Advice on project exams (and MSc and BSc thesis exams)
- The presentation in the project exam should summarize the work you
have done in the project. The teacher and external
examiner have read the project report, but you must
demonstrate that you can explain orally what you have done, what is
particularly important to you, and what you would do differently
given better time and knowledge. You must also demonstrate that
you can put your work and contributions in a relevant context, and
that you can reflect on its significance.
- A project exam will usually have these parts:
- your presentation (during which only few, clarifying questions
will be asked);
- questions about the report and the work, technical details as
well as high-level considerations, such as alternative
architectures, design, tools, theoretical approaches or whatever is
- a brief vote on the grade (only the teacher and external examiner
will be present).
- In a software construction project, the presentation might
It is usually not a good idea to display actual program code,
except to point out clever ideas or subtle algorithms, or to give
examples of the input to or output from interpreters, compilers,
program transformers and similar.
- background and context for the project;
- goal of the project (for instance, requirements on the software);
- design considerations, the chosen solutions or architecture or
- experimental results, time and space measurements, usability
results, and so on;
- a reflection on the usefulness and quality of the resulting
software (to what extent is the software "complete" and
well-tested enough that it is usable for its purpose).
- It may be useful to give a demo of developed software, in
particular if the user interface is complex or impressive or somehow
the whole goal of the project. But do not waste too much of your
precious exam time on it. Moreover, a demo must be very carefully
prepared, or it will invariably go wrong and may derail an otherwise
- Use Powerpoint (or similar software) or plastic overheads or
blackboard to support your presentation, unless you are an
extremely skilled orator. Never read from a manuscript.
- There will usually be a projector, blackboard or whiteboard, and
network connection. But better check the room before the exam.
- Tell us how many minutes you will spend on the presentation, and
stop after that time. The presentation only gets worse and worse
the more you exceed the set time.
- Do NOT say again and again "very briefly, I'll present ..." or "as
the very last thing, I'll ..." -- instead, speak briefly, or stop
speaking altogether. The examiners are eager to ask you questions,
don't prevent that!
- It may be useful to give a trial presentation to a few fellow
students the day before.
- You are welcome to bring a glass of water, to fight nervousness
and a dry throat. But do not bring a bottle of water that
you unscrew, drink from, and reseal, 500 times in the course of
half an hour. The teacher or examiner may explode from irritation.
- Don't fidget with water bottles, ball pens, keys and so on during
the examination. Stay focused.
- Mobile phones, PDA's and other evil gadgets must be turned
completely off or left outside the room.
Peter Sestoft (email@example.com)
2003-08-28, 2010-06-09, 2014-06-11