Posted by: idm04 | 2011/05/14

Second-year Courses in UBC Sciences! (Detailed) – Term 1

This post is going to be about the Second-Year courses that I took at UBC during Term 1 of the Winter 2010 Session (September 2010 to December 2010), following last year.  This will be a detailed version.  If you don’t want to read as much, read the summary version.  (I actually suggest reading the summary version first.)  Term 2 is covered in another post because this post was way too long.

Other posts:

Second-year Courses in UBC Sciences (Summary)
Second-year Courses in UBC Sciences – Term 2
First-year Courses in UBC Sciences
Transition: First year to second year
List of my “UBC Academic Stuff” posts (like this one)


Second-Year Courses taken:

BIOL 200 (Term 1)
BIOL 201
CHEM 205
CHEM 233 (Term 1)
CHEM 235
MATH 200 (2010S)
MATH 220 (Term 1)
MATH 223 (Term 1)
MICB 201
MICB 202 (2010S)
PHIL 220A (Term 1)

MUSC 103
EOSC 112


As always, please feel free to leave a comment or a question and I will answer it as soon as possible.

Note: All prices listed in this post were from 2010W, unless otherwise stated.




CHEM 233



The material in CHEM 233 itself isn’t a ton and isn’t extremely difficult, it’s applying the knowledge on exam questions that students have the most trouble with.  Topics in CHEM 233 include reactions (addition) to alkenes and alkynes, reactions at the carbonyl carbon (a carbon double bonded to oxygen, like in a ketone), reactions at the alpha carbon (the carbon next to the carbonyl carbon), aromaticity, and carbohydrates.  There is plenty of arrow-pushing (showing electron movement) involved when you have to draw out the mechanism of a reaction.  I would say that the material slowly increases in difficulty as the term progresses.

These are the topics that we covered in the order that we covered them:

1. Review material (CHEM 123 – Organic section)
2. Reactions of Alkenes and Alkynes (Reactions at the C-C pi bond)
3. Aromaticity (Which of these molecules are aromatic?)
4. Nucleophilic Acyl Substitution reactions (reactions at the carbonyl (C=O) center)
5. Reactions of Aldehydes and Ketones (continuation of 4)
6. Reactions at the alpha-carbon (the carbon next to the carbonyl carbon)
7. Carbohydrates

We spent the first few weeks of the course reviewing old material from CHEM 123 – the organic portion, which would be naming (briefly), stereochemistry, and SN1/SN2 reactions.  This review material constituted the examinable material for the quiz which was held a few weeks into the course and a few weeks before the first midterm.  It was in-class and it was worth 5% of the overall grade.

Midterm-I was a few weeks after the quiz and it included everything up to the end of Reactions of Alkenes and Alkynes.  There were a few questions on review material from the organic section of CHEM 123.  Midterm-II was based on the material from 4 and 5 above, but there were some concepts from Midterm-I and the pre-requisite material from CHEM 123.  The general format of Midterm-I: Multiple choice section, resonance question, predict the products (given the reactants), and draw the step-by-step mechanism.  The second midterm was similar in style.


Grade Breakdown:

Quiz – 5%
VISTA Quizzes – 5%
Clicker/in-class – 5%
ACE – 5%
Midterm I – 17.5%
Midterm II – 17.5%
Final – 45%
Bonus Survey – 1%

The ‘Quiz’ is a review quiz based mostly on organic chemistry material from CHEM 123 and it took place in class 2-4 weeks into the semester.  It was fairly straightforward but people did badly anyway for whatever reason (I was one of those people).

Midterm I material cut-off was right after alkenes and alkynes.  Midterm II material cut-off was sometime after nucleophilic acyl substitution (NAS).

In-Class Activities/Homework

Regular in-class stuff.  Take notes, listen to prof, look at power point slides.  The profs actually released PDF documents online that had questions and concepts that were going to be covered in the next few classes/section of the course. They were kind of like the powerpoint slides the profs used except with less detail and no answers so that we could write down notes and the solutions on them.  I used this method (writing notes on these printed out slides) but after a while it became very annoying and sometimes slides were skipped or something or I couldn’t tell which slide we were on.  Also, at one point the PDF was released late online, and after that I simply stopped using them.

Plenty of clicker questions given by the instructor.  They are good practice, but they are definitely not enough alone.  We did about 5 clicker questions per class on average.  They were for participation marks only.

We went through different examples and concepts quite quickly in class, and so I didn’t always find that there was a lot of time to take proper and neat notes.  Whenever I rush to write down an example it always looks so ugly and in fact sometimes I copy things down wrong, especially when writing fast.  So what I did was that I simply used rough paper to work on the examples in class for the clickers or whatever, and then when I got home that day I would try to take notes using the PDF that the professor put up online after lecture.  This seemed to work okay, and it was good for me because I could focus on the prof/slides in class and still be able to take relevant and neat notes afterward.

I usually sat with a friend of mine, what he did in contrast to me was that he took notes from the textbook before each week while he was doing the assigned readings, and then he would add to them (add examples and stuff covered in class) during lectures.  I would have done this if I were able to draw molecules quickly and neatly, but I really can’t and it just becomes a bloody mess.  Whatever works for you.  I would write neat notes in class if I could and I think that’s probably what most people do.

Other than using i-clicker, we also used what is called “Carbonless paper”.  Carbonless paper is paper you use to write on and then you have this special coloured paper underneath and it will actually copy onto both sheets.  (We actually used them for interim reports at my high school.)  Anyway, you can get carbonless paper at the bookstore shelved under CHEM 233, but actually you could probably just use any carbonless paper that comes with 1 ‘normal’ sheet and 2 of those thin coloured papers underneath.  Each carbonless paper package comes with maybe 20? 30? sets.  The instructor used only about five sheets during the entire course.  So I would recommend considering sharing with someone else, and you can always go back to the bookstore if you both run out.  Or you could use carbonless paper from a previous student.  The carbonless paper was handed in after class and I think it was mostly for participation marks.  Basically the instructor would give a problem on the slide and we would draw the mechanism or something on the carbonless paper.  I liked it because it would basically force us to practice and we could go over the solution together afterward – however, unfortunately we barely used it throughout the course.

Homework includes VISTA Quizzes and ACE.  ACE stands for Achieving Chemistry Excellence.  ACE is on a website and I believe it’s run by Stanford and most of the questions simply ask you to predict the product(s) given the reactants.  ACE is usually weekly and takes less than half an hour to do.  Maybe even 5-10 minutes sometimes.  And you get unlimited tries, so it’s basically free marks.  You can purchase an ACE code from the bookstore or you can purchase access online like I did.  It was cheaper online.  (I think they’re using something called Sapling for 2011S).

VISTA Quizzes are weekly, usually due on Monday and are based off the assigned readings from Bruice’s Organic Chemistry 5/E (the reading schedule or reading list was posted on VISTA for the term).  The VISTA Quizzes test material that is about to be covered in class.  Sometimes there was a lot of reading to do, and other times not as much.  I tried to cut my reading into ‘do-able’ sections for the week  and that way I wouldn’t have to read everything at once in one weekend.  The VISTA quizzes are usually around 10 questions or less and they are not too difficult if you did the readings properly; they’re kind of like free marks especially if you work in groups.  The professors said that we were not supposed to read the textbook in depth before the professor teaches the material; rather, the pre-readings were meant to be for some background knowledge which was what the VISTA quizzes were supposed to test.


It’s hard.  There’s not a load of material to memorize, or difficult concepts really, but applying the concepts is difficult or “new” for students.  CHEM 233 is pretty much all about problem solving.  Little regurgitation and definitely no calculations.  But unlike other posts I have read about CHEM 233, there IS information that you DO need to memorize.  It’s just that memorizing stuff is not the way to tackle the course because most of the knowledge you require does not come through memorization.  It comes through practice.  But there ARE things to memorize, like the pKa of common substances – for instance, water (the pKa of water is NOT seven, go look it up if you don’t know it).

Some statistics!  In 2009W, the average mark in CHEM 233 was 63%.  Fail rate of 17%.  In 2008W, the average mark was 66% and fail rate was 14%.  Midterm-I average when I took the course was 53%.  Midterm II average I believe was something like 47%.  CHEM 233 was NOT scaled (in the traditional way) – if you do better on the final than on the midterms then they might make the final exam weigh a bit more (not a lot though so definitely do not rely on it).

Midterm-I was difficult.  Midterm II-was more difficult.  And the final exam was somewhere in between.  The most difficult part of the exams is arguably the (multi-step) synthesis questions.  Synthesis questions are the pinnacle of applying knowledge in CHEM 233.  In synthesis questions, you are given a compound as your reactant, and then another compound as the product.  They should look somewhat similar, but differ in some way.  For synthesis questions, you need to show how the reactant becomes the product by adding reactants in a specific order.  On my final exam, one of the synthesis questions required seven or eight steps of adding reactants like hydrogen bromide, magnesium bromide and ethyl ether, sulfuric acid, etc. in a specific order.  The only way to do such a problem is to have learned the “language” of Organic Chemistry.  Learn it enough so that you can apply more than just one concept to the problem.  The final exam synthesis question involved concepts from alkenes, concepts from alpha carbons and concepts from NAS.

The thing with CHEM 233 exams is, you have probably never seen any of the problems on the midterm/final that you write.  Fortunately, the concepts you will have learned should be sufficient to get you through – if you apply them correctly, that is.  The idea is to become as comfortable with the concepts as possible such that you are able to apply it to any problem, including those you haven’t seen before (ie. the ones on exams).  Side note: People always get scared when they see that cyclization occurs (a cyclic molecule is formed) or the opposite (cyclic molecule breaks), but really the concept is the same as with a non-cyclic molecule.

I did not study very hard for Midterm-I, and so I didn’t do well on it.  I studied hard for Midterm-II.  Harder than I’ve ever studied for any university exam.  And I still did terrible.  The truth was that I had not mastered the ‘language of organic chemistry’ well enough, and that I didn’t study using the ‘proper methods’ either.  It is not common to hear that someone studied their ass off for a CHEM 233 midterm but still failed or did poorly.  People go into the exam room feeling prepared and confident and coming out looking like they failed (it’s likely that they did, too).  Which brings me to my next topic.

Study Tips

“Learning CHEM 233 is like learning a language.  You have to practice a lot to become good and speak ‘fluently.’  Can you cram a language?”

How exactly do you study for CHEM 233?  To be honest, I haven’t found out for sure.  I only know how I studied and how I would study if I had to take the course again.  I studied by reviewing the lecture notes/slides, doing a few practice problems in the textbook, and sometimes looking over past exams before the midterms/final.  Unfortunately, this didn’t work out for me – at least for the midterms.

To be successful in CHEM 233, I believe you need to regularly put in a lot of effort and time.  My prof said that the course workload for CHEM 233 is probably twice as much as a regular course, and he may be right.  Like I mentioned earlier, learning CHEM 233 is like learning a language, and you need to do CHEM 233 regularly and consistently so that you become comfortable with all the concepts.  CHEM 233 is one of the courses in which procrastination does not work that well – for some people, not at all.  To master a concept, I would try to do related problems over and over.  Eventually, you’ll be able to look at any problem related to that concept and know how to solve it instantly.  Make the problem solving second nature.  That’s the only way you can solve problems quickly and correctly, which is necessary to finish midterms on time, and with the correct answers too.

When I learned new material in CHEM 233, whether from reading the textbook or being in lecture, I would always ask myself how a reaction is carried out and also why it happens in order to gauge my understanding of the concepts.


If you look at the grading scheme you’ll see that you pretty much get 16% marks for free from the bonus 1%, the VISTA quizzes, the unlimited tries ACE, the iClicker (participation marks) and an extra 5% for the quiz (because technically you should already know that stuff inside out).  So make sure you get that “free” 21%, or at least as much of it as possible.

The course begins with an introduction to the grade scheme and other “administrative stuff”.  The first material covered in class is old material from the organic part of CHEM 123 – SN1, SN2, enantiomers, diastereomers – that kind of stuff.  There is plenty to review.  If I had to take the course again I would spend at least two weeks reviewing CHEM 123 material right before the term starts (ie. during the last two weeks of summer).  It is important to get these old concepts down because they will appear on the exams and they are important for understanding some new concepts in CHEM 233.  In fact, I actually bought the textbook early and I was planning on learning the new material (alkenes, alkynes) using the online syllabus (see earlier link).  It didn’t work because 1) I was lazy and 2) When I tried to read the textbook I felt too intimidated and overwhelmed.  The truth is that there is nothing overwhelming in the textbook that you cannot do, given ample time.  If you passed CHEM 121/123, you CAN read and learn from the textbook (Organic Chemistry by Bruice) by yourself, so don’t give up if you want to get a head’s start and feel overwhelmed when you try.  When the course actually starts, the profs will ask you to read the textbook as pre-reading by yourself anyway!  But you do need to give yourself enough time to absorb the material if you want to learn by yourself.

There are weekly assigned readings (on material that is about to be covered in class).  I would do these readings as early as possible but not too much in depth, but enough so that I understand the basics of the underlying concepts.  Do not memorize examples, it is sufficient to understand the concepts in order to do problems.

I would also pay attention closely in class and do all the examples the professor gives on (scrap) paper (or as part of the notes you take if you think you can write fast and neatly enough).  There should be plenty of examples given in class.  This trains you to apply the concept to a different problem.  Otherwise, I didn’t take notes down, BUT this is only because my writing is messy when I try to write quickly.  If you can take down notes quickly and neatly then go for it.  It’s just a personal preference.  (See In-Class Activities above.)

After class, I would make summary notes of the class using the class notes (online powerpoint slides posted by the prof) and the textbook too if necessary, for clarification purposes or for extra examples.  Some of my friends found it useful to use different coloured pens.  I would say that making summary notes after each class (or going over your own written class notes if you took them) is one of the most important things to do.  After finishing each unit (e.g. alkenes is one unit, alkynes is another) I would also make very condensed notes on the entire unit.  This is so I have neat, short notes to refer back to if I need to without too much detail.  And if I do want the detail I would go back to my class notes or class summary notes.  The condensed notes also makes me look at the bigger picture.

After each class, I would also do the practice problems from the textbook.  This is probably the most important part for preparation for the exams.  Look at the practice problems assigned from the syllabus, and as soon as you learn enough from the lecture to do a textbook problem, do it.  This makes sure that you understand the concept and also that you keep up.  Do NOT start doing all the practice problems right before the midterm.  What I did when I took the course was that I pretty much started doing all of the textbook problems right before the midterm and it did NOT work well for me.  Looking back, it probably wasn’t even enough to do each practice problem only once.  There is only so much you can absorb right before an exam.  Even if procrastination and cramming worked for CHEM 123, it probably won’t work for CHEM 233.  After class, I would also redo the examples that the prof went over in class, and any practice problems from the problem sets that the profs may or may not give out.

Additionally, when you do practice problems, don’t look at the answer key until you’ve attempted the problem seriously and given it enough thought.  Skip it and come back later if you must.  And look at your notes to help you before you look at the answer key.  The answer key should be the last thing you look at, and your notes should be sufficient to help you solve the problems.  The solutions manual is only there to check your answers afterward when you are sure that you have done all that you could to solve the problem.  Solving problems by myself helped me learn the material better and looking at the answer key too early really took away from that.  Solving problems by myself also helped me improve my methods of tackling a problem that I’m not too sure about – which is good practice for when you encounter such problems on exams.

After completing each unit or subunit I would review my condensed summary notes and then redo all the practice problems from that unit in the textbook that I had previously done (all the problems from that chapter in the textbook, basically).  This may take 1-4 hours, but I don’t think it should take much more usually.  This would be the second time that I would be doing the practice problems, so I would try to do them quickly to simulate exam conditions.  If you are sufficiently prepared or have sufficiently mastered the material, you should find that you can do the problems quickly without the need to refer to your notes or the textbook.

Two weeks before a midterm, I would start doing practice exams if they are available.  You MUST do them under exam conditions for them to be useful.  Students ALWAYS say that they practiced midterms but then they end up failing their own midterm when really they didn’t practice under exam conditions.  Maybe they finished in 2 hours when they really would only have one hour in the real exam.  I put away my notes and also use a timer when doing practice midterms.  I didn’t do this in first-year because I didn’t find the need, but I realized in second-year that I would have to change my habits to stay successful.  And even if you haven’t learned ALL the material to complete the midterm, I actually still found it useful to start it as soon as it gets released on VISTA and change the time limit accordingly (reduce it), and then later redo the entire thing after learning all the necessary material.  This is what my prof recommended as well.  I usually found that the practice (and real) midterms are more difficult than the practice questions from the textbook which is even more the reason to do them (under exam conditions) and do them as early as possible so you can see where you need to improve or get help from someone and have enough time to do so.  And if you get stuck, don’t look at the exam key, because obviously you can’t do that during a real exam.  Conceptual learning is best done when you figure out the problem yourself.

To be honest, I didn’t do ANY practice exams in CHEM 121 or CHEM 123 and I did relatively well in those two courses.  I reasoned that it would work with CHEM 233 as well which turned out to be incorrect for me.

Practicing exams early also lets you know which unit or which concepts you are not good at so that you can return to the textbook for extra practice, or maybe you need to review your notes again from that section.  Another thing is that the midterm/final format is similar from year to year, and knowing the format of an exam before you write it can be an advantage.  You might be better at doing certain types of questions over others so maybe you should tackle those first.  There is usually multiple choice, multistep synthesis (how to get from one reactant to the product), mechanism questions (draw the mechanism from this reactant to this product), and predict the products (given these reactants, what product will form?) on the exams.  Before a midterm or final, you should have completed each practice exam two or three times each under exam conditions, and each problem from the textbook and lecture slides two or three times each as well. If you find that you can’t complete the practice midterm or you keep on getting stuck on just one or two practice problems, then you’re probably not ready and need to practice and review more.  Right before the exam, you should be able to do any question with ease, including the ACE questions because they are pretty simple most of the time.  If you have extra time you can redo ACE, but I find that they are not as useful.  On the bus ride to the midterm/final, I usually only carry my unit summary notes to skim over before the exam.

I would aim to dedicate several hours to practicing CHEM 233 problems (not including assigned readings) every week, with even more time before the exams.  After Midterm I – if you are satisfied with your Midterm-I mark, then you should continue studying and reviewing in the same manner.  If you are not satisfied, ask yourself what went wrong.  This would be the time to change your study habits or your study methods.  Adjust accordingly.  And unless you got perfect, there is always room for improvement.  If you tried epically hard but still did badly on Midterm-I (sounds like me), it’s not too late to save your mark, so keep at it.  Dr. Ruddick showed us a scatter plot of Midterm-I mark vs. Midterm-II mark and I saw that many people who failed Midterm-I got a much higher mark (80%+) and some even got 100% on Midterm-II after failing Midterm-I.  But, there were also people who went the other way (lol).

Other things you can do:

You might find the textbook insufficient for your practice – that is, you might be interested in MORE practice than what the textbook offers, which is good.  Ask the professor if he/she has any recommendations.  But remember, you are an adult in university now, so maybe you should grow up and FIND YOUR OWN.  Lots of people were complaining after the midterms that there was not enough practice given by the profs when in fact there are loads of textbooks out there.  Chemistry majors taking CHEM 203/204 need to use a textbook as well, and their textbook might help you and may actually be more difficult, so it’s worth checking it out at the Bookstore or library.  The bookstore also sells flashcards and study guides only containing practice problems (Schaum’s Outlines, Barron’s, etc).  These are definitely worth a look but be careful because some may not be relevant.

You can also ask older students who have taken the course for problem sets.  They might be different than the ones your prof gives you which is good.  In addition, there are many resources available online (for example, problems and notes from chem departmental websites from other universities).  Unfortunately, many of these are not that relevant, and you might have to search for a while before you find anything worth looking at.

Consider working in groups to study. In a study group, you can try explaining concepts to each other and get feedback, especially about what you missed.  It’s also good to do practice problems together, and this helps everyone stay on task.  I find personally that I tend to slack off a lot and I probably wouldn’t slack as much in a group setting.  You can also do practice exams together under exact exam conditions.  If you work in groups, you don’t have to face the monster of CHEM 233 alone! :D  CHEM 233 is probably not something that should be tackled alone anyway, and that’s what Dr. Ruddick said too.

Seek help when necessary.  Your friends, the resource center, the prof, the TA, the DISCUSSION BOARD.  The Chemistry Resource Center is available everyday or almost everyday starting in September to help you.  Get help as soon as possible, and not just during the midterm months, because that’s when EVERYONE goes and it’ll be way too busy.  Your prof should be available to answer questions as well.  To further gauge my understanding, I would try to see if I could help other people on the Discussion Board by answering their questions or at least understanding the answer that someone else has posted.  There were about 4000 posts at the end of the semester.

It’s important to have an ‘open mind’ when approaching Chemistry problems.  Sometimes, how a reaction proceeds may not be the most obvious way, so you should always ask yourself if there are other ways that the reaction can proceed.  “Where does the nucleophile attack?  Can it attack anywhere else?  What happens if I added another reactant instead?”  Always think about old concepts even after you’ve covered them, because they do come back later in the course and on the final exam.  For example, reacting a carboxylic acid with an amine will not give you a nucleophilic acyl substitution reaction to produce an amide, it will give you an acid base reaction instead.

On practicing synthesis questions – synthesis questions are difficult.  You kind of have to make something out of nothing (or very little information).  The first step to doing synthesis problems is to fully understand the concepts and how molecules can react.  Next, you need to tie these different concepts together and imagine in your head what would happen if you add some reactant or another reactant and try to play it out in your head and eventually you’ll get the answer.  Also look at the differences between the reactant and the product.  Are there more carbon atoms in the product?  What atoms are added?  Where does a bond break or form?  One of the harder kinds of synthesis questions is when you are not allowed to use an extra carbon source as a reactant (other than the carbon sources that you are given).  Other than practice problems, you can make your own problems.  I’d say this is best done with a friend.  Take some random molecule, and add reactants like HBr or a Grignard or something, and after a few steps you will arrive at a different molecule.  Now copy the reactant and the product onto another page, and trade it with a friend.  Now both of you can practice synthesis (or mechanism) questions.

Another thing you must be able to do is to interconvert common molecules.  For example, you should be able to convert an aldehyde into an acid anhydride by the time Midterm II rolls around.  Key: Oxidize it using Jones into a carboxylic acid.  Then add SOCl2 and heat to make an acyl halide.  Then simply add a carboxylate ion.  Can you go from an acid anhydride to an aldehyde?  (Try it.)  Make concept maps to show how one common molecule can be reacted to form another common molecule.  Finally, when you’re given an example to work on, in class for instance, you can always change it slightly and make it into another problem and see whether the reaction will play out the same way.

In summary for tips:

1. Practice problems.
2. Stay on top of things (Procrastination + CHEM 233 = disaster).
3. Seek help if you require it.  Use the resources available to you (Resource Center, prof, friends, Discussion board).
4. Practice problems.
5. Practice exam problems under EXAM CONDITIONS.
6. Have an open mind, always ask questions to gauge understanding/check thinking.
7. Making summary notes and concept maps can help you organize your thoughts.
8. Change your “study plan” if it doesn’t work the first time.
9. Group work!
10. More practice problems

Links worth checking out:

Top 20 Organic Chemistry Mistakes

Master Organic Chemistry

Organic Chemistry Videos (YouTube)

Virtual Organic Chemistry Textbook



This is a conversation that I saw on the VISTA Discussion Board for CHEM 233:

A: Are the recommended textbook problems from the list posted on VISTA mandatory?  Do I really need to do all of them to get a good mark?
B: My friend who already took the course did all the problems and got 97%.  If you don’t want that good of a mark, then you don’t have to do all of them.
Prof: You should do as many problems as you think is necessary.  But, the ones who tend to succeed in CHEM 233 are the ones who do ALL the practice problems without fail.  Especially those who do the problems more than once.  It’s up to you.




The textbook used for this course is Organic Chemistry 5/E by Bruice et al.  It is pictured below.  It is a necessary textbook because readings are assigned off it and so are practice problems.  Practice problems are not actually ‘due’ though.  There is an accompanying book called “Study Guide and Solutions Manual” (it’s just one book, it’s not two) which comes in handy when you want to check the answers to the problems.  You should purchase both the textbook and the study guide/solutions manual.  You also need to purchase the online ACE access, i-Clicker, and CHEM 233 carbonless paper.

1) Textbook Package (comes with main textbook, 12 mo. access to online textbook, study guide/solutions manual, ACE access, i-Clicker coupon)

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $147.95 new only

2) Textbook only

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $103.83 new, $77.90 used
I bought for: $90, came with solutions manual
Location: Craigslist

3) Study Guide/Solutions Manual

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $? new, $37.55 used

4) Online Textbook and ACE access

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $67.90

5) ACE Access

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $41.20
I bought for: $31.69
Location: Online ACE Website

6) Carbonless Paper for CHEM 233

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $9.25
I bought for: $9.25
Location: UBC Bookstore

Organic Chemistry 5/E with Study Guide/Solutions Manual


I heard that they are using a new textbook by Klein starting in 2011S.  Great, now the prices I listed above and other info about the textbook by Bruice are kinda useless.

Although the Bookstore will now rake in lots of money due to there being a new textbook introduced that probably no previous UBC CHEM 233 student has, as for now the textbook above by Bruice might be still supported (your prof should say – as far as I know, it is supported in 2011S) and it can still be useful and will definitely cover the bulk of the material to be covered in class for a while.  In addition to the practice problems in Klein, you can also practice the practice problems in Bruice if you feel that you need extra practice.  So that’s good.



BIOL 200

BIOL 200 is kind of like BIOL 121, except about cells only.  I found BIOL 200 to be straightforward for the most part.  BIOL 200 is basically a course dedicated to introducing the student to the basics of the cell and the functions/properties of each major cellular organelle.


There are nine units in total:

1. Cell Organelles and Microscopy
2. Biological Membranes
3. Nuclei and Chromosomes
4. From Gene to Protein (a.k.a. central dogma)
5. Endomembrane System
6. Mitochondria and Chloroplasts
7. Cytoskeleton
8. Cell Cycle and Mitosis

I found the most difficult units to be cytoskeleton, mitosis, and endomembrane system.  Not that they were very difficult though.  Biological membranes was an annoying unit too, and so was mitochondria and chloroplasts, because I always disliked learning about oxidative phosphorylation.

The material you need to know are mostly facts and processes, but there is some problem solving in this course too.  For example, you need to know how to interpret observations and graphs such as a gel electrophoresis diagram.  Most exam questions are written.

There is a distance education course outline for the course.  On this outline, the course information and overview is pretty much the same as the lecture based course, but the assignments and grade breakdown are different so ignore those parts.

Grading Scheme

Midterm – 22% (Weird number, eh?)
Final – 50%
Tutorial – 25%
Participation (clicker) – 3%

In-class Activities/Homework/Tutorial

General in-class stuff.  Listen, take notes, answer occasional i-Clicker questions.  I usually used the learning objectives available through VISTA to know what material I need to know, and then I took notes off the online notes (VISTA).  Then I brought these notes to class and added on if the professor said anything that was new and important.

There is barely any homework in this course.  There is a tutorial section which I will now discuss.  Tutorial activities are worth 25% of your final mark.  The tutorial section is mandatory and for my year it was held in either WESB 28 or WESB 30 depending on your section.  These rooms are accessed simply by going downstairs in Wesbrook.

The tutorial section is run by a graduate student TA, and during tutorial sessions you will work on one or two (rarely more) problems from the online VISTA problems.  You work in groups of 3 – 4 at your table and then discuss as a class later.  There are no marks awarded for this part.

There are also post-tests held during tutorial sessions, at the beginning or the end of the tutorial.  These post tests take around 15 minutes and they are basically like unit tests (remember high school?).  They take place after ALL the professors finish teaching the material for that unit and they are pseudo-weekly.   15% of your final mark is from the post-tests.  There are five post-tests in total, so you should take them seriously because each is worth 3% of your final grade.  You can usually bring a one-sided handwritten cheat sheet.  Making the cheat sheet usually helps a lot with the studying.

The remaining 10% of the tutorial mark comes from the essay.  Each tutorial group (the table groups of 3 – 4) are assigned a researcher who won the Nobel Prize for his research in some area of cell biology.  Each person must write their own essay summarizing an important cell biology experiment done by the researcher.  This essay reminded me of ENGL 112 but of course none or very little of the ‘questioning the knowledge base’ stuff.  (If you didn’t take ENGL 112, then nevermind.)  The essay is pretty simple, just follow the given criteria and write in a simple manner – supposedly, a first-year would be able to understand.  If you don’t know how simply to write, I would suggest writing a paragraph and bringing it to your TA to look over.  Apparently what I wrote was too complicated, even though I dumbed it down a lot in my opinion. Now when I go back and read my essay, yes it’s somewhat complicated and I don’t really understand what I was writing about, unless I read it slowly a few times — however, at the time, I thought that dumbing it down more/simplifying would result in oversimplification because I already omitted a lot of techniques and results that I didn’t really understand from the original paper.  Summary essays like these are usually quite easy and straightforward, and I started the essay the day before it was due and ended up with a decent mark.  In hindsight, it would have been better to have started earlier so I could finish earlier and get the TA to check it over.

Here’s the paper I wrote, for reference purposes. I think I went a bit above the word limit. The text in blue is what the TA wrote. I got 9/10 for Bibliography because for the last reference on the first page of the Cited Lit I forgot an ‘and.’ Please use this for reference purposes only — not only will you not write on the same topic (probably), you’ll have to submit it online to for plagiarism detection.  Two years later, looking back at this essay, it wasn’t really that well written… ._.;

PDF file: Biol 200 – Research Essay Assignment – Apoptosis, B cells

In my opinion, tutorial is not very useful for the amount of time that I had to spend in tutorial.  Tutorial is an hour a week and usually my TA only went through one or two problems during the entire tutorial.  Therefore, tutorial for me was a waste of time because I could easily go through the problems with 5 – 10 minutes for each problem which would only take me 20 minutes tops for the problems that we covered during a tutorial session.  And if I were to have issues with understanding the problems, I could just go to the TA or ask a classmate.  The TA usually went through the basic concepts behind each problem, followed by group work (brainstorming on the problem), and then the TA would explain the answer.

Tutorial during the Winter Session is 1 hour a week.  Tutorial during the Summer Session is 1 hour a day.



BIOL 200 wasn’t too bad.  Maybe it’s difficulty is equivalent to that of BIOL 121, or a bit harder.  I got a slightly higher mark in BIOL 200 compared to BIOL 121.  In 2009W, the average mark for BIOL 200 was 70.15%.  Highest mark was only 96% surprisingly, and 4.3% of everyone in the lecture sections got an A+.  Around 15% got an A or higher, and around 33% got an A- or higher.  Fail rate was 8.8%.  It seems that it is difficult to get an extremely high mark (>95%) because in 2010W and 2009W, I don’t think anyone did (or maybe just one or two people).

If you follow the lectures, keep up with readings and stuff, and review before the exams, it should not be difficult to get a decent grade.  Even if you were to only attend lectures without doing any reading or reviewing, it would probably be pretty hard to get below 50%.


The way I prepared for BIOL 200 was similar to the way I prepared for BIOL 121, because just like BIOL 121, exam questions in BIOL 200 are mostly written.  Lots of problem solving is involved (see below), and you need to know how to interpret data like gel electrophoresis diagrams.  There is also an essay question on the Midterm and Final (not related to the tutorial essay).  Essay questions are usually straightforward and are answered in detail.  Here is an example question:

“Compare and contrast the transport of molecules across the plasma membrane of a typical animal cell with transport of molecules across the nuclear envelope.”

The answer would talk about similarities and differences between transport across the plasma membrane and transport across the nuclear envelope (membrane).  Similarities – diffusion occurs, larger molecules have to undergo facilitated transport, by either active transport or facilitated diffusion, etc.  Differences – active transport across the NPC requires a special signal, etc.  The more detail you have, the higher chance that you will talk about something that is on the answer key, and therefore get marks.  Marks are also given for essay structure.

There are a lot of problem solving questions in BIOL 200 – questions like “Explain why this happens.” or “What would happen if…?”  Therefore, it could help if you approached learning BIOL 200 in an inquisitive manner (just like CHEM 233) and always ask yourself questions and make sure you can answer them.

BIOL 200 could be a self-taught course, which is why you can take it online.  For people who take it online, there are online notes that contain all the necessary material (sometimes a bit of extra stuff).  These online notes are available to people in lecture-based sections too.  I usually read these online notes as pre-reading, and I did not read the textbook for the first half of the course, although the textbook does explain things better and more concisely.  The online notes are written terribly in my opinion, and I found it hard to understand after reading it just once.  However, after I learned the material in class and from the textbook, it was easy to review the online notes.  So I would recommend reading just the online notes as pre-reading, but if you get confused then try the textbook first for that section and then come back to the online notes later.

Lectures – even if you learned ‘everything’ from the pre-reading, lecture is the time to emphasize on the important information and it informs you what you need to know for the exam, and which concepts should be focused in more detail than others when you study/review.

After class, I would review class notes, add stuff that I might have missed, draw pictures, etc.  I usually types up notes when pre-reading at home using the online notes, Cornell style with the learning objectives (on VISTA) on the left column.  I would then print out these notes and bring them to lecture the next day to add details in the margins/spaces of the notes.  However, I’m not sure whether I would recommend this to others, it’s really on you to decide whether you want to take notes off the online VISTA notes or whether you think taking notes in class is sufficient.  I do however, suggest reading of the online notes at the very least.

If you study properly for each post-test, then you shouldn’t have to study really hard for the midterm/final.  I would recommend trying (or at least looking and thinking about) the problems available on VISTA, because they will make you think differently about the material as well as how to apply it which is important for the exams.  I usually did the problems once after covering the material and another time before the exam.  The textbook problems are also good for practicing your ‘problem solving’ because they also have ‘thinking’ questions, but I did not bother to do them.  Unfortunately there are no answers posted for the online VISTA problems – the main resource for getting answers to the VISTA problems is probably the TA.

Cheat sheets are allowed for all post-tests and the midterm and final.  They must be handwritten.  I found making a cheat sheet to be very helpful in reviewing the material.  Making a good cheat sheet usually took a few hours.  If you really felt like it, you could make a draft cheat sheet and then make another one to organize everything nicely.

Here’s the cheat sheet I made for the midterm (it wasn’t that great, but it served its purpose):

PDF File: BIOL 200- Midterm Cheat Sheet sample


I personally did not enjoy writing BIOL 200 exams.  Most of the questions asked for responses in the form of phrases or multiple sentences with explaining involved (e.g. the essay section).  I did not like this because some of the questions seemed to be quite vaguely or awkwardly phrased and often threw me off when I was trying to understand exactly what they wanted me to say.  Also, the answer key often had key phrases in the solution and sometimes it’s hard to get the same key phrases as the answer key, and even if you pretty much say the same thing you might still lose marks if you don’t use these key phrases or key words, which can be kind of silly.  BIOL 200 exams reminded me a lot of Paper 2 from the IB Biology exam from high school where I wrote down loads of bullshit about the topic of the question so that I wouldn’t risk missing anything out.

Make sure you read the question properly (and a few times too) and answer the question the way it is phrased and not the way you want to answer it.  I think this is the main reason why I lost marks on the midterm.  It is worth reading the question a few times because you really don’t want to change your answer to a long answer question (that you have to write in pen).


Essential Cell Biology 3/E by Alberts et al.

The textbook used is Essential Cell Biology 3/E by Alberts et al.  The textbook was optional, and the second edition was ‘supported’ – my friend used the second edition and it worked fine for him.  It is good for understanding concepts that you couldn’t understand by listening to the prof or looking at the online notes – however, the textbook is not always necessary.  I actually did not use the textbook that much until the unit on the endomembrane system.  In particular, I liked the way it explained mitochondria and chloroplasts because it was easy to understand.  Overall, I used the textbook occasionally for general ideas.

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $167.60 new, $125.70 used
Price bought for: $90
Location: Craigslist
Savings: ~$78



MATH 223

Taking MATH 223 (Linear Algebra) was probably the worst decision in my academic life at UBC.  MATH 223 is an honours course offered in Term 1 and requires 68% in MATH 101/103/105 or a pass mark in MATH 121.  Looking back, I have no idea what I was thinking.  I probably thought that it wouldn’t be that bad since I only needed 68% in MATH 103, in which I got over 20% higher.  Do not take this course unless you actually like Math.  If you actually put in plenty of effort in first-year Math (non-honours) and couldn’t even get high eighties, then consider alternatives to this course because otherwise you face a fair risk of failing… (Take MATH 221 instead!)


We learned about stuff like vector spaces, matrices, linear independence, linear transformations, eigenvalues/eigenvectors and inner product spaces (in this order).

The material increases in difficulty, and subsequent material tends to be based off previous material, so if you didn’t understand one unit, you’re probably not going to understand the next that well and so on.

I can’t say much else about material that I couldn’t even absorb.

We learned about many theorems (and results) and their proofs – see below.

Grading Scheme

Homework – 10%
Midterm 1 – 20%
Midterm 2 – 20%
Final – 50%

You must pass the homework to pass the course.  You must pass the final exam to pass the course.  Upwards scaling is likely to occur, in the range of 5%.  Definitely do not depend on scaling.

In-class Activities/Homework

Take notes.  That’s it. Because MATH never has clickers or anything else (not exactly true, but has always been for me).

General outline of a typical lecture:
Instructor introduces a theorem (or terminology) with words I have never learned before.  He then proves it, or pseudo-proves it, or sometimes he doesn’t prove it if he’s lazy.  Then he introduces corollaries, with proofs or pseudo-proofs or no proof.  Then he may or may not give an example.  Then he repeats this until the lecture is over.

Homework is worth 10% as indicated above.  You must pass the homework to pass the course.  You must pass the final to pass the course.  Homework is weekly, and on average it took around 5-8 hours for me.  And no I am not counting breaks and stuff.  And I still didn’t get perfect on those assignments, in fact sometimes I failed (although generally, I knew whether I was going to fail).  The homework was difficult and involved plenty of thinking from what I experienced.  The questions involved using the theorems or using similar proofs to the theorems or using corollaries or using similar proofs to the corollaries or maybe sometimes not using similar proofs to anything which made it even more confusing.  It was just a mess because my insight wasn’t that good and my grasp of the material was weak.  On every homework after the first or second one, there was always a question (often a few questions actually) I could not even start, let alone solve. My instructor gave bonus questions on each assignment, which ‘saved’ my homework mark.  He took the best 9 out of 11 assignments.


I’m not actually good at this kind of Math, so I don’t know whether what I say about the difficulty actually means anything.  But it was hard for me, even though I got a ‘good’ mark in first-year MATH.  The midterms and final were mostly easy (although rushed) – definitely way easier than the homework, but I still bombed the midterms.  The midterms and final involve at least 70% calculations, which is good.  The homework takes a long time because I found it difficult to do.  Overall, this course proved to be a lot of difficult work.  This course made me realize the insight and creativity needed for this course and for higher level math in general.  There is a lot of material to cover in this Honours course yet not a lot of time to absorb the material.  It also took up a lot of precious and valuable time – about 5-8 hours a week for homework as mentioned earlier.  I don’t think I ever spend that much time a week on a course (outside of class time) unless I have a midterm.  You need to know how to do proofs and derive stuff and the professor does not teach you explicitly how to prove things (he did give examples though).  This course gave me the lowest mark I ever had in all of the two years I have spent at university (edit: now tied with another course!).  I found this course to be harder than CHEM 233, material-wise.

But yeah, if you thought first-year calculus was hard, then don’t try MATH 223 (I recommend MATH 221 instead which I heard wasn’t too bad).  That being said, if you’re good at MATH you may be able to do really well.  In fact, there are high schoolers and first year MATH students who take MATH 223 and get well over 90%…


Like all other lower-level math courses (I’ve yet to take a higher-level one), practice is key.  Although if I did all the practice in the world I still might have done poorly in this course.  There’s not enough time for just hard work alone to pull you through.  You need some mathematical ability/insight to begin with, and I barely had enough in my opinion.


There are weekly readings, I didn’t do them, maybe that’s why I sucked at doing the assignments.  But the textbook isn’t that great because it doesn’t explain things in a lot of detail.  But if you’re the kind of person who can learn things from the textbook without detail, then it’ll work.  Didn’t work that well for me.  The readability of the textbook is extremely low, and sometimes I wondered whether the textbook was actually written in English.  There are answers to selected problems in the back of the book.  Pretty sure there isn’t an accompanying solutions manual, although some university websites have some solutions online.

Linear Algebra 4/E by Friedberg et al.

Price @ UBC Bookstore: $173.80 new, $130.35 used.
I bought for: $90
Location: Craigslist
Savings: ~$80




MATH 220

MATH 220 was a difficult course, but it was nowhere near as difficult as MATH 223 in terms of material.  I took MATH 220 on Cr/D/F.  However, MATH 220 has the lowest average that I know, and for my section the final average was around 56%.  The midterm averages were near or below 50%.  I thought that the concepts presented in MATH 220 were pretty straightforward though, and pretty interesting.


Topics covered (in this order, roughly) :
1. Set theory
2. Logic (e.g. quantifiers)
3. Direct proof
4. Proof by contrapositive
5. Counterexample
6. Properties of a function (injectivity, surjectivity, bijectivity, inverse, composition)
7. Proof by contradiction
8. Cardinality of sets (finite and infinite sets)
9. Proof by induction
10. Limits of sequences and series.

I thought that the most difficult part was the limits of sequences and series; as well as properties of a function.

Grading Scheme

Homework – 10%
Midterm 1 – 20%
Midterm 2 – 20%
Final – 50%

In-class activities/Homework

Take notes, as usual.  No clicker or anything else.

There is weekly homework in this course, just like MATH 223. Homework doesn’t take that long most of the time, but if you haven’t been keeping up with the material it might take a while (a few hours).  I suggest reviewing your notes from the previous week before attempting the homework.  It can help a lot, especially later on in the course when the difficulty of the material increases.  Homework should take anywhere between 1 and 3 hours, not counting breaks and reviewing notes.  Most of the homework is taken from the textbook.  If you know someone who took the course before, you could ask them for the solutions to “check” your work…

I don’t have the solutions, so don’t ask me :(


This course proves difficult either because people do not master the definitions/concepts presented in class enough to prove anything; or that they are simply bad at applying the concepts to formal proofs.

Often, I have come across problems (e.g. on exams) and I think to myself…

“I’ve never seen this question before or anything like it for that matter… how am I supposed to approach it?!  What do I prove?!”

This is most likely a common feeling among MATH 220 students (especially those that fail, which is like half the class).  Just like CHEM 233, MATH 220 takes applying knowledge to a whole new level.

For example, take the concepts bijectivity and composition from properties of a function (above, #6).  There is basically an unlimited amount of questions that could be asked on an exam related to one of these two things, or both:

Prove that this function is bijective; prove that this function is not bijective; prove that the composition of these two functions are bijective; prove that the composition of these two functions are not bijective; given these two functions, find out whether there exists a bijection from their composition and prove or disprove the bijectivity, etc.

And the reason why there is an unlimited amount of questions available to be asked is because there is an unlimited amount of functions that the professor can think of to put on an exam.  Also, I found especially that the last type of question I gave as an example “Find out whether there exists a bijection from their composition and prove or disprove the bijectivity” is quite difficult, because the question does not tell you what to prove in the question itself – you have to find out.  So make sure that you find out whether the composition is a bijection or not first before you start to prove anything (note: this means you need to be able to tell.)

With all different kinds of possible examples, it’s almost guaranteed that exam questions are ones that you’ve never encountered before.  Therefore, it is important to develop the skill of approaching new questions.  And the best way to do this is by practicing new questions until you are comfortable enough to approach basically any new question related to the concept (e.g. bijectivity) and solve it.  It’s quite difficult or perhaps even impossible for the professor to “teach” the student how to apply a proof to every example related to a concept, just because there are so many different kinds of examples.  Instead, the professor can pretty much only teach the concept to the student as well as possibly a general proof, and the student has to go practice in order to develop the skill to prove things.

In 2010W, the average mark over all MATH 220 sections was 60%.  The fail rate was 19%.  Only about 12% of the class got an A- (80 – 84%) or higher.  If you look at a curve of # of people vs. mark, you would roughly see a bell curve with the peak at around 50 – 54%.  I don’t think MATH 220 is usually scaled, but my professor made an exception because without scaling, much more than 20% of the class would have failed the course.  Again, do not rely on scaling.


MATH 220 (and proving in general) is all about working with the definition.  If you want to prove…

“If x is even, then x + 2 is even.”

…then you need to know the definition of ‘even’ and you need to use it in the proof.  This is basically the same for proving any concept.

I will solve the problem to show how to use the definition:

The definition of even: If a number is even, then it is equal to 2 times some integer.

That is, if x is even, then x = 2 * k, where k is some integer.

x + 2
= 2 * k + 2
= 2 * (k+1)

2 * (k+1) is an integer because it too is 2 times some integer (in this case, the integer is k + 1).

Therefore, if x is even, then x + 2 is even.

/end proof

Note that I had to use the definition twice.  Working with the definition is important if you want to prove something, which brings me to my next point:

Master the definition.  There is no way you can intentionally prove something unless you know the definition of what you want to prove.  For example, take the above question “If x is even, then x + 2 is even.”  Even without ever taking MATH 220 (or another proofs course like CPSC 121), you probably already knew that this statement is true, right?  But you might not know how to prove that formally, because you either wouldn’t know the formal definition of ‘even’, or you wouldn’t know that you would have to apply it in the proof.

Master the definition by reading over the class/lecture notes taken in class, and consult the textbook is necessary.  You basically need to memorize the definitions.

The next step is to practice problems.  This will reinforce the definition in your mind.  It will also, more importantly, allow you to learn how to apply the definition, especially applying them to new situations – which is basically what writing MATH 220 exams is about.  The textbook by Chartrand provides a fair number of practice problems for you to try, and there are additional problems at the end of each chapter or at the end of the book (I can’t recall which of these two places they put it).  If you want more practice problems, see Textbook below.  Past exams are also a good resource.  MATH 220 has undergone several changes over the years, so past exams might test different concepts – however, there should still be some overlap and at least half of the questions should be of use to you to try.

Another reason why practicing problems in MATH 220 is important – speed.  Only 2 people in my class finished Midterm #1 early, and I don’t think anyone finished Midterm #2 early – maybe no one finished it at all because the highest mark was in the 80s for Midterm #2 (I got the highest mark for Midterm #1 with 96%, yay)  Anyway, I found the midterms to be very rushed, and there is very little room for error because if you do make mistakes, you will have to redo the question and that takes very valuable time away.  I barely had time to check over Midterm #1, I think most people didn’t even manage to finish either midterm (and thus probably failed).


Mathematical Proof 2/E by Chartrand et al.

Mathematical Proof 2/E by Chartrand et al.
UBC Bookstore New Price/Used Price: $163.35/$122.50

edit: For January 2011, the UBC Bookstore New Price/Used Price is $170.95/$128.20.

The textbook used in MATH 220 is Mathematical Proof 2/E by Chartrand et al.  Mathematical Proof is probably one of the better books out there for learning the basics to proofs.  The readability of the textbook is surprisingly high – you could very easily learn how to prove things simply by reading the textbook.  I could easily have learned the bulk of the material in MATH 220 just by reading the textbook (and then doing practice problems).  That being said, there are one or two units that are not covered by the textbook.  The concepts covered in Mathematical Proof by Chartrand are presented in a simple manner that is very easy to follow, even for those who do not understand more formal mathematical jargon.  It is truly a book for beginners and I was very pleasantly surprised by it.  I usually did not read the textbook out of laziness – rather, I read the class notes.  However, whenever I didn’t understand my class notes or whenever I felt I needed clarification, I sought out the textbook and it was very helpful and usually explained things very well.  As previously mentioned, homework was assigned mostly from the textbook and the professor said that the exam questions (midterms and final) would be based off or would be similar to the questions in the textbook.

If you need extra problems to practice and want another textbook to consult, you can try asking your professor for a suggestion.  A textbook that was used for MATH 220 in 2009W was Analysis with an introduction to proof by Steven Lay, 4th edition (edition doesn’t really matter).  Although I haven’t personally used the book, since it was used by a previous and pretty recent MATH 220 class, I am sure that it would still be useful to do the problems from that textbook for extra practice.  The homework for that previous section was even assigned from that textbook by Lay (see Dr. Chen’s MATH 220 webpage).  I am pretty sure that Schaum’s Outlines or Barron’s have books with practice problems for proofs if you think you could use more practice.



Overall, I thought that MATH 220 was a pretty fun course and I probably shouldn’t have taken it on Cr/D/F.  The concepts are mostly straightforward; the most important and difficult thing is to be able to apply the concepts to problem solving and proofs, which can be done by mastering the definitions, followed by practicing problem solving until you are comfortable with approaching new problems with speed.




Distance Ed.

Syllabus/Material/Course Outline

Marking scheme:

VISTA Quizzes – 40%
GradeGrinder Assignments – 30%
Final Exam – 30%

The marking scheme is very simple, and the final exam is only worth 30%.  I will discuss the final exam below.

PHIL 220A is a course about symbolic logic.  You learn about how to write sentences in symbolic language which can make it easier for you to prove things or derive conclusions.

Units Covered:

1. Intro to the course
2. Artificial Languages for Logic
3. Syntax
4. Translation
5. Applications of Translation
6. Formal Logical Concepts
7. Truth Trees, Semantic Tableau
8. Derivations and Proofs
9. Applications of Symbolic Logic

The symbols and words in the image above are ones that you will be using as part of the symbolic language in PHIL 220A.  Each of these symbols/phrases like ‘Tet’ or ‘LeftOf’ or the symbols in the left box have a specific meaning.  For example, the symbols in the first row of the box on the left (the row above a b c d e f) mean the words next to the red dot at the bottom of the image.

You will learn about the meanings of the terminology/symbols used in symbolic logic in Units 2 and 3.

In Unit 4, you will learn how to translate regular sentences to the logical language.

For example, “x is a tetrahedron” is translated to “Tet(x)”.

Another example: “x is left of y” is translated to LeftOf(x,y).

You’ll also work with something called Tarski’s World which is basically a platform/program that you can play around with and work with in order to visualize the logical statements.

You will also learn about validity and logical consequence, and in my opinion they are among the harder concepts to grasp (Unit 6 I think?)

In Unit 3, there is something called a well-formed formula and also something called a subformula (positive and negative).  These two things are probably the silliest things in the course that you basically need to memorize for the quizzes/final exam.  They were very annoying for me and a bit confusing as well.

I don’t think we actually needed to cover Units 7 and 9 – that is, they were omitted when I took the course.

Here’s an example of what could be a quiz question in PHIL 220A:

So, this question is asking to translate the English sentence “All the tetrahedra are small” into the “Tarski blocks language” which is basically just a symbolic language.  The upside down A in the answer choices means “for all”.

So choice 1 means: “FOR ALL x, x is a tetrahedron AND x is small” which is the same as saying “Everything is a tetrahedron and everything is small.” which is the same as “Everything is a small tetrahedron.”

This is not the same as the English sentence in the question.  “All the tetrahedra are small” does not mean that everything is a tetrahedron.  It only means that IF something is a tetrahedron, THEN it HAS to be small – equivalently, the sentence is saying that there’s no such thing as a medium or large tetrahedron.  So Choice 1 is incorrect.

Choice 2 means: “FOR ALL x, x is a tetrahedron IMPLIES that FOR ALL x, x is small.” which means “If everything is a tetrahedron, then it is true that everything is small.”

This is also incorrect.  What if there was a tetrahedron and a cube? (What if a tetrahedron and a cube existed in the Tarski world?)  Then that would mean that not everything is a tetrahedron, which means we can’t say anything about whether the tetrahedra that exist would be small or not.

Choice 3 means: “FOR ALL x, x is a tetrahedron IMPLIES x is small.” which means “If there is a tetrahedron, then it has to be small.” or more simply, “All tetrahedra are small.” which is the same as the English sentence in the question, so Choice 3 is the correct answer.

I think Choice 4 is written in an incorrect form for the Tarski blocks (symbolic) language which is why it’s incorrect.

Note: A statement like “All the tetrahedra are small” applies to the Tarski blocks world which is basically an imaginary space used to evaluate whether statements are true or false.  It’s a bit weird and perhaps I’m not good at explaining it, but it’ll be easier to understand once you take the course and read the notes.

So this was one of the examples of a possible quiz question, and I think this question is a somewhat fair representation of the types of things that are covered in PHIL 220A, which is why I provided it here.  Before I took PHIL 220A, I wasn’t really sure what kinds of things would be covered in the course, and so by providing an example here I think it would be helpful for those who are thinking of taking the course but are wondering what PHIL 220A is really about.

VISTA (Online) Notes and Quizzes

As this is an online course, all the information that you need to know for quizzes and exams will be available online.  There is a course outline posted on the VISTA website that tells you what to do and when.  For example, it’ll tell you to read certain units or sections and do certain quizzes by the end of a certain week.  This is so you have a schedule to follow and finish the course at a reasonable pace.  However, when I took it, it was only a recommended schedule and I didn’t actually follow it, but I did consult it at times.

The notes for the actual material of the course are also online for each unit.  You basically follow the course outline/schedule and read the online webtext whenever the schedule tells you to.

The online notes are in my opinion, badly written. I usually did not read the online notes in much detail – instead, I just skimmed over it and tried to do the VISTA quizzes.  In fact, I learned most of the material simply from repeating VISTA quizzes and consulting the online notes only if I needed to.

VISTA Quizzes are worth 40% of your final grade.  When I took PHIL 220A, there was no time limit on the quizzes and I had unlimited tries.  VISTA will record your best try (highest mark) for each quiz, so you can basically keep redoing the quizzes until you get the mark that you want or until you get perfect.

I approached the course by skimming the online notes (which were sometimes useful but most of the time had unnecessary and confusing detail) and then I would try the VISTA Quizzes.  Sometimes I would actually try to do the VISTA Quizzes first (e.g. for the unit translation) and it actually worked and I didn’t need to even consult the online notes.  But if I get stuck on the quizzes then I would try to go read the online notes a bit and see if that helps.

The reason why sometimes I didn’t read the notes is because of how convoluted they are with unnecessary detail.  If possible, I tried to do the quizzes first instead and only if I got stuck would I then read the notes (or the textbook).

There are around 30 VISTA Quizzes to do throughout the term.  Most of them are pretty short and only have like 10 – 20 questions, and you basically do 1 or 2 each week (if you space the quizzes out).  Like I said earlier, when I took PHIL 220A the quizzes were unlimited tries, unlimited time.


Another thing you are suggested to read is the textbook Language, Proof and Logic by Barwise et al.  The assigned/recommended readings are also on the schedule posted on VISTA.  The schedule will tell you to read certain sections of the textbook during certain weeks (e.g. Week 1 – read Chapter 1.1, 1.2, etc.)

I did not actually read the textbook that much during the course.  If I could do the quizzes without having to read the textbook, then I would just do that.  However, the textbook did seem to become more useful later in the course, with the unit on proofs, because the proofs were “Fitch proofs” which is a type of proof that I think is based off the textbook or something, so that would probably be useful to read.

When you buy the textbook from the UBC Bookstore, it will come in a package along with a CD.  This CD was necessary for me to register for GradeGrinders, which is a type of online assignment that counts for 30% of your grade in PHIL 220A.  The CD contains a registration code along with some programs that you will install on your computer to use for completing and handing in the GradeGrinder assignments.

The programs that I used in PHIL 220A are called Fitch 2.7, Tarski’s World 6.7 and Submit 2.7.  Fitch 2.7 is used for constructing proofs.  Tarski’s World 6.7 is for “creating” worlds using shapes like tetrahedra and cubes of different sizes (small, medium, large) and for writing Tarski blocks sentences.  You can create a world by adding blocks and a block like a cube or something will show up on the screen.  Then you can test whether your sentence is true for the Tarski world that you made.  For example, if you made a world with one block – a tetrahedron and then you wrote the sentence “FOR ALL x, x is a cube.” (this means everything is a cube) then the program will tell you that your sentence is false.

Finally, Submit 2.7 is where you can submit your files for marking.  They will be sent to some Stanford computer I think and basically it’ll check your file to see if you did it correctly (according to the instructions in the textbook).  Then it will send off your results to your professor (you will have to provide his name and e-mail) and basically the prof will record your mark.  It’ll also send the results to you so you have a record and you can see whether you did it correctly or not.  For me, GradeGrinders was unlimited tries with the most recent grade taken for each assignment.

Anyway, there are plenty of GradeGrinder assignments (using Fitch and Tarski World) to do in PHIL 220A, and most of them are fairly straightforward, especially if you read the textbook.  However, there were some assignments, especially the Fitch proof ones that seemed impossibly hard though, but eventually I got them either through luck or through a friend, or through working on it for a long time.  More on that later.

Like I mentioned, when you buy the textbook package, the CD comes with your own registration code.  This registration code allows you to submit files online for grading.  Each registration code may only be used once.  Therefore, you must buy the textbook package new UNLESS you buy it from someone who has not used the CD and therefore has not registered the registration code on the CD.  Also, you might be able to buy the textbook used but buy the CD as a standalone new but I am not sure whether the UBC Bookstore will carry the CD as a standalone – I heard that they did last year.  In any case, make sure you don’t get a CD with the registration code already used because then you would need to buy the whole package new again.


There was only one exam that I had to take, which was the final exam (worth 30% of grade, must pass final exam to pass the course).  Dr. Burkholder allowed us to choose when we wanted to take our exam.  Basically, the exam took place in the computer lab in Buchanan and it was like a drop-in final exam over 2 weeks – we could choose whichever day we wanted to come in to write the exam in the computer lab.  The final exam was done on a computer and it was basically like a VISTA quiz with 100 questions (mostly multiple choice) or whatever.  I wrote my exam on the very last possible day – a lot of people did the same thing and fortunately I arrived early so I didn’t have to wait for a free computer.


This course is somewhat well known as a GPA booster course, and it was definitely a GPA booster for me.  The problem with taking the course online was that I procrastinated and didn’t actually start doing assignments until 3/4 through the semester.

As I mentioned previously, GradeGrinders (worth 30%) and VISTA quizzes (worth 40%) are unlimited tries.  This basically means that you get 70% of your final grade FOR FREE.  So make sure that you get them.

The way I prepared for the final exam was by doing the VISTA quizzes over and over again until I got everything correct a few times.  I also looked at my mistakes and tried to see why I went wrong.  By the final exam I probably did every quiz at least 10 times.  Some quizzes I had to do like 20 times because I kept on getting a few wrong, lol.  But the final exam questions were quite similar to the VISTA quiz questions, so if you just practice the VISTA quizzes then it should be fine (assuming course format isn’t changed).  Practicing the VISTA quizzes worked very well for me with respect to my final exam performance.

VISTA quizzes are usually straightforward for the most part, especially if you read the online notes (and the textbook).  However, there were some sections and some quiz questions that were very annoying and frustrating because I kept getting them wrong and could not understand why.  Eventually I did get them correct and kind of understood why, but it did take a while sometimes.  Sometimes, I would have to do a quiz over 20 times before I got a perfect score, especially the longer quizzes.  If you keep on getting a quiz question wrong and don’t understand why, I would recommend e-mailing the professor or going to the TA.  The professor wrote all the questions for the quizzes and I asked him a few questions by e-mail and he answered my questions fairly quickly and gave sufficient responses to help my understanding.  I would also recommend asking others for help – for example, using the Discussion board on VISTA, or if you know someone taking the course you could do the quizzes together or something.

GradeGrinders – GradeGrinder assignments are also fairly straightforward BUT there are some that were extremely annoying.  I would recommend reading the relevant textbook sections because they will tell you how to approach the GradeGrinder assignments.  I also found it helpful to do some of the proofs that were not assigned so that I could get more of a feel for the Fitch program.  Some of the Fitch proof assignments seemed impossibly hard and I would highly recommend doing these harder ones with friends, or else you would have to spend a very long time on them trying to figure them out like I did.  You could also ask the TA/prof for help (office hours).

However, I do have a warning – do not share GradeGrinder files.  Each person should construct their own proof or file for submission online for grading.  The Stanford computers have a way to detect plagiarism using timestamps – see this link.

A word about GPA boosters – courses that are deemed GPA boosters are called such only because it is easy to get a relatively high grade IF you put in the same effort as a regular course.  If you slack off in PHIL 220A, it might not seem like a GPA booster at all.  I ignored PHIL 220A until 3/4 through the term and afterward I had a lot of VISTA Quizzes and GRADEGRINDERS to complete in only a few weeks worth of time, which was absolute hell.  I highly recommend keeping up in the course.  Being a week or two behind is OK, anymore than that will cause a lot of trouble later on in the term and if you wait until the exam period then you’ll be doing GradeGrinders for this supposed “GPA booster” course when really you should be studying for your other exams.  So don’t fall behind.  I would estimate that the amount of work to be done in PHIL 220A is about 2 – 3 hours a week on average, which is LESS than a regular course (you already spend 3 hours a week in a regular course just by attending class).  However, if you do slack off, all these hours will add up to a lot by the time the term is ending.

Since VISTA Quizzes and GradeGrinder are unlimited tries, you can eventually get a perfect score on those (seek help when you get stuck though).  And since the final exam is based off the VISTA quiz questions, it is fairly easy to study for – just keep on redoing the quizzes.  Overall, PHIL 220A was a relatively easy course for me and definitely a GPA booster.  It wasn’t the most interesting of courses but I think I did learn something useful.

Please do not ask for GradeGrinder help or for the GradeGrinder files because I do not have them anymore.




As always, please feel free to leave a comment or a question and I will answer it as best as I can and as soon as possible. 

Good luck!

Click here for Term 2 courses which include BIOL 201, CHEM 205, EOSC 112, MUSC 103, MICB 201 and CHEM 235.  Term 1 and Term 2 courses were separated because this post is too ridiculously long.




  1. Wow. This is going to be a super long post, eh?

  2. updates on biol 201?

    • Yeah, sometime. Why the rush? :D

      I did not quite understand the comment you posted on my tab… would you like to elaborate on it?

  3. OMG you are my hero :) Thanks for such great survivor tips! Looking forward to learn more from you! :)

  4. Any advice on Music 103 dist ed? thanks!

    • What do you mean by advice? Advice on doing coursework or on choosing to take the course?

  5. hey how hard is it to get into phil 220A online? I’m in second year (with a typical abysmal registration time) and I noticed that the class can only accommodate ~100 ppl (the two sections combined). Do you think the online sections will fill up by the time my registration opens? Thanks for your help :)

    • Yeah, it can be pretty difficult to get into PHIL 220A distance ed ): it’s easier to get into if you’re in 3rd/4th year.

  6. Are all of the course outlines/grading schemes the same for PHIL 220A, regardless of it being distance education or lecture?


    • No, they may not be the same. In fact, grading schemes may differ for different lecture sections of PHIL 220A and the distance ed. sections as well, because there can be more than one PHIL 220A professor. Comparing a lecture section and a distance ed. section under the same prof, the grading scheme is most likely very similar which was the case for my professor Dr. Burkholder. However, there were some minor differences – for example, the distance ed. section got unlimited tries for the VISTA quizzes while I think the lecture section did not.

  7. micb 201 update???? :(

    • ….^___^

  8. I’m debating if I should take PHIL 220A distance ed. or EOSC 114/118 distance ed. What do you think?

    Also do you know if PHIL 220A distance always gave out unlimited tries?

    • If you like logical/mathematical thinking more, then I would recommend PHIL 220A. I think Dr. Burkholder’s distance ed. section was always unlimited tries for quizzes/GradeGrinders in the past few years, but I am not sure. You could always register in the course(s), e.g. PHIL 220A and EOSC 114) and then drop one of them later on, before the deadline.

  9. Hi,
    I’m considering taking micb201. What would you say the difficulty level was for that course?

    • Moderately high. In particular I didn’t like the material after the midterm, but the midterm itself was fine. It was the final exam that really screwed things over for me. The average final grade was 63% which was the lowest class average that year for all my courses except CHEM 233.

  10. This is really great thing you’ve done here. Bookmarked.

  11. Your posts are awesome! lots of great and useful tips = )
    I will be taking biol 201 this semester. I’ve heard that it is a very difficult course…do you perhaps have any tips on how to do well in that course? What are some best ways to study for biol 201 exams?
    Thanks in advance!

    • My goal is to update this post with second-term courses by January 1st… if it doesn’t happen, comment again to remind me lolol :< I am such a lazy blogger.

  12. Hi there! Thank you very much for such detailed comments about all the courses you’ve taken! I was debating on whether if I should purchase the textbook for CHEM 205, but I guess I won’t bother. If I need it badly, I will just go to Irving or borrow it from my friends. Oh, and it would be really appreciated if I could hear about BIOL 201? I see that textbook is optional for this course as well. Did you find the textbook helpful for this course as well? THank you in advance!

    • Hello.

      Yes, that is a good choice for CHEM 205. If you have Organic Chemistry by Bruice from last term that can be used for the unit on spectroscopy. I will hopefully update with BIOL 201 later today lol. We’ll seeee. But I can tell you now that I was not offered the Horton textbook as an option last year; instead we had a custom course package that included custom notes and problem sets. It was sold by the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Your prof will probably mention it in class. If the course material didn’t change, I doubt that the Horton textbook would be that useful, and you can always decide at a later time to buy it or not.

      • Hi again!

        Thank you for the response to my comment. I have Dr. Bingle as well for BIOL 201 and he did mention that the optional textbook is useless. His lecture style seems a bit dry to me, but I guess I will see how the course goes.. haha

        • Sounds like you won’t ever need to buy it :P Also an amendment to my previous statement — it was mentioned last year but no one bought it and I don’t even know if the Bookstore had it in stock but it wasn’t officially listed under BIOL 201 anyway, as far as I know.

          I can’t say that I haven’t fallen asleep in my BIOL 201 classes… oh well, that’s my own fault.

          Best of luck to you this term :)

  13. BIOL 201 is in now in the Term 2 post. See the bottom of this post (right above all the comments) for link.

  14. Do you know anyone that is taking chem 202, 203, 204, or 213 instead of chem 233 and 235? What are those classes like? Difficult compared with chem 233? Thanks!

    • I think my Biochem friend took those courses (or some of them at least). He found them to be fairly difficult. I know that doesn’t really say anything about the difference in difficulty between CHEM 233 and the other courses, but I really don’t know anyone who has taken both CHEM 233 and CHEM 203/204. CHEM 233 isn’t even that bad of a course if you regularly do practice problems and keep up…

  15. i was planning to take another summer course in addition to an english course, either chem 233 (a month or so long) or biol 200 (about 3 weeks). i heard these two are really challenging…but doable? which one would u recommend?

    • You can take a look at my other post here which may help answer your question. I myself would take CHEM 233 just to get it out of the way so that I can focus on my other courses come September because for me it took up so much time in Sept-Dec that it was affecting my other courses as well. That’s just my opinion though.

      Two courses is a lot of work though. You might be able to drop one of them later but you should read the refund policy for that, links are in the other post too.

  16. Hello,

    Firstly I would like to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog! I am considering taking Calculus 200 or Mathematical Proofs 220 over the summer. Have you heard anything about taking 220 over the summer? It is only twice a week, compared to Calculus 200 which is 4 times a week (but you know that of course). How do you think they compare in terms of workload (maybe it might be a bit hard to compare because you took one during the summer and the other during the year?). So far I have enjoyed math (I am currently taking Math 105), and I would be taking these more out of “pleasure” than out of necessity – what I mean is that I don’t really need them for my program, but that I might be interested in taking math courses later on and these could count as prerequisites.

    Thanks so much!!!

    • Hello,

      Thanks! MATH 220 was definitely a fun course. MATH 200… not so much although the concepts were easier to apply, in my opinion. MATH 220 would be less condensed work since it’s only 2 days a week and the course lasts almost two months, whereas MATH 200 is four days a week and lasts a little over a month in the summer. So if you’re taking these for fun, perhaps take MATH 220? Going to school four days a week only for MATH 200 wasn’t that fun. You could also take MATH 221 in the Winter, since that’s a prereq to many upper-level Math. I myself am planning to take MATH 215 and 317 sometime for fun. Out of curiosity, what major are you in? Anyway, let me know your decision about which course you’re going to take :)

      • Hello,

        Thank you for your reply! Actually I haven’t really decided which one I want to take. I registered in Calculus 200 because I thought it would fill up faster (and it did) but I might switch to Math 220 (which still has quite a bit of room). I am majoring in Commerce but I may (I am still very unsure) be interested in doing a minor in economics or math (or at least to take some courses in those topics for fun). I did see that Math 221 and 223 are prerequisites for many courses and will therefore probably take one (221) in the future. The reason why I thought it might be a good idea to take calculus now is because I am worried I will forget what I learned in first year. Which math courses do you think are prerequisites to more upper-year courses? By the way, thanks for pointing out that Math 220 is longer than 200 during the summer. I hadn’t noticed! I will let you know what course I decide to take (but it might take a while…). Thanks :)

        • Once upon a time (not anymore) I heavily considered minoring in Mathematics. I’m fairly sure (don’t quote me though) that you need at least MATH 200 (calc III), 220 (proofs), 221 (matrix algebra) to be able to take enough upper-level classes for a minor. I don’t recommend substituting MATH 223 for 221 unless you’re very confident in your mathematical abilities! Although to be honest 223 was a fun course but I didn’t have enough time for it. Many upper-level courses also require MATH 215 (differential equations).

          Hope to hear which you decide to take!

  17. I just saw your amazing blog. It’s so in details and I learnt a lot from it.
    I am currently a ubc first year student and I am going to take chem 233 during summer.
    I heard it’s like a nightmare.
    Is there any chance you kept the problem sets, quizzes, midterms for chem 233?
    If so, do you mind sending the material to me?
    I really need them.
    Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post
    I am looking forward to hearing from you soon!

  18. Thanks! this is so helpful.

  19. Hi there,
    I am thinking of making a study guide for chem 233 at a fraction of the cost of the textbook. Do you think students would find this useful? What kind of information do they need? I tutor a few students for the course but you seem to know a lot about the other students who take the course.

    Feel free to contact me as it would be nice to hear your input!

  20. Is chem 233 offered in Term 2 or must it be taken in term 1? Thanks!

    • It’s offered in Term 1 for the Winter Session.

  21. I’m taking Chem 233 this summer, and I’m also registered for Chem 235, but would you suggest dropping 235 so I can focus solely on Chem 233? I’m also a bit hesitant about going to school every day in the summer…(plus I have the morning lab).

    • I would not personally recommend taking CHEM 233 and 235 consecutively during the summer session. It’s not impossible though, so if you’ve already paid your summer tuition you have to take that into account because you won’t get all of it back if you drop a course :(

      • All righty thanks so much :)! I was about to pay and was sort of scared when I realized that the lab was three times a week instead of two…thanks you probably just saved me!

  22. Hello! Thank you so much for posting this, it was really helpful! I just had a quick question: for PHIL 220A you said it was unlimited attempts for the quizzes on Vista when you took it, do you by any chance know if the course still gives unlimited attempts?

    • Hello,

      I am uncertain whether the grading is still the same, but I wouldn’t think it’d change. You would have to look specifically for Dr. Burkholder’s section though.

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