Martin Orr's Blog

2005 week 22

Posted by Martin Orr on Monday, 06 June 2005 at 17:38

I began the week in Oundle for a Maths camp - the final selection of the team for the IMO. On Tuesday we sat NST (Next Selection Test) 1. This is an IMO-style exam i.e. there are three questions in 4.5 hours. It was however an easy exam and I had solutions to all the problems in 70 minutes. After working out a solution, it is necessary to write it up carefully so that the markers can understand it. I spent the rest of the exam doing that very slowly and carefully, ensuring there were no holes at all and since I had so much time, even provided a summary of each solution to guide the marker and cross-referenced the page numbers between rough work and final solution. I still had quite a bit of time to spare. In all, four out of the eight squad members claimed three questions although they did not all get full marks on every question.

I missed NST 2 on Wednesday because I had to come home for my French oral. In this oral you debate a topic of your own choice for five minutes: I had chosen to argue against nuclear energy. I first did this topic at Christmas, when we were only given a choice of five topics; to my surprise I ended up the only one choosing nuclear energy (Kathleen initially chose to be for it but switched to a different topic). When I first picked the topic, I did not feel strongly either way; the more I researched it the more convinced I became against it. Then I left the topic for several months until Easter when it came time to choose the A-level topic. To make things easy and since I had been the only person doing it at Christmas (and would therefore almost certainly be the only person to do it for the A-level since you have a completely free choice), I stuck with nuclear power (although unfortunately I had kept my presentation and some other French notes, but little of my original research). When I got back to thinking about it again, I became less and less convinced that it is a bad thing. Apart from the nuclear waste argument: it seems to me foolish to produce all this dangerous waste we don't know what to do with, although again I am no longer as convinced of the unfeasibility of some options as I was.

Following your chosen topic, you speak on at least two other topics of the examiner's choosing for another ten minutes. He asked me about the environment (a natural thing to follow on from nuclear power), the pace of modern life, and the European Union. The EU was an obvious choice given the referendum on Saturday; in conversation however it arose from the previous question, when he had asked about the 48-hour EU limit on the working week, and I mentioned the French 35-hour week. I think I did fairly well, though looking back I'm not sure how much I did to justify my opinions as well as state them. The examiner seemed nice enough, and he phrased his questions very slowly and ponderously; that fits with my style of answering them, which is hopefully a good thing.

The rest of the week I have had off, as I don't have an exam until Thursday coming. I spent much of my time on the computer, ordered a laptop on Friday of which I am eagerly awaiting delivery, went to a Make Poverty History rally in Belfast on Saturday and completed a first draft of my Gloria.

I have also spent quite a bit of time doing Maths - I have been working through all the questions 2 and 5 from the 1990 IMOs. If you don't know about the IMO, you will ask: why questions 2 and 5? Well in each IMO there are two exams, questions 1, 2, and 3 on the first day and 4, 5 and 6 on the second day. Questions 1 and 4 are (relatively) easy, 2 and 5 of medium difficulty and 3 and 6 are hard. Each question is marked out of 7, making a maximum total of 42. In 2002 and 2003, 29 marks were required for a gold medal; in 2004 it was 32. So you can see that to get a gold you really need to get questions 1, 2, 4 and 5. If they are perfect, that makes 28 marks so you can pretty well assume that you still need a mark or two on 3 or 6; depending on the difficulty of the paper, how many additional marks are required will vary a bit, but a full extra question ought to be sufficient.

Questions 1 and 4 usually are quite straightforward if you are well trained and the UK works very hard on knocking them off like clockwork: in 2003 we got 82 marks out of a possible 84, placing us in third place on these 2 questions (while we were tenth overall, with something like 3 marks in total on questions 3 and 6). I should have no trouble with those questions, which is why I have been practising on 2 and 5. I have now tried all the 2s and 5s back to 1996 and got almost all of them in under an hour, which is a good thing. Questions 3 and 6 are often out of my reach, but as explained above I need to make some progress on them so I will try a range of questions 3 and 6 later.

What have I been reading this week? Molière's Le Misanthrope: it's seventeenth century French drama, not the best thing to read before your French oral (like reading Shakespeare to improve your spoken English, several of the grammatical rules and words have changed). So I've been thinking in iambic hexameter in French.

-- Martin

Tags alevels, imo, languages

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