Subject Spotlight: Signals and Systems

Welcome to the first in hopefully a series covering the variety of electrical engineering subjects available at Melbourne Uni. This series hopes to give those who have not done the subjects a more overall outlook of what the subject entails, tips and more interesting information that is only known by those who have done the subject.

Disclaimer: These articles are written from past experiences and may not reflect what the subject is currently like or will be like in the future. The opinions expressed are purely the authors’ and not representative of the Melbourne Uni Electrical Engineers Club or the University of Melbourne. In no way is anything here presented as fact. Do not come complaining to us if after reading something you think the subject is easy and then you fail or if something crucial has changed in the subject.


Year this subject was taken: 2015.

Signals and Systems is a third year Bachelor of Science subject or a first year Masters of Engineering subject. It is an introduction to key concepts that will be used in later years, topics covered in Signals and Systems will be then assumed knowledge in Control Systems, Probability and Random Models, Communication Systems and Signal Processing. As its name suggests this subject introduces various important signals and how to classify and explore systems. This will go onto filter design and modulation techniques in later subjects. Unfortunately as it is an introductory subject there are not many real applications of these techniques yet, only a few explored in the workshops.


  • Fundamental Signals, Definitions and properties of Systems.
  • Time domain representation and state space representations of Systems.
  • Fourier Series, Fourier Transform, Discrete Fourier Transform and Discrete Time Fourier Transforms.
  • Analysis of Systems (Using Fourier and Convolution).
  • Laplace and Z-Transforms.
  • Transfer Functions.


The lecturer taking Signals and Systems is Dr Robert Schmid. He is very friendly and has taken over the subject since 2014. Lectures usually consist of theory then an example question from the tutorial questions directly related to the theory, with the lecturer going through step by step on how to set out the questions.

Lectures are recorded and the written examples done in class are scanned and posted on LMS after the lecture.

Prior Knowledge:

From Foundations of Electrical Networks mostly knowledge of how components are represented in maths is required. Also remembering how RC and RL first order equations are derived is useful.

Not a prerequisite but having done Electrical Network Analysis and Design will help, as there are more convolution and transfer functions explored in this subject as well as Fourier and Laplace transforms.

Also not a compulsory prerequisite (as you can do Engineering Mathematics instead) Real Analysis can help with understanding how to write proofs as there are some in this subject, and give a more in-depth review for mathematical induction.


Correction in 2016 the workshops are not accessed but there is no longer a report due.

An example of a filter implemented in a workshop.

There is one workshop a week, based mostly on Matlab and Simulink. Attendance is taken but nothing is due in the workshop, workshop reports are written and submitted after. Students work in allocated groups of 3. Workshops usually start with the demonstrator going through an example problem booklet question and then everyone goes off to work on the assignment.

The mid-semester test is representative of what the real exam will be like. After the mid-semester Robert will show statistics of the test to better show how well you are doing.

Robert provides a problem booklet with over 100 questions in it, with answers but no working out solutions.


Signals and Systems is more like a maths subject than an engineering subject due to its introduction of foundation concepts. 

As it is like a maths subject the emphasis is on setting out your answers properly, like the examples done in the lectures.

Concepts, formulas and proofs may seem easy while studying it throughout the semester but the key thing is the exam is not open book. There are many different topics in this subject and so many different types of questions that can be asked, with different signals with different properties. While there is a formula sheet it is not comprehensive.

Therefore Signals and Systems is a very difficult subject to cram for. Every topic should be studied diligently throughout the semester so that key things like properties of different transforms and theorems can be remembered and recognised.

Another similarity to maths subjects is the way marks are allocated, full working out has to be shown as demonstrators look for key parts in working out to give marks. Be very careful as it is quite easy to think you have done well in this subject in the exam only to lose many marks through poor working out even if you managed to do every question.


BY Dennis Nguyen

Melbourne University Electrical Engineering Club


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