer crashes, you will be able to continue using a different machine, in the worst case, losing only a few seconds of typing.

The application works in “Kiosk Mode”: shown as a full screen, and it tries to lock out any other access to the machine. There will be one machine per student, so you may work, leave, and come back to the same machine whenever you like. (Note that the server logs all activity, which means that attempts to cheat the system are easy to find.)

For exceptional cases of people who are out of town etc, it is possible to run the exam application on your machine and take it remotely.