Posted by: idm04 | 2010/05/01

First-year Courses in UBC Sciences!

This post is going to be about the First-Year Science courses that I took at UBC during the 2009 Winter Session (ran from September 2009 to April 2010, comprising two terms).  Hopefully students coming into first-year Science in 2010W and beyond can benefit from what I have learned and discussed here.  Needless to say, my opinions will not always be the same as those of other people.  Course details will vary from year to year, as well as from professor to professor, but there may be common themes.  Books, too, can and will change from year to year, especially editions.

Courses covered in this post:

CHEM 121
CHEM 123
PHYS 100
PHYS 101
BIOL 112
BIOL 121
BIOL 140
ENGL 110
ENGL 112
MATH 102
MATH 103
(not in this order)

I also list what prices I bought my textbooks for, and any savings (compared to buying the textbook new at the UBC Bookstore).

Other posts of interest:

Transition: High school to first year – what courses to take, how to register, what to expect in first year Science.

Buying Textbooks – Tips on buying textbooks for university.
What to bring to class – What do you bring to university?
Summary of Second-year Courses – Same like this post except for second year.

List of all courses I’ve taken

If you are reading this post for insights and advice, I would advise you to read this post for general facts only.  As I mentioned earlier, details do change and opinions/perceptions differ.  For example, I advise students to prepare for exams in ways that I think would be the best way, but other students may disagree and may have their own ways of learning or preparing.  Do what is best for you.





CHEM 121

Time: MWF 10 – 11 am (lecture) and Thurs 2 – 5 pm (lab – biweekly)

Chemistry 121: Integrated Resource Package (aka ChIRP) by Gates, Stewart & Wolf

This course is only offered in Term 1 (Sep to Dec) of the Winter Session.  It is also offered in Summer Session Term 1 if you cannot take it in the Winter Session, or need to retake it.

Grading Scheme/Syllabus

Here is the mark breakdown for my year (2009W):

Laboratory: 20%
Midterms: 2 midterms, 10% each
Quizzes/Assignments/Clicker: 10%
Final: 50%

Here is a list of topics that are covered in CHEM 121:

1. Atomic Structure and Periodic Properties
-Use natural abundances (%) of isotopes and isotope masses to find the atomic weight of an element
-Rank elements and ions by their atomic size, ionization energy, electron affinity
-How is effective nuclear charge (Zeff) related to ionization energy, atomic radius, electron affinity, electronegativity?
-Relate the groups in a periodic table to the number of electrons in the valence shell
2. Ionic Compounds
-Write balanced equations for chemical reactions involving alkali metals and alkaline earth metals (understanding how elements in these two groups react, basically)
-Compare melting and boiling points and reactivity between alkali metals
-What are the reactions between alkali metals and alkaline earth metals with water, oxygen and halogens and why do they occur?
3. Covalent bonding
-Polar and non-polar bonds between atoms in a molecule
-How to draw Lewis structures
-How to draw resonance structures and what resonance means
-How to use the octet rule to draw molecules and its exceptions
4. Molecular Shapes
-How to determine the shape of a molecule (e.g. NH3 or ammonia has a trigonal pyramidal) from the number of bonding and non-bonding electron pairs that the central atom has
5. Properties of p-block elements
-How do elements of the p-block react with other elements?  What kinds of compounds are formed and what are their structures?
6. Quantum Mechanics
-Wave-particle duality and wave functions
-What are quantum numbers?
-Principal shells and sub-shells and orbitals
7. Spectroscopy of one-electron species
8. Arrangement of Electrons
9. Valence Bond Theory
-Hybridization goes here or somewhere here (sp3, sp2, sp hybridization and their relation to molecular shapes)
10. Molecular Orbital Theory
11. Applications of Chemistry in Materials Science

Click here for the ever so slightly more detailed course syllabus for CHEM 121.

There are two common midterms and a common final.  By common I mean that you take the same exam paper regardless of which section you are in/which professor you have.  Conversely, section-specific exams (a.k.a not common exams) are different for different sections.  I found the first CHEM 121 midterm to be quite easy (it was about atomic structure, periodic trends, bonding of s-block elements and some Lewis structures).  The average mark for all Chem 121 students for this first midterm was 75%, which is considered quite high.  The second midterm had an average of 48% and was on quantum mechanics, orbitals, p-Block elements and everything from the first midterm.  Let’s just say I did not do as well – it was quite a bit harder.

I don’t particularly enjoy studying for cumulative exams – midterms or finals that make you study both ‘old material’ and ‘new material’.  Most of the time, these midterms are focused on the new material and I found it important for me to study the ‘new material’ first, and then the ‘old material’ later if there is enough time.  There have been many times where I have studied the ‘old material’ first and then I ended up not having enough time to study the ‘new material’ which in most cases is more heavily tested.

In-Class Activity

Basically, you bring your Chemistry 121: Integrated Resource Package (CHIRP, pictured above, described below) to class, listen to the lecture and write notes in the margins of the book (or on separate paper), then do problems at home.  I would recommend writing in the margins of the book rather than on separate paper, unless you really like certain note taking styles or you’re planning on selling the textbook.  It’s best to read CHIRP before the lecture so that when you come to the lecture you can understand what the prof is talking about rather than coming to class clueless – sometimes the prof has to take shortcuts and can’t explain things in great detail.  There are also section-specific activities (such as quizzes or assignments).  I had 4 quizzes during Chem 121, and the prof took the best 3 to contribute to my final grade.  Some professors may require you to use the i-Clicker, a live polling system for participation.


You will need the textbook Chemistry 121: Integrated Resource Package.  It currently sells for $63 at the UBC Bookstore (I last checked Sept. 3, 2010).  2009W was the first session that this book has been used.  This textbook is very important for the course because it was written specifically for UBC CHEM 121 and it has all the information you will need for the exams – lectures are just to help you understand the information in the textbook and to give examples of problems as well as to clarify concepts and maybe go into a bit more detail for some topics.

The instructor used this textbook while lecturing, and some of his Powerpoint slides directly incorporated images/text from the textbook.  People were highly advised to bring it to class (which most of them do), and there is plenty of space to take notes beside or beneath the text, and there are also practice problems throughout the chapters as well as at the end of each chapter.  The two chapters that I struggled with the most were p-block elements and quantum mechanics.  To me, the chapter on p-block elements was about memorizing specific properties for each group on the periodic table, which seemed tedious.  I also found the chapter on quantum mechanics difficult relative to the rest of the course.

Despite being a necessary book that is used very often in the course, CHIRP has its limitations.  You might find that there doesn’t seem to be enough problems to practice, especially in the later topics like Quantum Mechanics.  You might also find that it doesn’t seem to explain certain diagrams well, like the orbital diagrams in the Quantum Mechanics chapter.  Basically, it needs fuller explanations of all the concepts, especially later in the book where the difficulty of the material increases; and it also needs more problems so that students can learn how to apply information to various situations.

CHIRP by Gates et al.
I bought for: $60
I bought it at: UBC Bookstore
Savings: 0

There’s also a Molymod molecular model set – costs $44.15.  You probably won’t actually use it for Chem 121 – it’s supposed to be for Chem 123.  I did not open the model set even once during Chem 121, so if you’re not sure, then don’t buy it yet.  You can always buy it later in the term if needed.  See Chem 123 below for more information about the model set.


There is also a lab manual for the lab section of the course which costs around $25 – 30.  I found the lab to be fairly straightforward, although you really need to give yourself enough time to prepare for each lab.  There is plenty of reading to do for each experiment in the lab manual and you have to write up procedures before each experiment too.  The lab manual suggests you put in 3 hours of time preparing for the lab (sometimes I felt that I needed more, but that was probably because I was multi-tasking and checking over everything).  You shouldn’t buy the lab manual used as it changes slightly from year to year and you need to write in it.  Labs are 3 hours per session (you can usually leave early if you finish early) in which you will do the experiment, write observations and discuss certain relevant things and then hand in what you’ve written at the beginning of the next lab.  There is a lab session every TWO weeks.  For my year (2009W) there was no session the first week of classes.  The lab manual was used for both Chem 121 and 123, so we used the same manual in both semesters.  Other than reading from the lab manual, there are some online readings to do on the CHEM 121 lab page.  All these readings are listed in the lab manual for the experiment you are responsible for preparing, and probably on the website too.  Reading the lab manual and the online materials is usually quite important and sometimes it will be helpful to review these materials more than once before the lab.

Also, I found that other students need help with using liquid dispensers as well as using fluted filter paper.  To learn how to fold fluted filter paper, go to YouTube and do a simple search.  There is also a video on the CHEM 235 website (  For learning how to use liquid dispensers which is VERY simple but easy to mess up apparently, there’s a video for that too on the CHEM 235 website (

Remember, if you’re unsure about anything, ASK YOUR TA.  Don’t bother worrying about what kind of things you do in the lab in the few weeks before class.  Just tackle each weekly (bi-weekly, I guess) lab one by one and it will be enough. If you’re sufficiently prepared for the lab, it should run smoothly.

Statistics on Student Grades/Tips for Preparation

The average mark over all sections in 2008W for CHEM 121 was 65.4% (69% in 2009W, 70% in 2011W).  CHEM 121 seems to have the highest failure rate of the courses I discuss in this post.  In 2008W, the failure rate was 22% (12% in 2011W).  That means 1 in every 4.5 people fail, and it also means that if you meet 3 people (randomly) in CHEM 121, there is a 40% chance that one of those people will fail (binomial theorem ftw).

The material in this course might seem easy from the professor’s example questions and from the examples of problems given in the CHIRP textbook.  The questions will probably be noticeably harder on quizzes/midterms and on the final exam.  It is important to be able to grasp the concepts and to some extent be able to apply knowledge to new situations.  Practicing past exams is a good way of studying for midterms and for the final exam once you have reviewed your class notes/CHIRP because old exam questions best represent the style and difficulty of the questions you will encounter in your own exam.

I would really recommend reading ahead in CHIRP especially starting from the chapter on p-orbital trends or the chapter on quantum mechanics onwards.  Read these later chapters over and over until you understand the material well enough to explain it to a friend – then you’ll know you’re fine.  Doing practice problems after each class and practice exams before midterms/final is the best way to study once you’ve understood the concepts in the material.  Also, if you don’t understand certain concepts, get help by visiting the Chemistry Drop-In Tutoring ahead of time.  Your professor should also be available and willing to explain concepts given that you’ve been paying attention in class and that you’ve read the textbook chapter thoroughly.  Basically, the key to passing CHEM 121 (or any course, really) is preparation – read the textbook ahead of the lecture, read it after the lecture with your lecture notes, make sure you understand the underlying concepts by doing practice problems, and get help when you need it and as soon as possible.  Writing past exams is usually the most ideal practice for any course, but especially for Chem/Math/Phys.

One of the most difficult questions that I never seemed to understand when I was taking CHEM 121 was the “guess what this compound is” questions where it’s like Compound A reacts with Compound B to make Compound C which have these specific properties and Compound C also reacts with another compound to make Compound D which has these specific properties.  What is Compound A?  Usually these questions are longer, I’m just giving a general example.  But the point is that they’re kind of annoying so I guess make sure you draw out the reaction sequence and learn how to do them because I didn’t.  There should be a few in CHiRP if I remember correctly.

Note: I actually took IB Chem HL in high school and managed a 6.  This allowed me to claim credit for CHEM 121.  However, I chose not to claim credit because I didn’t want to get screwed over when I continued on to CHEM 123 in Term 2.  Sadly, I regret taking Chem 121 when I didn’t have to because Chem 123 definitely does not require much if any knowledge of Chem 121.  Obviously they are related in some subtle way but I personally would not have taken Chem 121 but claim credit through IB Chem HL instead if I were to retake first year (unless I wanted to go into Chemistry).  A friend of mine skipped Chem 121 and took Chem 123 since he also had credit through IB and he did fine in 123.  When I say fine I mean >95%.  Getting other people’s opinions is a good idea if you’re still unsure.

edit.  Certain courses that you may or may not take after first-year involve knowledge/review of some concepts from CHEM 121, which may affect your decision about whether to take credit for CHEM 121 if you took IB/AP CHEM.  CHEM 205 (and probably CHEM 201), CHEM 203 (and probably 204), and CHEM 233 require at least a basic understanding of quantum mechanics.  A few lectures in CHEM 205 and CHEM 203 involved molecular orbital theory.  I don’t think you really need to take CHEM 121 to understand these concepts, you just need to find/borrow a sufficient textbook that explains it well enough (e.g. Organic Chemistry by Bruice et al) or online resources.




PHYS 100

Time: MWF 11 am – 12 pm (lecture) and Tues 2 – 5 pm (lab).

College Physics, 2nd Custom Ed. for UBC PHYS 100 by Knight et al.


Phys 100 is one of the easiest Science courses at UBC in my opinion.  It is for people who didn’t take Phys 12 in high school (like me).  The average mark for the course varies from year to year but is usually around 75% which is pretty high (76% in 2011W).  The final exam was OPEN BOOK!  This course is definitely a grade-booster for MOST people – I got quite a high mark but unfortunately I didn’t do great on the midterm.  The course material covers the very basics of physics, and there is a lot of classic physics involved.  Many topics pertain to energy and our energy use – the topics often reflect real life applications like energy saving in homes or in the community; and climate change.

Week 1 – Course Outline, Discussion of Course Resources (textbook, VISTA, clicker, etc.)
Week 2 – Introduction to Laws of Conservation, Introduction to Energy (calculate kinetic and potential energies, explain effect of friction on the energy of a system, appreciate that energy is generally conserved and can be transferred from one form into another).
Week 3 – Thermal Energy, Internal Energy, Temperature (common units of energy, laws of thermodynamics, conduction, convection, radiation, energy balance in heating homes).
Week 4 – Assumptions used to Model Home Heating (calculate heat flow in a thermal model of a simple home, the relationship between temperature of an object and the wavelength of its emitted radiation)
Week 5 – Energy Balance of the Earth (Model of Earth’s atmosphere and solar flux, climate change).
Week 6 – Climate Change (feedback mechanisms that affect climate temperature like ice, water vapour).
Week 7 – Kinematics, Position, Velocity, Acceleration
Week 8 – Free Fall, Forces, Gravity, Normal Force, Friction (definition of force, Newton’s laws).
Week 9 – Examples of Newton’s Laws, Work, Kinetic Energy and Friction (apply conservation of energy to calculate energy/fuel requirement of passenger vehicles).
Week 10 – Discussion of Transportation
Week 11 – Electricity (circuit diagrams, electrons and electricity).
Week 12 – Parallel and series circuits, AC circuits, household electricity (calculate current and voltage for circuits, calculate power, explain purpose of circuit breakers and fuses).
Week 13 – Electricity Generation (compare costs of electricity and greenhouse gases for various power generation systems).

In-Class Activity

For lectures, you go to class, take notes, and answer clicker (i-clicker or PRS) questions.  Clicker questions for Phys 100 are generally based on participation rather than on ‘correctness’ and therefore full marks in the clicker question section of the mark breakdown is very easy to obtain.  Reading certain textbook sections before each class is generally expected/recommended by the professor and I would recommend it as well.  I would also recommend mastering how to tackle model questions (see below) by practicing them.  You do get some practice in tutorials but not a lot in my opinion.

Grading Scheme

Here is the grading scheme for my year:

Labs: 20%
MasteringPhysics: 6%
Tutorial (group work): 6%
Final project: 6%
Lecture questions with iClickers (participation only): 3%
Reading quiz/vista postings: 2%
Surveys (participation in both pre-and post-): 2%
Midterm: 10%
Final: 45%


There is also a lab section for Phys 100 which is easy.  Before each experiment, you print out an outline that the TA/lab professor posts online and just follow the instructions on it during the lab and write down answers to any of the questions or headings on the outline.  You then hand in the filled-in outline at the end of each lab.  The lab is marked by pass/fail (which is why it’s so easy).  If you write enough observations and stuff that makes sense, it should be an easy pass.  Labs (which are 3 hrs in duration) are every other week.  On the weeks that you don’t have labs, you will go to discussions (~2 hrs in duration) in which you will be given a few problems to work on in permanent groups of ~4 people.  These problems are real-life “model” problems.

Also in discussion, you will (with your permanent group) work on something called a “Final Project” that is worth 6% of your final grade.  It is based on these model questions.  My group’s question was how much money people would save or not save (for heating and lighting) if they used fluorescent (CFL) lights instead of incandescent lights.  You have to make assumptions again (like temperature and stuff), find data online, and answer the question through calculations and whatnot.  Groups generally make a Powerpoint that is about 15 slides long.  The final project was marked leniently but it does take a while.  Group members were assigned to groups based on where they live (so that we could meet sort of conveniently).

Homework – MasteringPhysics

MasteringPhysics is another thing you have to do in Phys 100 (and Phys 101.. and possibly others too).  Every week or every other week, you have to go online ( to do assignments for marks.  There are hints and you get a certain number of guesses for each question.  NOT using hints will give bonuses.  If you guess a question wrong, but you get it right on the next guess you can still get above 50% for that question.  Most people disliked MasteringPhysics.  For Phys 100, the profs generally gave tons of bonuses for MasteringPhysics which means tons of people have over 100% for each assignment.  MasteringPhysics can be quite tricky and some of the midterm/final questions are based off MasteringPhysics.  To prevent students from cheating off each other, MasteringPhysics uses different values for different people on the same question.  On the MasteringPhysics website, they give you access to an e-text of College Physics that you can use when you have access to the internet (unfortunately, you cannot print the entire textbook to PDF directly).  Since the online e-text is provided, you kind of don’t need to buy the actual textbook, but the real-life version is still kinda useful for the open-book final (yay), and for when you don’t have access to a computer like in-class or on the bus or something.


The textbook has all the information and formulae you need for this course.  It is called College Physics and the one in my picture is the (2nd) custom UBC edition.  It is by Knight et al.  I would definitely recommend buying it.  And since the final was open-book, most people brought it to the exam.

When you buy the textbook PACKAGE from the bookstore, it will contain a rebate for the i-clicker ($10 rebate, yay…) and also a MasteringPhysics access code, which is used to gain access to MasteringPhysics.  Codes can only be used once.  Once you use the code, the account you create with that code can actually be used for three separate courses or something?  I used the same account for Phys 100 and 101.  Alternatively, if you buy the textbook separately (or if you buy it used from someone else), you can buy the MasteringPhysics access code separately from the bookstore (I forgot how much they charge… $30-40?).  Your Booklist will also tell you to buy a yellow Physics lab notebook (it contains lined paper and on the back, a grid for graphing).  We did not use this for PHYS 100.  However, I did need to use it for PHYS 101.

College Physics, 2nd custom ed. for UBC Phys 100 by Knight et al.

I bought for: $87 (package included MasteringPhysics and rebate coupon for i-clicker)
I bought it at: UBC Bookstore
Savings: 0



BIOL 112

Time: MWF 12-1 pm

Biological Science and A Short Guide…

The course is about biology at the cellular level, especially of bacteria.

This course was among the most challenging first-year courses I have taken (but other people will definitely disagree).  For me, it was a course where I actually had to think to answer the questions.  My mark (and probably the marks of other people) was “saved” by in-class activities.  When I took Biol 112 in 2009W, the midterm exam was worth 20% of the final grade, and the final was worth 30%.  This is a fairly low contribution of exams to the final mark.  The other 50% came from section activities (clicker, assignments) and most of those marks are easy to get, some of them only being participatory based.  The reason why I thought the course was hard is because of the amount of guesswork that it seemed I had to do.  And also but to a lesser degree, the difficulty in taking notes during class.  Halfway through the course I stopped taking notes (my notes consisted of half-completed sentences anyway) and tried to listen and absorb the material instead.


Week 1 – Unicellular Growth (population growth, population curves for cell populations, exponential growth).
Week 2 – Diffusion and Membranes (polarity, electronegativity, hydrophobic effect, chemistry of water, lipids, diffusion across membranes).
Week 3 – Proteins (Amino acid structure, polypeptide structure, protein folding, protein function and enzymes).
Week 4 – Transcription (Chromosomes, plasmids, transcription directionality, start and stop signals for transcription).
Week 5 – Lactose Operon – an operon is a unit of DNA in the genome of the cell that consists of several genes that are all controlled in the same manner via a common regulatory signal or promoter (lactose and its importance to cells, structure of the lac operon, function of the promoter and operator, induction by LacI).
Week 6 – Eukaryotic Genomes (introns, exons, transcription in eukaryotes, DNA packing in eukaryotes).
Week 7 – Eukaryotic Genomes (genome structure, repeated sequences, multiple chromosomes).
Week 8 – DNA Replication (DNA polymerase, replicating the ends of DNA).
Week 9 – Transformation and Transposons (Recombination, transformation and transformation experiments) – Transformation is a process in which a (DNA) nucleic acid fragment is taken up by a (bacterial) cell and incorporated into the cell genome, thus potentially changing the genotype and phenotype of the cell.  Transposons are DNA sequences that can move to new positions within the genome of the cell by being “copied and pasted.”
Week 10 – Plasmids and Conjugation (Mechanism of conjugation, antibiotic resistance, conjugation experiments) – conjugation is a process by which DNA is transferred between two cells via cell-to-cell contact.  A plasmid is a DNA molecule that is separate from and can replicate independently of the main chromosome of the cell.  They are often circular.
Week 11 – Energy and Metabolism (Oxidation and reduction, electron towers, ATP and ATPase, NAD(P)H, NAD(P)+, terminal electron acceptors).
Week 12 – ATP Synthesis (oxidation/reduction of organic molecules, ATP synthesis by substrate-level phosphorylation (SLP), regenerating NAD, glycolysis, Kreb’s cycle, amino acid synthesis).
Week 13 – Ecosystems (appearance of oxygen on Earth, microbial life on Earth, role of microbes on the atmosphere/ecosystem).

Exam – Question Format

Here’s a sample question.

3. In regulation of the Trp operon, production of mRNA that is used to synthesize the TrpEDCBA proteins
is controlled at two different points. Which of the following contribute to this control?

1. Competition for the promoter between RNA polymerase and the repressor TrpR.
2. The affinity of the TrpR protein for tryptophan.
3. The frequency of transcription termination by RNA polymerase between the start of the mRNA
and the trpE gene.
4. The binding of nucleotide triphosphates to the RNA polymerase.
5. The affinity of the ribosome for the ribosome binding site of the leader peptide in the trp operon

A. All of the items contribute to the control
B. Only items 1, 2, 4
C. Only items 1, 3, 5
D. Only items 2, 3, 5
E. Only items 1, 2, 3

What I find difficult or annoying about these questions (Biol 112 exams were mostly multiple choice) is that even if you know “most” of the answer to the question, you can still easily get it wrong.  For example, in this question if you know for sure that #3 is correct, then you eliminate choice B.  If you then guess from there, there is only a 1/4 chance of getting it right.  If you know #3 and #1 are right, then you eliminate choices B and D.  If you guess, there is now still only a 1/3 chance of getting it right.  And if you know that #1, 2 and 3 are correct, and guess between A and E, there is a 1/2  chance of getting it right.  This biology course seemed to focus a lot on application questions rather than basic knowledge questions.  Sometimes there are questions on exams about certain genes or proteins that you will have never heard of before – you’ll have to use the stuff you learned about as a model to answer the question.  The ability to synthesize “new” knowledge or develop insights is an important skill in this course rather than the ability to memorize facts.


The key to this course, I’d say is to know and understand the basic concepts enough to be able to apply your knowledge to these kinds of multiple choice questions.  This can be done by reading the textbook for conceptual understanding, or you could also practice tons of questions so that you will know how to think to answer each question.  Some questions on exams might seem quite unfamiliar because it might be based on some concept you were supposed to learn, but involves a totally different situation.  When you read the textbook or your notes, you should always think of questions the exam might ask.

In-Class Activity

Going to class is essential because the teacher relays a lot of important information.  Furthermore, there are many clicker questions to answer that will count towards the final grade.  Additionally, there was usually some kind of in-class activity to be handed in every class.  This is often a group assignment and I believe they are called “invention” activities.  It’s where the professor gives you a situation/problem and you need to come up with some kind of strategy or machine to fix the problem.  They’re pretty fun and relaxing – you usually work in groups of three.  This is kind of amazing because it seems hard to be able to get everyone into these small groups when there are so many people in a university class.  The point of the invention activity is to learn to understand how cells solve a problem by coming up with our own solutions and seeing if they match.  Surprisingly, they often do, even though the cell process that helps the cell solve the problem was not taught to us previously.  Other than invention activities, there are sometimes individual assignments to be done in class as well.  Invention activities and individual assignments sometimes take half the class, and some people find it kinda useless in learning the material.  Other than these activities, the professor will give handouts with information and also just talk about the material.

Textbook & Other Resources

The textbook Biological Science is definitely useful, and it is quite important to read for each week (and even each lecture if you  can).  Get your basic knowledge from the textbook before class, then the professor will teach you how to apply said knowledge with a variety of examples.  Again, the key to Biol 112 is the ability to apply knowledge to situations that you have never before encountered.

An i-clicker is also very important – our prof gave about 5-8 clicker questions per lecture – which I felt was very helpful.  Sometimes, the clicker questions were at the very beginning of class.

Also, if you take notes from the textbook (or from any textbook for any course), always try to follow the syllabus and the course notes.  We were given specific learning objectives for each week and you can use those when you write your notes from the textbook (so you know what specific topics you should focus on in the chapter).  An example learning objective: “Describe the role of microbes in
modulation of the atmosphere of Earth.”  If you know the learning objectives then you know what information in the textbook is irrelevant.

First-Year Biology Package
I bought for: $95 (package included the Biological Science 3 volume set (3/E) by Freeman, A Guide to Writing about Biology by Pechenik, and MasteringBiology access code.)
I bought it at: Craigslist!
Savings: $43.95

The e-text (Brock Biology by Madigan) is purchased at the bookstore – you have to ask the cashier for the e-text code and I think it costs around $15.  When you enter the code online they will ask you to set up an account with username and password.  I know a few people who just shared the same account and thus saved money because they could all use the e-text simultaneously and whenever they wanted.

Also, about the textbook package.  We never used Pechenik’s book in any first year Biology course. Similarly, MasteringBiology was optional.

January 2011 edit: Different sections of BIOL 121 and BIOL 112 use different editions of the textbook, and I think they are starting to use a UBC custom ed. now.

August 2011 edit: Most sections of BIOL 112/121/140 use custom editions of Biological Science by Freeman.

Statistics on Student Grades

The average mark for BIOL 112 in 2008W over all sections was 68.8% (69.7% in 2011W).  It would be a lot lower if the final and midterm were worth more (together, they’re only worth 50%)..



MATH 102

Time: MWF 1-2 pm

Common First-year Calculus courses are grouped into three categories:
1) Math 100 and 101: Applications to Physical Sciences and Engineering
2) Math 102 and 103: Applications to Life Sciences
3) Math 104 and 105: Applications to Commerce and Social Sciences

There are other first-year Calculus courses as well.  The three categories I listed above require certain marks – either in Principles of Math 12, on the Math 12 provincial, or on the UBC Basic Skills Test.  You can also use AP/IB grades and these have specific requirements too (see link below).  Also, Math 120 and 121 are Honours Calculus (for the nerds, lol).

Math 100, 102, 104 and 120 deal with Differential Calculus and are offered in first term, while Math 101, 103, 105 and 121 deal with Integral Calculus and are offered in second term.  Usually, if you take Math 100, you will take Math 101 in second term (ie. you’ll usually take two courses from the same category above).  However, the material between these three categories is very similar, and if you’ve taken (and passed) Math 100, 102, 104 or 120, you can take ANY of Math 101, 103, and 105.  It really doesn’t matter which Math category you choose.  If Math 100 gets full, just take Math 102 or 104 instead – they give the same credit.


If you’ve taken high-school calculus (Calculus 12 or IB Math 12 SL or HL) and did well, Math 102 and 103 should not be that hard and should be partially review, actually – but for some reason people still have trouble, myself included.  Which category should you choose?  Again, it doesn’t really matter in terms of credit because they give the same credit and are equally accepted for any program.  However, from what I have heard (and seen on past finals), Math 100 and 101 (especially 101 I think) comprise the “hardest” category out of the three that I have listed.  My friend who was in IB Math HL found it difficult to maintain a high mark in Math 101.  The midterm class averages can sometimes be as low as 40-50% for Math 101 (but I guess they do get scaled up significantly later on).  So, if you suck at Math, try to avoid Math 101.  Also, Math 102/103 do NOT require a textbook!  Instead, we have online notes and problem sets (just Google “UBC Math 102” and you should be able to find the main course website) which saves us a couple bucks when buying textbooks.  The average mark over all sections for MATH 102 in 2008W was 70.7%. (73% in 2010W).

Homework (Math 102 and 103)

Please take a look at my post Things you should do to avoid pissing off your math TA for a list of things you should try to do when doing assignments that will be handed in for marks.

In 2011, the format of the course was changed such that assignments called “OSH” (old school homework) and WebWork were introduced. WebWork is essentially doing fairly straightforward problems online. They are not necessarily indicative of actual exam problems but rather simply test whether you understand the basic concepts. On the other hand, the OSH are longer problems (but not as many) and require more problem solving and writing the solution down to hand in. Depending on the OSH and your skill level, OSH assignments will take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2+ hours.


If you take the MATH 102/103 combination, you will not need a textbook because the problem sets and notes are all online.  I would not suggest actually reading the notes in great detail because there is really too much detail.  However, the professors tend to follow the order of the online notes and some of the examples even, so it’s a good resource to check if you didn’t get to copy something down in class, because it might be in there.

For MATH 100/101, you will probably need Early Transcendentals or Single Variable Calculus.  Both are written by Stewart.  The Early Transcendentals textbook is thicker than the other one, because it actually contains all the material/questions from it.  Early Transcendentals is a textbook that is often used at many courses at UBC, including MATH 100/101, MATH 200, MATH 253, MATH 217, MATH 317, etc.  It’s not always used, but it seems that it usually is.  So if you plan on taking later MATH calculus courses (past first year), I would suggest keeping Early Transcendentals and not selling it off just yet.

Want extra practice?  Either look online (because I mean, every university has intro calculus courses) or go to the Bookstore and take a look at the problem books there (e.g. 1,000 problems in calculus).  Or use the practice exams available on the UBC Math undergraduate website.



ENGL 112

Time: T/Th 9:30-11 am

The New Century Handbook, Can. ed. by Christine Hult

The New Century Handbook, Can. ed. by Christine Hult


According to the bookstore website, I was supposed to buy Academic Writing by Giltrow which is used in many Engl 112 classes – however, my prof said in class  that we actually did not need to purchase it.  We were supposed to buy it because of the APA Formatting Guide, but you can find such guides online.  There is also a custom package full of readings (articles) that my prof requested, and it cost $21.95 .  Strangely, I was able to find almost all of the articles online…

The textbook Academic Writing by Giltrow is used in many Engl 112 sections, and can be bought used from many places, including but not limited to and Craigslist.  Same with The New Century Handbook by Hult.  (For Academic Writing in particular, you should know exactly what version you’re looking for and also what it looks like.)

The New Century Handbook, Canadian ed. by Hult.  (came with CD!  Don’t really know what it’s for!)
I bought for: $30
I bought it at: Craigslist!
Savings: $27.50 (Actually, after I used The New Century Handbook, I sold it to the UBC Bookstore for $39.50!  Woo, slight profit!)


This course is about learning how scholars write and learning how to write academically just like them.  Questions that are answered include: What determines whether an article is scholarly?  What is the format of a research article?  How should one summarize an article?  How does one critically summarize an article?  The course is fairly straightforward, with a lot of marks coming from the final exam, and a lot of marks also coming from a Research Essay.

For the final exam (which is section-specific), I had to summarize (in the ‘correct’ format) part of a research article, and then I had to write my own essay in research format given some information/facts to use.  Fairly straight-forward.

For the research essay, which all Engl 112 students must write, the topic of the essay depends on which professor you get.  For our prof, she said that we could choose any topic, but she mentioned that education is a topic that is fairly easy (ie. not a lot of jargon relatively speaking).  My research essay’s title was: Student Perceptions of the Non-Academic Disadvantages of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.  Basically, I looked at scholarly research articles that had surveys given to IB students about workload, sleep deprivation and social life (or lack thereof) in relation to the IB program, and then I used the data to write my essay.  The essay was fairly easy once I had all my sources and once I had read a few of them.  The vital part for the research essay is to choose a topic (and question) that is specific enough to answer within the word limit (my word limit was about 2,500: not too much…) but not too specific that there is not enough information (article sources) on it.

Feel free to view my essay, I guess.  Click here.  It was sent to Turnitin to prevent plagiarism.

In-Class Activity

In class, there weren’t many notes to take most of the time.  I think most of the time it was basically us getting a handout with an assignment to work on, or questions to discuss in relevance to the sample articles that we get.  Class was pretty chill and pretty small too – around 30 people.  Attendance is mandatory to pass, however.

Note: This course does NOT seem to be scaled between sections.  This can be good or bad; it depends on your professor.  If you look at the grades distributions you would see that a few “lucky” sections have averages as high as 86%, and also that there are some that are not so lucky.  Most sections have around the same average.  In 2009W, the average mark for all ~3000 students was 72.86% with a standard deviation of 11.48.



CHEM 123

General Chemistry by Petrucci et al. 3rd Custom Ed.


Here is the Chem 123 syllabus page.  Chem 123 is split up into either two or four parts, depending on how you look at it.  If two parts, Chem 123 is split up into Physical Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry.  Physical Chemistry deals with phase equilibria (make sure you understand how to draw those phase diagrams), thermodynamics, and chemical equilibria.  Chemical equilibria is like Grade 12 acid and bases, buffers, and equilibria stuff that I don’t really remember.  The grading scheme in CHEM 123 is similar to that of CHEM 121.

Physical Chemistry

We were given very condensed summary notes which were difficult to understand the first time reading, but I understood the summary notes better after reading them a few times after lecture. I printed them out and brought them to lecture so I could write notes in the margins. We were also given problem sets which I found very useful.  I would recommend doing the problem sets a few times throughout the course so that you become as familiar with the material as possible.

Organic Chemistry

In my opinion, the course was fairly easy until we got to nucleophilic substitution reactions in organic chemistry.  I think it’s because I stopped paying attention in class, and also because we only spent a week or so on it, although we spent over a week reviewing basic organic chemistry stuff like naming, and simple drawings of organic molecules, and identification of functional groups (Grade 11 Chemistry stuff).  We spent so much time on basic stuff that I felt we didn’t spend enough time on the new material like nucleophilic reactions, and maybe stuff like diastereomers and enantiomers too.

Molecular Model Set

The Molymod “Molecular Model Set for Organic Stereochemistry” is used in Chem 123.  The set is on the Booklist under Chem 121 but almost no one used in during class nor during exams.  It is mostly used in Chem 123 in the organic chemistry unit.  I have my own set that I had to buy new from the bookstore.  Any kind of molecular model set will do and the Molymod in my opinion is not superior to other sets (even if it is the “UBC edition” or whatever, although what does that even mean?).  Most people don’t bring their sets to lecture (some bring a molecule they made previously at home) but many people did bring molecules they pre-made to the second midterm as well as the final exam.  Bringing molecules to exams was allowed as long as there is no writing on it.


The textbook for this course is a custom edition of General Chemistry by Petrucci et al.  The material is actually taken from two textbooks – one of them is by Petrucci et al. and the other is Organic Chemistry by Bruice.  I really didn’t find the textbook that useful, and I basically did not use it.  Although, after looking through some of it now, there’s some information on SN1 and SN2 reactions that might have been a bit useful, but other than that I shouldn’t have bothered buying it.  Practice exams and online problems sets (online) are good enough representatives of what questions they’re going to ask on the exams.  There are problem sets for both the Physical Chemistry and the Organic Chemistry part of the course.

General Chemistry 3/E (Volumes A & B) by Petrucci et al.

I bought for: $50 (package included both Vol. A&B, a workbook with selected solutions, a virtual lab manual, and a student access kit.  I didn’t actually use any of these things)
I bought it at: Craigslist!
Savings: $35

Edit: They have a custom edition for General Chemistry.  It changed from year to year for the past 2 – 3 years.

Final Exam/Preparation/Difficulty

I found the final exam to be quite difficult relative to the other finals that I took that session.  I was quite confused about a few questions and I strongly felt that the problem sets for the SN1/SN2 reactions of Organic Chemistry (posted online) were not sufficiently difficult nor diverse to properly prepare me for the questions on the final that concerned nucleophilic substitution reactions (otherwise, the problem sets were great).  There was one multiple-part written question on the final about nucleophilic substitution reactions where the reactant was some kind of substituted straight-chain hydrocarbon and the end product was a ring (if I remember correctly, in some cases it could also be a chain with an additional double bond).  The question asked me to draw the mechanism for the reaction.  Despite that fact that I remembered seeing some reaction mechanism in class that resulted in the formation of a ring structure, I did not find it in my notes the night before the exam (when I was cramming).  As was with Chem 121, the final exam for Chem 123 was quite noticeably more difficult than the midterms (for me, anyway).  As I’ve mentioned earlier, past exams and problem sets are good practice.  Obviously the textbook would have problems as well, which I might recommend if you need more practice with say, SN1/SN2 reactions.  Plenty of online university websites have problem sets as well on these topics…

Chem 123 had a higher average and a lower fail rate than Chem 121.  Average was 70.03% in 2008W (71% in 2011W) and fail rate was ~9.2% (7.4% in 2011W).  I’m not sure if this was because the material was easier (although it was for me) or because the people who failed Chem 121 the previous term couldn’t take Chem 123 and hence could not bring the average down this time..



MATH 103

Time: MWF 11 am – 12 pm

About first-year Calculus, see what I’ve said for Math 102 above.  Again, no textbook for Math 103, just like for Math 102.

Statistics on Student Grades

The average mark over all sections for MATH 103 in 2008W was 67.4% and the fail rate (percentage of people that failed the course) is 9.9%.  The average was about the same for MATH 101 (due to massive scaling I presume), but the fail rate is 5% higher in MATH 101.  I’ve heard from several people that Math 101 is hard.

Material/In-Class Activity

Math 103 is about integration.  The professor just writes stuff on the blackboard (with chalk – how old school) and then you write it down.  That’s about it for what you do in class.  As with Math 102, online textbook is available for free.  Homework and labs are from online problem sets.




BIOL 121

Time: MWF 12 – 1 pm.


Biology 121 was a fairly interesting course, and the material was quite easy.  The professor said that biology was all memorization in high school, but not in university.  In my opinion, this applied to Biol 112, but not Biol 121 except for maybe genetics.  For some reason, people have a hard time with the genetics part.  Students learn about Ecology, Evolution and Genetics.  We learned about how individuals interact with each other, how species interacted with each other, and how species interacted with their environment (Ecology).  We also learned about basic genetics (how traits are inherited from 1 gene and from 2 genes).  Finally, we learned about how species can evolve into other species because a certain trait gives them a higher fitness (fitness as in ability to survive and reproduce), how the environment exerts pressure for natural selection on a population, and also evidence for evolution.

The course material came out of Biological Science by Scott Freeman (it is pictured above under Biol 112).  Our prof actually used many examples, pictures, and information from Biological Science and sometimes I just felt that I could learn more simply by reading the textbook than attending lectures.  The book was definitely helpful.  And so was bringing a laptop to class because our prof went through slides very quickly, or sometimes she would say something important but not write it down in full.  However, you don’t need a laptop to do well and most people didn’t use one, myself included.  This Biology course seemed to me like it was almost all memorization of facts.  A ton of material is covered – some of it you need to know in detail, and some not so much – and it was hard figuring this out.

In-Class Activity

Lecture pages with headings and empty space were posted online before each lecture.  People usually printed them and brought them to class and then filled in the empty spaces under the headings/questions with notes.  I made Cornell Note style notes based off the textbook for pretty much all the lectures – most of which I typed and saved on the computer.  These were helpful in studying for the final.


Note: This course was not scaled between sections.  The midterm wasn’t scaled either. Also, I wouldn’t take this course if you know for sure that you don’t have to – check the UBC Calendar for your intended majors/programs to see if you need to take this course.  You also need to check the Faculty of Science general degree requirements that everyone needs to follow.  Anyway, there’s a lot of material to memorize and it’s not that easy getting a very high mark.  For example, I messed up on one of the questions on my second midterm because I was unsure of the wording and as a result I lost 12% on just that one midterm.

We were given two midterms – the first was on ecology, and the second was on genetics.  The first midterm was pretty difficult – more difficult than I thought, and there were actually a few application questions.

The final exam was mostly short and long answer questions as well.  It was like 14 pages long which means there was a lot of writing.  The difficulty of the questions was not that high but there was a lot of material to study and so it is quite difficult to cram.  I find this course similar to IB Biol SL in that you have to BS all the information you know for short/long answer questions while having certain key words here and there.

The average over all sections in 2008W is 66.69% (67% in 2011W).  In some sections, no one gets an A+ (>90%).  Only ~2.2% of the entire Biol 121 population (~1600 people) got 90%+.  This is fairly low..



BIOL 140


Biol 140 is a lab course, and we did not need Biological Science by Freeman NOR did we need A Short Guide to Writing about Biology by Pechenik.  However, there was a lab manual.


In Biol 140, you will either  study marine ecosystems (where you get to go outside sometimes to Tower Beach, possibly in the cold, wet rain) or you will study terrestrial organisms (done in the classroom).  Whether you study marine or terrestrial seemed to depend on which term you took it in during my year; however, I am not sure if this is still true this year and in following years, so it is best to check the course website (which also gives you a course description).

Biol 140 is split up into two parts.  The first part is the Experimental unit which is 8 weeks long, and the second one is the Elective unit, 4 weeks long.  Each lab is 3 hours long and is once a week.  You may get to leave a little early depending on how fast you work and also depending on your TA.  In the Experimental unit, you get to learn about designing an experiment for a few weeks, and then you will design your own as part of a group. We were assigned to groups with the people we sat with.

Experimental Design Unit

Designing your own experiment occurs between Weeks 3 and 4.  My group’s experiment was on the effect of soil moisture level on amount of movement of Porcellio scaber.  Your experiment will be something basic and you will only have two classes to collect data.  After that, you will analyze the data and discuss results.

Elective Unit

The elective is the unit after the experimental unit and may or may not (probably not) be in the same room as your experimental unit, and you may or may not (probably not) get the same TA.  In fact, it is usually at a different day and time from the experimental unit.  You must choose a topic (e.g. soil microbiology, vertebrates, plants and people, fish ecology, etc) and you will perform tasks in that field.  I chose soil microbiology as my elective and I found it mildly interesting and not too hard.

Homework – Assignments

Biol 140 has plenty of assignments and online quizzes due week after week on VISTA.  The assignments are written and they were marked hard.  To me, the marking was not transparent, and it was difficult to find out exactly what kind of criteria was used.  The lab manual was useful in giving quite specific details about each assignment and the experiment, but my TAs always seemed to find something in our writing that was wrong, and took off marks accordingly.  If your TA is willing, you should definitely consider asking them to look over your assignment (or part of it) outside of class time by setting up an appointment.  Hopefully, the TA will tell you at least some of the little things for which marks will be docked, and from there you might be able deduce patterns for what to do (or not to do) when you write the next assignments.  Having people (especially those who have taken Biol 140) read your assignment(s) is a good idea, and if they still have their old marked assignments, you can look at where they lost marks from and compare their assignments with yours so that you can find those common errors.

Lab Exam

There is also a lab exam, which I found to be very hard.  The lab exam was done during class unlike the final exams in other courses.  It was open book, and I wrote down all the detail I could for each of the short/long answer questions, but apparently it wasn’t enough and I only managed ~80%.

General Comments/Difficulty

I personally felt that Biol 140 was not that worthwhile to me.  As mentioned, we spent the first few weeks (that’s at least 7 hours!) learning about how to design an experiment, but ALL of the details are in the lab manual which we could just read by ourselves.  Upon further reflection, the entire course was about learning how to design an experiment.

As with any writing assignment (including English), I would recommend going to office hours to clarify if how you’re writing is ‘right’ because different teachers will prefer students to write in a certain way or you might not know how strict the teacher is about following the given instructions.  It’s always good if the teacher has an example of a well done writing assignment from previous years.

This course probably has the most work out of all my other courses in first year, and it was only two credits.  I would avoid this course if it is not necessary.  The average mark in 2009W for Biol 140 was 72.43% over all sections (~1600 people) which is actually not too bad (72% in 2011W).  The unfortunate thing for students is that it’s very hard to get a high mark – less than one percent of all students got ninety or above.

View my final research report for BIOL 140:

Final Research Report for BIOL 140





PHYS 101

Time: T/Th 9:30 – 11 am (Lecture) and Fri 2 – 5 pm (lab)

Physics for Scientists and Engineers 1/E by Knight et al.


First of all, let’s discuss the textbook.  The textbook is sold at the bookstore and is a second edition (the one in my picture above is a first edition).  You can probably find a picture of the second edition online – it’s yellow-ish and has a decompressed spring with a silver ball/marble on the front.  The second edition costs ~$190.  It is sold as a package which includes:

1) 5 volume textbook set (like the purple/red one in my picture on the left but different version – the second edition has a light brownish yellow front cover)
2) Student workbook (like the light purple book in my picture on the right).  The middle textbook (blue with mountains) in my pic is College Physics for PHYS 100 which I’ve already mentioned earlier and is not part of the PHYS 101 package.  Ignore it.
3) MasteringPhysics access code.
4) i-Clicker rebate coupon ($10 – you can only use one on each i-Clicker though ):

MasteringPhysics gave us online access to the second edition of the textbook (unfortunately, you can’t print out multiple pages at once).  This means that if you really want to, you don’t need to buy any textbook at all (this is good if you’re always near a computer with internet).

Unfortunately, several sections of PHYS 101 have started to use custom editions of the textbook or different editions.  I would recommend checking with the bookstore first to see exactly what edition your textbook is and what it looks like before buying any used textbook.  Or you can find the ISBN for your textbook on the UBC Bookstore site.  MasteringPhysics probably still gives you access to the textbook.  And you should still be able to use your MasteringPhysics account over multiple terms.

Some sections may still support the older editions of the textbook or the standard editions.  I highly recommend waiting until your professor discusses this in class so that you can later choose to buy the cheaper used versions.

Physics for Scientists and Engineers 1/E by Knight et al.

I bought for: $50 (includes the 5 volume set (1/E) and a student workbook which was very useless since MasteringPhysics and the textbook provided too many questions already)
I bought it at: Craigslist!
Savings: $140 (No, it’s not a typo.  A hundred and forty dollars saved :D!)


Now, for the course material.  I think PHYS 101 is an easy course but you really need to keep up with readings and pay attention in class.  The textbook explains things pretty well.

1.1 Fluid (Static)
-What is pressure?  Density?  How do you calculate it?
-How do you calculate atmospheric pressure at a certain altitude?
-How to calculate pressure at the bottom of a container of fluid like water knowing the its density and the height of the fluid.
-Buoyancy forces (how do you know if an object will float or not?)
1.2 Fluid (Dynamics)
-How to use Bernoulli’s equation to calculate pressure of a moving fluid inside a tube
-what is viscosity and how to calculate pressure if there is viscosity (you can’t use Bernoulli’s eq anymore)
-how to calculate the force of surface tension of an object on a fluid
2.1 Simple Harmonic Motion
-periodic (cyclic) movements such as a spring bouncing up and down
-sinusoidal curves, periods, frequencies, amplitude and calculating energy of a spring at different points of time in its movement
-how to calculate the above in the presence of air resistance (damped harmonic motion)
3. Travelling Waves
-traveling pulses, how to calculate wave velocity
-water waves and how to model them with equations (and waves on a string)
4. Standing Waves
-sound, frequency with respect to sound, “harmonics”
-the relationship between tension force and frequency of a wave on a string, vibrating columns of air
5. Sound
-how to calculate sound intensity
-interference (constructive and destructive)
-make calculations based on the Doppler effect
6. Interference of Light Waves
-double slit, single slit diffraction – basically, what kind of pattern will you get if you shine a light through a wall with two slits in it onto a second wall behind it
-what happens to the light waves when it hits a mirror?
-anti-reflection coatings (I hated this at first but it became my favourite topic once I understood it) – how do you know whether light (or which wavelengths of light) will be reflected or pass through different media based on the density and thickness of said media?

I myself fell really behind in class late into the course when we started learning about the interference of light (1-slit and 2-slit diffraction, reflection, resolution of two objects by a lens, etc).  Before the final, I had to cram really hard to learn interference of light, and I am surprised that I actually managed to learn it quite well.  Before interference of light, you will learn about fluids (pressure in fluids, atmospheric pressure, buoyancy, Bernoulli’s equation, viscocity, surface tension), simple harmonic motion (energy, spring force, some waves, sinusoidal curves, pendulum), standing waves and traveling waves, and sound (intensity, decibels, Doppler shift).


I would definitely recommend reading the textbook before lectures (the sections in the textbook are even posted for each lecture).  I would also, after learning each section in the textbook, do the questions for that section at the back of the chapter.  There may be around 5 questions per textbook section (sections are like 15.1, 51.2, etc), which doesn’t seem like too many, but if you wait until right before the final exam to do them (like I did), you’ll find that you have like 50+ questions to do which is really not possible in such a short period of time.  Some questions are kinda easy, but they do get harder and they do prepare you for the midterm/final because they are the type of questions found on MasteringPhysics, and MasteringPhysics problems can be found on final exams.  Again, doing practice finals is the best practice.

Like I said, it’s a pretty easy course but for me, but I felt like I really needed to put in the effort to “make it easy.”  The average mark ranges from year to year, but hovers around 70%, which isn’t too bad.


There was a lab section as well for this course.  It was every two weeks and took about 3 hours (most people took 2.5 and leave early).  There was an orange lab manual (it’s under $10) that we had to bring to each lab and it had details of the procedures for the experiment.  We needed to write in a yellow lab notebook (costs $5.50) and write a lab report to be handed in at the end of each lab.

Between lab weeks, we attended discussions which were up to 3 hours long, but most people leave after 2 hours (Once, I left after 1 hr).  In discussion, you will answer questions, but unlike PHYS 100, we answered regular problems, and all of the problems were in fact taken from the textbook Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Knight et al.  So if you’ve done a few problems in the textbook, you just might see the same problems in discussion.  I think each discussion section uses the same set of questions, so let’s say you have your discussion on Friday – you could probably ask a friend who had their discussion before you, let’s say on Monday to scan or give to you the sheet which the questions are on.  Then, you could do half of it at home, then finish the rest in discussion and leave early.  My TAs marked the discussions fairly leniently, and the lowest mark I got was 18/20.  I’ve heard that other TAs mark based on completion, which is even more lenient.  Discussion for Phys 101 is definitely useful as you get to practice problems and these problems are similar to the ones from MasteringPhysics (since they’re based off the textbook) and some exam questions are also based off the style of the textbook questions.  You can also probably clarify concepts from your lecture notes with your lab TA(s) since they are graduate students and should know the material.



ENGL 110

Time: Tues 11 am – 12 pm (Discussion) and Thurs 11 am – 1 pm (Lecture)


Engl 110 is a first-year course that many Science students take, since we need 6 credits of first-year English (the other course commonly taken is Engl 112).  A handful of Science students instead claim first-year English credit through IB or AP – I wish I did.  Engl 110 is a course where you study some form of literature, and works that you study are selected by the professor.  For this reason, the final exam is specific to each section.  Some students study Frankenstein, some study Alice in Wonderland, some study Twelfth Night, etc.  My professor chose to focus on contemporary Native American literature.


Discussions in Engl 110 were 1 hour long, and lecture was 2 hours.  Both once a week.  The discussion is where the TA goes over the material, and sometimes over what the professor has said the previous lecture.  Sometimes students are asked to discuss the material in small groups or as a whole class.  Participation was highly recommended.  The discussion is pretty useful to attend, since the TA who’s leading discussion usually marks your papers and your final exam – therefore, they will be able to tell you key information (at least, according to the TA) and then you just use the same information when you write essays for the TA to mark.  The TA will also tell you specifics on how to write your essays and other stuff which is good to know because again, the TA is the one marking your essays.  There are about 20-30 students in every discussion group.


During lecture, the professor lectured to the whole group (all the discussion groups in one room) about the material.


The books I used in English 110 include Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, Soucouyant by David Chariandy, and Making a Difference (which is an anthology of poems), compiled by Smaro Kamboureli.  When you get books that you need to read and analyze for English, you should always give yourself a lot of time to read.  Read whenever you can – on the bus, before you sleep, etc. and start reading early – if possible, as soon as you get the books.  I would advise reading the book once for background and basic plot, reading it a second time to reinforce the plot/background and also to analyze characters and common themes/motifs, and a third time for analyzing common themes/motifs that you might have missed the second time, as well as identifying key passages.

When I read books/poems for analysis, I always put sticky notes in the margins while I am reading to identify common themes or evidence of distinct important traits of the characters, or important events in the plot, so that I can easily find where these things are when I have to discuss them in the essay.  Waiting until the last minute to find key passages to analyze for the essay is just poor organization for many people (but yes, some people can pull it off).  Even if you’ve read the book 2-3 times without inserting sticky notes, when the time comes to write the essay, you’ll still need to go back through the entire book and find the key passages, and that would be somewhat of a waste of time unless you really wanted to read it again.  Putting sticky notes as you read is much better/more efficient in my opinion.  When I’m done reading my books you can see tons of little papers sticking out the side – the TAs and the professor use stickies too and I’m pretty sure they know what they’re doing.

Assignments – Essays

In Engl 110, we had to write two in-class essays.  We were supposed to write a 500 word essay in an hour, and I kinda ran out of time.  Additionally, we had to do a research essay (mine had a 1000 word limit) where we were to analyze a specific theme about a book and also integrate 2 print sources (other books) and 2 scholarly articles (research articles).  I got an A- on the research essay, which I think is pretty good considering I started at 7 pm the night before, even though we were given the assignment almost a month beforehand. (1000 words is really little.)

Click here to view my research essay.  It was submitted to Turnitin.

I had to buy my books at the UBC bookstore because I couldn’t get in contact with anyone selling them used.  Monkey Beach by Robinson and Soucouyant by Chariandy cost ~$20 apiece, and the anthology Making a Difference by Kamboureli costs ~$40.

Click here for UBC first year English choices.




Other posts of interest:

Transition: High school to first year – what courses to take, how to register, what to expect in first year Science.

Buying Textbooks – Tips on buying textbooks for university.
What to bring to class – What do you bring to university?
Summary of Second-year Courses – Same like this post except for second year.

Also see the UBC Science website for choosing courses in first-year Science *** I highly recommend carefully reading this page in its entirety.

Textbook Prices @ UBC Bookstore for 2009W (2010W)

EDIT: The Bookstore now lists all their prices online, so it should be easy to find them there instead of below.

Prices for 2009W (September 2009 – April 2010) are listed in bold, and prices for 2010W (September 2010 – April 2011) are listed in bold in brackets.  If not specified, numbers indicate prices for new books.

i-clicker – $44.15
Biol 121/112 – 7 pc pkg – Biological Sciences (Freeman) 3/E – $138.95 ($149.75 new, $112.30 used – UBC custom ed.)
Eng 110 – Canadian Writer’s Reference 4/E (Hacker) – $63.00
Eng 110 – Monkey Beach (Robinson) – $20
Eng 110 – Soucouyant (Chariandy) – $20
Eng 110 – Making a Difference 2/E (Kamboureli) – $65

Eng 112 – Academic Writing – An Introduction 2/E (Giltrow) – $51.45
Eng 112 – New Century Handbook (Can. Ed) – $57.50
Cpsc 110 – How to Design Programs (Felleisen) – ($87.95 new, $65.95 used)
Cpsc 121 – Discrete Mathematics with Applications 4/E (EPP) – ($208.15 new, $156.10 used)

Cpsc 121 – Discrete Math…. Solutions Manual – ($69.00 new, $51.75 used)
Chem 121 – Integrated Resource Package – $60.00 ($63.00)
Chem 121/123 – Lab Manual – $33.80 ($34.25)
Chem 123 – Molymod Molecular Model Set – $44.15 ($44.15)
Chem 123 – General Chemistry (Petrucci et al.) w/ Student Solutions Manual – $85.00 ($87.50)
Phys 100 – College Physics 2/E (w/ MasteringPhysics) by Knight et al. – $87.10 ($94.15)
Phys 100 – Mastering Physics Access w/o online E-book ($44)

Phys 101 – Physics for Scientists & Engineers 2/E (5 Vol., Knight et al.) w/ MasteringPhysics – $190 ($204.90 new, $153.70 used)
Fren 122 – Huis Clos (Sartre) – $15.10
Fren 122 – Contrastes : Grammaire du francais courant 2/E (Rochat) – $68.60
Math 100/101 – 6 pc pkg – Early Transcendentals (Stewart) + Single Variable Solutions Manual + Math Survival Kit 2/E + Skillbuilder CD + Review of Algebra + Principles of Problem Solving – ($168.70 new, $127 used)
Math 100/101 – Single Variable Calculus  Solutions Manual – ($71.20 new, $53.40 used)

Please note: The prices for these textbooks are outdated because they are from 2009W (2010W), but I suspect that they are similar to the prices of the same books this year.  This list is meant to be a general or approximate guide, and should not be taken too seriously.






Well, that concludes my summary of the courses I took in first-year Science.  Anyone is welcome to ask questions about first-year UBC Sciences (or other general UBC-related things, although I may or may not be able to answer) – just reply below and I will try to respond quickly and as best as I can.  Thanks for reading.

If you have a suggestion (e.g. topics to cover), please leave a comment and I will take it into consideration.



  1. Hi,
    thank you for the wonderful post! I’ll be a first-year science student at UBC this fall, and this will help with the registration process.

    I just have one quick question. Would it be a good idea to take BIOL 140 in my second year if I wanted to specialize in Microbiology or Pharmacology?

    I currently have 10 courses in my worklist (including BIOL140).. Is that too big of a course load for my first year?

    • Hello,

      There is no point taking BIOL 140 in your second year in particular if you were to specialize in MBIM or Pharmacology.

      BIOL 140 is not a requirement for either specialization. Therefore, if you were definitely going into one of those two specializations, I would recommend not taking it, because it is a lot of work and you have little to gain from it.

      On the other hand, if you’re thinking that you might go into another specialization (I should say that both Microbiology and Pharmacology are relatively difficult to get into), then perhaps it would be wise to take BIOL 140 as a backup, because obviously there are other specializations that do require it. Note that most specializations officially accept students in their third year, which means in any case that you really don’t have to take it this year.

      10 courses in first year isn’t little, but it’s certainly doable — as you can see above, I managed to take 11.

      If you’re really uncertain, you can simply register in the course, and then decide later (within the first few weeks of school, before the withdrawal date) whether or not you want to drop it.

      Hope this helped. Let me know if you have further questions~

  2. Hi, I am also another BSC student entering UBC for the first year this coming fall. Thank you for your post, it was very helpful and gave me great insights of what to expect next year.

    Firstly, What are your thoughts on taking english 111/112 instead of eng 110/112 (which i know is very common for bsc students)? Would you say Eng 111is easier than eng 110? I am not too strong in eng btw.

    Secondly, my friend mentioned that Bio 112 is pretty much a required course because it is the pre-req for the bio 200 level courses that are required for many majors and for med school. I wanted to confirm is that is true or not.

    Once again, thank you for your help! :)

    • Hello,

      The only difference I know of that distinguishes ENGL 110 from 111 is that 110 is on fiction and 111 is on non-fiction. The averages and general grade distributions between the two courses are very similar (average is about 73% for both). Unfortunately, I don’t have any information other than that.

      BIOL 112 is a prerequisite for many courses such as BIOL 200. I recommend taking it if you are considering going into the Life Sciences (e.g. Biology, Microbiology, etc).

      Let me know if you have further questions.

  3. Sorry, I have one more question. Which math courses are easier and what are the differences- Math 102/103 vs 104/105?

    • I’ve heard that MATH 100/101 is harder than 102/103 which is harder than 104/105. I do not know the extent to which this statement is true, but I think that if there is any difference in difficulty between these courses, it is not very significant. Most people seem to believe that 100/101 is harder though. In terms of material, they have different applications — 100/101 is for physical sciences, 102/103 is for life sciences, 104/105 is for social sciences.

      There are only lecture sections in MATH 100/101/104/105 last time I checked. In contrast, there is a 1 hour lab or whatever for MATH 102/103. I think you should choose whichever fits more nicely in your schedule.

  4. Hello, thanks for this blog!

    I am entering first year Science and I am wondering the following:
    Is the workload quite hard? I see you have taken 11 courses so how is it really?

    I’m planning to have a major in Micb/Biochem/Bio or Integrated Sci as a backup (I’m not exactly sure what you do for this major though, other than you get to pick what courses to take?) Anyways, I’m trying to keep my options open… but I’m having some difficulty in deciding my timetable for T2.

    Currently for T2, I’m planning to take Eng 110, Biol 121, Chem 123, Math 103…

    but am not sure if I would want to take Phys 101 or Biol 140 in term 2 – since Biol 140 is req. for a major in Bio, but Phys 101 is needed for Biochem and Micb. Is it possible if I could take one of these (either Biol 140 or Phys 101) in the summer and still be eligible to claim a major for Micb or Biochem or bio? I’m not going to do 6 courses because I don’t think I would want to overwork myself and have less time to study.

    PS. I don’t think Biol 140 is offered in the summer, so would it affect me

    Plan B. I was also considering to do an elective (MUSC 103 online) as my 5th course, and do Phys 101 in the summer and Biol 140 in year 2 because I have no idea how university life is like, other than the transition is quite a substantial jump, so I’m scared of failing, which is the reason why I thought of doing MUSC 103 to lighten my workload, however I think this will affect my specialization/pre-req choices right? Would you recommend this method of MUSC?

    Additionally, I’m a little confused, since I heard you choose your major by year 3, but why am I hearing people choosing by the end of year 1 already?

    PS. I don’t think Biol 140 is actually offered in the summer, so I might consider taking it in Year 2, but would it affect me when choosing a major in Micb/biochem/bio/integrat. sci?

    Thanks so much, sorry for any stupid questions ^_^

    • The workload was fine for me, but it varies from person to person. You will learn the art of time management if you need to, and hopefully that will help you manage your course load. There is a resource called the Science Peer Academic Coaches ( who can help students improve academically.

      Integrated Sciences is a nice specialization in that you get to choose which areas to integrate and therefore what courses to take. You wouldn’t be able to integrate multiple areas like this in most other specializations.

      I recommend that you take BIOL 140 in second term. PHYS 101 is not required for entry into second year in the specializations you mentioned (but it is required for certain other specializations, like Physics for example).

      Take PHYS 101 in the summer or in second year.

      You can find out which specializations require which courses for entry into second year by reading my other post, or by reading this page:

      Let me know if you have further questions

      • Thank you so much !!!!!! :)

        • When you register for a lab/lecture eg Chem, do they have to be in the same section or can you choose any section you want?

          • Nvm, figured it out thanks!

  5. Sorry for posting the PS. twice!

  6. Hi if it’s not too late. i m wondering if taking engl 112 helps with science courses in term 1. So far i have scheduled 112 in term 2 and engl 110 in term 1, but I see many people are doing the opposite. My friend said that she’s take engl 112 in term 1 to help with writing in science courses (such as report?). I am wondering if this is true.

    • Taking ENGL 112 does not really help with first year Science courses, perhaps even any Science courses. You can take it in Term 1 or 2 and it won’t make much difference if at all

  7. Hi, do you know anyone who has taken eng111, what were their feedbacks, and how did they do? Cas I’m planning to do eng 111 instead of eng 110. Also would it be done to take math 101/104? Is this pairing alright if I have had calc in high school?

    • Hi,

      Unfortunately I don’t know anyone who has taken ENGL 111. They have roughly the same average grades (~73%). The only difference I know is that ENGL 110 is on fiction and ENGL 111 is on non-fiction.

      What is your reason for taking 111 over 110?

      I’m assuming you mean you’re taking MATH 104 in first term and MATH 101 in second term. Yes, this pairing should be fine. To do this you should have the equivalent of Calculus 12 from high school.

      • I have heard a lot of negative feedbacks about eng110 and I feel like I have never really been exposed to literature type of things . Also eng111 has a better teacher rating but i just have no idea what I should expect from it and what the pieces will be like.

        • I see. Personally I didn’t think ENGL 110 was too bad. In fact, each section of ENGL 110 is taught by a different instructor, so what people think about the course is probably dependent on which professor they had.

          If you think you’d rather have a prof with higher ratings, then by all means go for 111 if you know a good prof there.

          Here’s a course outline for 111 back from 2005:

  8. Hi,

    Have you heard anything about MATH 184? I heard some people said bad things, but not too sure!

    I don’t have Calculus 12 (only pre-calc) and I think it might be better if I went into 184 for Term 1 => 103 or 105 (not sure 103 or 105, since 184 is based on commerce applications) and i’m in first year science.
    Thanks :)

    • You can do either 103 or 105 (or 101), it doesn’t matter for the BSc. 184 is similar to 104.

  9. Hi! I was wondering how many courses you would suggest taking in first year? Right now I’m registered for 10 and I’m living on campus. Do you think that’s too much of a workload or is it alright? Thanks for the help!

    • Hello,

      That is one of the questions I answer in the post here: Transition: High school to First Year, which is also linked to in this post. To summarize, the answer is that 10 courses (~30 credits) is a pretty normal course load. If 30 credits is really too much, you may consider taking fewer credits, but fewer than 30 per Winter Session means you may not be able to do Honours. You may also need to “catch up” by taking courses in the summer or in subsequent years.

  10. I don’t know if you are hoping to go into medicine but would you happen to know whether or not phy 100 counts as an “introductory physics course?” A lot of med school prerequisite in Canada needs six credits of physics and I was wondering if I could do phys 100 and 101 as my six credits

    • Hello,

      I am unfamiliar with most med school programs, but I reckon it would depend on the particular university. For example, U of A does not accept PHYS 100 in fulfilling their Physics requirement, but on the other hand schools like UBC, Queen’s and UT medicine don’t care about Physics courses. I suggest looking up the school(s) you are interested in applying separately to determine what is required. If the website is vague (e.g. McGill), then contact them directly to inquire. If you want to be on the safe side though, PHYS 101 and 102 will probably be sufficient…

  11. Hola! Were your PHYS 100 labs every week or every other week? Merci beaucoup!

    • Hello,

      As the post says in the PHYS 100 section, the labs were every other week and there were discussions to attend during the non-lab weeks. I am not sure if it is the same this year or not, but your prof/TA should certainly say.

      Hope this helps!

  12. Hi, do you have any general tips for Phys 100? I am currently having some trouble with the material (and it’s supposed to be easy) but it’s very >_< to me right now.

    • Hello,

      My general tips are:

      1) Skim over the pre-reading before class
      2) Go to class & take notes
      3) Review the notes within 24 hours of class, and looking things up you are confused about in the textbook, or marking them to ask the prof/TA about
      4) See the prof/TA about anything you didn’t understand
      5) Make sure you understand every important formula in the notes, by doing problems such as MasteringPhysics, problems in the textbook, and past exam problems — do not look at the solutions/your notes while you are doing the problems

      Hope this helps. This seems pretty straightforward so I reckon perhaps the issue is more complicated, so you can reply and give more specifics, or you can try visiting an academic coach who would be able to work with you more closely.

  13. Hello,
    Does PHYS 100 count towards my overall gpa? (For grad school/ medical school is it possible to use if it does boost my gpa?).
    Also, if I did poorly in Calculus 12 would you recommend that I take MATH 184 instead of Math 104? Is MATH 184 generally considered easier? (I’m horrible at math)

    • Hello,
      Yes, it would count towards your GPA. All percentage based for credit courses you take at UBC will be used by UBC to calculate your grades. If you are looking at admissions into a specific program at a specific school, you should refer to their website to see how they would calculate your grades because it may be different from UBC.

      Yes, 184 is generally considered more friendly to those who do not have a calculus background. 110 is similar, and is for those without a strong Math background in general, and is a two term course unlike the other ones which are one term only. This page should be helpful:

  14. I was thinking of doing a major in Cellular Anatomy and Physiological Sciences. However, the first year requirements require me to take 11 courses (since I didn’t do physics 12 ) so 5 for one term and 6 for the other?

    How should I fit these into my schedule!

    These are the courses I am planning to take:
    Math (104, 105)
    Biol (121, 112, 140)
    Chem (121, 123)
    Eng (110, 112)
    Phys (100, 101)

    • Hi, sorry for the slow reply — I’m not in the country atm. Math 104 is only offered in Term 1, 105 only in T2. Same with Chem 121/123 and Phys 100/101.

      So in Term 1 you’ll have Math 104, Chem 121, Phys 100. You should add one of the Engl as well as one or two of the Biol (but if two Biol, probably not both 121 and 112).

      In Term 2, you’ll have Math 105, Chem 123, Phys 101, the other Engl, and the rest of the Biol. The order of when you take the diff Biol courses and the Engl courses in the two terms doesn’t matter significantly.

      Spend a fair amount of time playing with creating worklists on the SSC for your Course Schedule. For advice on creating your timetable, see my other post Transition to First Year.

      If you’re not going to live in residence (on campus), I don’t recommend 8 am classes. It should theoretically be possible to have all your classes 11 am or later if you really wanted. If you want me to look at a specific timetable you can take a screenshot and email me.

      Let me know if you have further questions

  15. Hello,
    I’m currently taking Physics 12 online so I can drop PHYS 100 since I absolutely detest Physics. I was wondering if you know how much previous knowledge you need from PHY 12 for PHYS 101 (required for my specialization) as this online course is covering very little information and I’m not learning anything even though I’m obtaining a high mark.


    • Hello,

      I didn’t really like Physics either in high school, but I thought Phys 100 & 101 were alright. Looking at the syllabus for Phys 101, I don’t think you need that much prerequisite information; however, the PHYS 100 labs/exams/assignments provided a good intro to the same format that PHYS 101 used that you may not get from taking Physics 12.

      • Thanks so much for your reply!! Also, I was wondering, did you ever want to pursue med school (because your first year grades etc. were well above average)? Why did you decide to not pursue med school in the end?
        On another note, I’ve been told that math is one of the more difficult courses in first year. I’m currently registered for MATH 104 but it’s been a year since I’ve taken Calculus and have long forgotten all the concepts or what I’ve learned.. Do you suggest that I take MATH 184/ 180 instead? And do you have any tips for first year math.. other than doing a lot of practice problems?

        Thanks :)

        • I have interest in medicine; I just don’t mention it on my blog for a variety of reasons. I wouldn’t say Math is necessarily harder than the other courses — people will say other courses are harder depending on their interests and background.

          Take MATH 180/184 if your pre-calculus mathematics is weak. They will do some pre calc review. Shouldn’t matter if your calc is weak because 100/102/104 starts from the beginning (what is the definition of a derivative, limits, etc).

  16. I got less than 10% in my lab in physics 101. Does it mean that I should take the whole course again?

    • I just looked at an old syllabus from 2008 and it appears you needed to pass the lab component of the course in order to pass the course. You should verify this with your current syllabus to make sure, or verify with an instructor.

      If all of the following are true:
      1) You need to pass the lab to pass the course
      2) You failed the lab component overall
      3) You need to get credit for this course for some requirement

      …Then you will need to retake the course. Re-reading your comment, I am not sure if you mean you got 10% in ONE lab or if you got 10% over all the labs.

      Note that if you fail a course, the maximum grade you can get is 45%, regardless of what you get on the final. Keep that in mind IF you are in this situation and plan to take the final, so you can better allocate your study time to other courses. When you retake a course in the Faculty of Science, the second grade will not replace the first grade. Both grades show up on your transcript.

      I strongly urge you to verify this information with your instructor(s) and/or the Science Information Centre. If you have any other questions, feel free to post another comment.

  17. Hi, is it possible to take some of the science courses in the summer term, and if yes, which ones? I’m planning on majoring in psychology and was hoping to take some Psych courses during term 1. Plus I’m not looking forward to all math, chem, bio and physics courses. Is that doable or is it more of a clench your teeth and cover those basic science courses. Also, when I got to major requirements for Psychology they don’t even list math, just bio 112, 121 and chem 121, 123, so I’m really confused about my options.

    • Hi, what courses are available in the summer varies year to year (it varies for the winter too, but to a much lesser extent). If you go to the UBC Course Schedule webpage and choose 2016 Summer for the Session in the dropdown at the top right, you’ll be able to see which courses are offered this summer. This will give you an idea of what courses will be available next summer.

      Have a look at the Psychology – BSc page on the UBC Calendar and you’ll find that Math is a requirement for the degree.

      As a general rule, most first and second year “core” courses are available during the summer.

      • Thanks, this really but I have one more – some people say that if you take the core courses during the summer this might delay your promotion to 2nd year, is that true and if it is what really happens? You keep taking courses in your 2nd year without having 2nd year status?

        • It may or may not delay you. Not all the core courses are necessary for promotion to second year. For the promotion requirements see Promotion Requirements (

          If a student is not promoted after their first year they will still have first year standing but they can generally take second year courses anyway. However they will not be able to apply to specializations until the following year, which generally speaking doesn’t matter too much but they should speak to a Science advisor.

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