The ECE 313 FAQ

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

- What is ECE 313 about?
- What are the prerequisites for ECE 313?
- Is there life after ECE 313?
- I need to develop (or already have) a strong math
background. Shouldn't I be taking a more mathematical course such as
MATH 463/STAT 400 instead of ECE 313?
- If ECE 313 is so mathematical, can I count it as
a Math course in satisfying the requirements of the
Math Minor?
- I have heard that ECE 313 is a very hard course. Do
*I have to*take ECE 313? - OK, I have decided to drop ECE 313 and take STAT
400 + STAT 410 instead.
- I have decided to stick it out in ECE 313. How can I make
my life any easier?

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- What is ECE 313 about?

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- What are the prerequisites for ECE 313?

Unofficially, you are expected to understand the application of
calculus to the solution of physical problems. For example, you
should understand that an integral is the limit of a sum and
that the
integral represents
the area under the curve,
and you should know the difference between the (related) notions of
integral and antiderivative. Some two-dimensional integrals
will be used but, on the other hand, vector calculus is not
needed. Tricky integrals requiring very clever substitutions
for their solution will not be used; in fact, knowing the
derivatives and antiderivatives of x^{n}, e^{x},
sin x, and cos x will generally be adequate.

Understanding the interpretation of
the mathematics is far more important than facility in the rote
mindless manipulation of symbols. If you make an inadvertent
sign error and write

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- Is there life after ECE 313?

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- I need to develop (or already have) a strong math background. Shouldn't I be taking a math course such as MATH 463/STAT 400 (or even MATH 461) instead of ECE 313?

Actually, starting with Spring 2009, you are taking a math course: ECE 313 is cross-listed as MATH 362! In fact, the level of mathematics in ECE 313/MATH 362 is close enough to that of MATH 461 -- in some semesters, the two courses even use the same textbook -- that credit is not allowed for both ECE 313/MATH 362 and MATH 461. Visit the web pages for these courses, look at problem sets, solutions and exams, and decide for yourself. Also, please read the first few paragraphs of the answers to the next two questions.

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- If ECE 313 is so mathematical, can I count it as a Math course in satisfying the requirements of the Math Minor?

Other courses recommended for the Math Minor are Math 347, 416, 417, 446, and 447.

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- I have heard that ECE 313 is a very hard course. Do
*I have to*take ECE 313?

All BSEE and BSCompE majors must take one of the two courses:

ECE 313 and STAT 410.

Note that STAT 410 has STAT 400 as a prerequisite and the latter must be taken as a free elective.

The following is intended to help you make an informed decision as to which course will best serve your interests.

ECE 313 is primarily a course in probability theory together with a few statistical methods most relevant to communications, control, signal processing, and computer engineering applications. Some students find the course to be very challenging, but most also discover that their efforts are well rewarded, and that what they have learned in ECE 313 stands them in good stead in later courses as well as in later life. We chauvinistically assert that if you are an average or better-than-average student or if you are considering graduate studies, then you should favor ECE 313 over the Statistics courses, and that ECE 313 is very definitely the course that should be taken by superior students. Even if you do not consider yourself to be in these categories, you can still get a lot out of ECE 313, but you may need to put in considerable effort in order to complete the course successfully.

In contrast to ECE 313, which is mostly about probability theory together with some topics in statistics, STAT 400 (4 hours) and STAT 410 (3 hours) are standard courses in statistical methods.

Taking ECE 313 or the STAT 400 + STAT 410 combination
satisfies the *requirements* of the EE and CompE curricula.
However, the courses are *not* equivalent in terms of
course syllabi, and which one you should take depends on what
courses you plan on taking in the future. The undergraduate and
graduate ECE courses listed above all require good understanding
of *probability theory,* not statistics, and they all require
ECE 313 as a prerequisite; not STAT 400 + STAT 410 which mostly teach
you a lot about statistics, and relatively little about probability
as it is needed for advanced ECE courses.
Taking the Statistics courses and then attempting a course that lists
ECE 313 as a prerequisite might be hazardous to your grade.

On the other hand, STAT 400 + STAT 410 might be the best choice for you

- if you would like to have a thorough introduction to
statistical methods instead of the idiosyncratic
coverage in ECE 313
- if you would like to gain an appreciation of the use of statistics
in various fields of scientific inquiry
- You have no intention of taking any of the advanced courses
listed above

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- OK, I have decided to drop ECE 313 and take STAT 400 + STAT 410 instead.

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- I have decided to stick it out in ECE 313. How can I make my life any easier?

Discussions with students over many years suggest that most students spend about three hours of non-classroom time per week on this course, mostly in trying to learn just enough to get through the problems assigned on the current homework, with much frantic page-turning in search of that one magical formula that will solve the problem immediately at hand. Unfortunately, this is exactly the wrong approach to this course. What is learned in this manner is very specific for the assigned problems on the current homework and is of no help in the future (e.g. on exams.) Furthermore, being done with a problem because you got the same answer as your friend is not enough, especially if all you have done is blindly apply a formula. You are only done when you understand why the methods you used had to have worked. The problems and the solution method should make sense to you, and if they do, they will make sense a few weeks later on the exam too!

No one expects to develop muscular strength or build athletic skills by exercising or practicing just once a week or all night before a contest. Similarly, cramming and all-nighters are no way to get your brain into top shape for exams. Yet this is just how many students prepare for exams. If you work at a regular pace throughout the semester, you will find that you will not need as much last-minute study for an exam. Steady systematic work is the way to train muscles and brains. With diligent practice, you can prepare yourself to the point where, on exams, instinct and learned behavior patterns take over and the problems seem straightforward and obvious because you have seen so many similar ones before.

If you spend ninety minutes per lecture just reading, trying examples, exercises, completion of derivations and proofs, etc. as suggested above, you will find that homework is a lot easier, and takes a lot less time to complete than you might have expected. Overall, you might well end up spending no more than six or seven hours per week on the course instead of the nine hours mentioned above. The more your (mental) muscles are used to exercise, the easier it is.

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Revised 1/17/09