The 6.033 FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Part I. For people thinking about taking 6.033.

Q. I want to take 6.033 this term, but I haven't taken 6.004 yet, and the catalog says that is a prerequisite. Is the prerequisite really needed? I might be able to take 6.004 at the same time. Will that work? My friend started 6.004 but dropped it after the second quiz. Can she take 6.033?

A. 6.004 really is a pre-requisite, not a co-requisite for 6.033. 6.033 builds on material from the last half of 6.004, and it takes off with no review and at a substantially faster pace. If you haven't completed 6.004 in a previous term you are not likely to survive 6.033.

Q. I'm a sophomore. I got an A in 6.004, I've been hacking systems for four summers at Apple and Microsoft, and I want to take 6.033 now. But I have been warned that sophomores have a lot of trouble with 6.033. What's the story?

A.We strongly discourage sophomores from taking 6.033 even if they have already accumulated the nominal prerequisites. 6.033 depends on a lot of unwritten computer street knowledge, of which juniors have accumulated another year's worth in various ways--their UROP assignments, doing other courses on Athena, one more summer job, a few more Computer Science subjects, etc. The success rate of sophomores is far lower than for juniors and seniors--three or four try it every year, and one or two survive to the end. On the other hand, if you really have been hacking systems at Apple and Microsoft for four years, you are welcome to give it a try.

Q. Do you recommend that I take the writing practicum for 6.033?

A.That is mostly a matter of how much help you think you need in technical writing. Everyone needs to know how to do it, but some people have acquired lots of writing experience in other ways--reporters for The Tech (usually) don't need the writing practicum. Perhaps the way to decide is to look at the Phase I and Phase II writing requirements--if you have already sailed through them without extra effort, you are probably not in need of help. If you are still struggling to get Phase I checked off, you almost certainly do need the practicum. More likely you are between those two points, and have to make a judgement call.

Q. It is now {choose one: 1, 2, 3, 4} weeks into the term and I want to add 6.033. I haven't been participating up till now, but I'm willing to work hard to catch up. What are my prospects?

A. It is harder than it looks, for three reasons. First, a lot of the material in the lectures isn't written down anywhere, except perhaps in the notes taken by some of your classmates. Second, much of the learning experience in 6.033 comes from participating in recitation discussions of assigned papers, and the level of the discussions advances rapidly in sophistication as the term progresses. Finally, the reading assignments are long. Many people can barely keep up with the reading even if they started on day one; catching up in addition to keeping up can be a really gargantuan task. There is a short paper due each week; as of the Nth week you have missed N of those. The cumulative impact of all these considerations suggests that for N > 2 it is probably hopeless.

Q. Is the latest Eta Kappa Nu Underground Guide description of 6.033 on-line anywhere?

A. Yes. Follow this link.

Part II. The mechanics of 6.033

Q. Can I use an old copy of the textbook? Of the Brooks book? Of the 6.004 text, by Ward and Halstead? How about the class notes that are for sale in the EECS Instrument room?

A. Tanenbaum has written several books with similar-sounding titles, some of which have been through several editions. but the one we use (Modern Operating Systems) is still in its first edition and any copy you find is as good as any other. The same is true of the Brooks book. The Ward and Halstead book has been through two printings, with quite a bit of typographical cleanup in the second printing, but we use it only for a couple of chapters, and either printing is fine for our purposes. But the 6.033 class notes, which consist of about 50 readings, change quite a bit from year to year, so a copy from last year won't do.

Q. I'd really rather be in a different section from the one you are trying to push me into. Why can't I switch to the section I want? Why does one more person make such a difference?

A. One of the main features of 6.033 is discussion in recitations, of the papers we are reading, almost like in a humanities class. A good discussion, involving all the class members, doesn't often happen in a large class. Since the department can't afford an unlimited number of recitation instructors, we therefore have to push for more equally balanced sections than in other EECS subjects.

Q. For the second case study I understand we are supposed to form teams of three people. One of the people I want to work with is in a different recitation section. Is that OK?

A. Probably not. Your recitation instructor assigns your grade, and your friend's recitation instructor assigns his or her grade. If you work together on the same team, then both recitation instructors will have to read your team's case study and agree on a grade for the team. This procedure causes two problems, one for the teaching staff and one for you. The problem for the teaching staff, which, like you, has a finite amount of time available, is less reading time per case study. The problem for you is that whenever two instructors read the same case study, they will find two completely different sets of things they don't like. When they get together and compare notes, your team is almost certain to get a lower grade than it would have if either instructor had evaluated it alone. We've tried it in the past and found that it simply doesn't work.

If your friend is in another section taught by the same recitation instructor, then you can form a team if you get permission from that recitation instructor in advance.

Q. If we do the second case study in teams, I don't understand how the writeup of that case study can qualify me for phase II of the Writing Program.

A. The reason is that it won't. You are supposed to have passed Phase II with your first case study, if necessary by rewriting it and resubmitting it to the writing program until they accept it.

Part III. Questions about Submitted Assignments and Answers

Q. When and how do we hand in the one-page assignments?

A. One-page assignments are due at the beginning of your Tuesday recitation section. Please hand in your assignments on paper. Only Professor Hawley's sections allow electronic submissions. For the TR11 Hawley/Lew section, e-mail your submission to For the TR12 Hawley/Dampier section, e-mail your submission to

Q. What's the format for the one-page assignments?


  1. Please type the assignment. Typed assignments are easier to read.
  2. Please put your name, recitation instructor, and section meeting time at the top of the page. If you're unsure which section you are in, either see the student page or the recitation sections page.
  3. Use a type font and size that is large enough to be easily readable (11 or 12 points is good for most fonts), and leave enough leading (vertical spacing between lines) that things aren't so crowded that a grader can't make comments. The entire assignment should fit on one side of one sheet of paper.

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Last updated 2/21/95 by lew