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During the written part of the exams, you'd have to keep your scientific calculator near you at all times. Some students would discretely smash calculators of people looking in the wrong direction.
Fuckers.

I've never been competitive, but maybe that's because I was smart enough to be at the top without being cut-throat, and also having a comfortable middle class background helped in that I didn't feel that doing less than perfectly would be a problem for the future. (When your study depends on grants and your grants depend on performance, life is very different)

One of my close friends was, like me, in the Physics and Mathematics Olympiads. Apparently he was taught by some professors who coached him that he needed to come out of each test bragging about how fantastically well he had done so as to discourage the competition. I find such tactics despicable, even if they work.

Myself, I never had any problem with being honest about how well (or badly) I had done. When I won the Spanish Physics Olympiad [it's been all downhill from there] I thought I had done so-so in the tests, but as it turns out I actually predicted my total score to within 5 points (out of 50) and it ended up being the highest score. So, better to be honest and know where you stand than be dishonest.

My friend is on track for a successful career as a research mathematician; I'm not (no small disappointment), but I make decent money.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:15:36 PM EST
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I'm genunely surprised by that "calculator" comment. I never saw that in the scientific classes préparatoires, nor even heard a story of that kind. It was very competitive, but also very honest. Maybe this is linked to the business schools (prépa HEC)?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:19:13 PM EST
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Well it could come down to the following simplistic characterisation: Maths Sup is a big family, HEC is a gladiator fight. Something to do with laboratory geeks on one hand, and business tycoons on the other hand.

The calculator event comes from the Lycée de Fermat (where I sat for the exams). We were warned by teachers that this had happened in the past and to stay alert (and report anyone interfering with our exam basically).

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:28:07 PM EST
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My impression is that engineering GE students were much more likely to be lefties than business school students, which makes sense. (They are also a lot geekier, no surprise)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:29:49 PM EST
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One very nice thing about the engineering GEs, is that apart from Mines/Centrale which we have to consider seperately, the ENSIs are all so specialised that good students and not-as-good students can be seperated by specialisation rather than only by prestige.

ie. the best students get the most "trendy" specialisations (aeronautics...), while the worst students get the least "trendy" ones (paper), and like I pointed out with the example of my friend above, paper is just another specialisation, it doesn't make you any less of an engineer than an electronics one. Thus even if the "paper" school is less prestigious, it won't be a problem because you'll only be competing against paper specialists anyways.

This doesn't exist in HEC ... mainly because the school I went to is one of very few public schools (I think there are only two). All the others are private which means that students are discriminated upon by business prestige alone (ie by a school's budget and its lobbying relations, more than by any specialisation).

Sorry I'm tired, I don't know if I'm making any sense here.

by Alex in Toulouse on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:39:52 PM EST
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It makes sense to me. My experience is that most GE engineers are competent and up to the tasks expected of young engineers. Some are faster than others or able to see the big picture more easily, so there are differences, but all are valued by French and foreign companies alike.

Over and out for tonight.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 06:51:20 PM EST
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Some co-grads of mine attended Henri IV and Louis le Grand, and from what the anecdotes they related, the Math Sup-Math spé sections at Henri IV and Louis le Grand were not prettier than the HEC ones.
My prépa HEC section was friendly and people were helping each other, the environment was really good. But they really seldom had someone into the top three Paris Business schools.
I think it has more to do with the prestige of the prép class itself than the section.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Mon Mar 27th, 2006 at 03:12:33 AM EST
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