Posted by: idm04 | 2013/06/23

Transition: High school to first year

This post will cover certain aspects of the transition from high school to first year Sciences at UBC. As with pretty much all of my posts, this contains a lot of my own opinions, so take anything here with a grain of salt and double check the sources if you want to be certain that you have accurate and up to date information. i.e. This post may be out of date and inaccurate.

The topics covered in this post are based on what first year students tend to ask coming into UBC Sciences. Please post questions below if you have any.



Table of Contents


1. How do I find out when I register for courses?
2. What are the options for choosing courses in first year Science?
3. How do I use the Course Schedule on the SSC to make worklists and register for courses? I cannot register in any of my courses.
4. What does restricted/STT mean?
5. How should I spread out my courses in my schedule?
6. I am taking BIOL 112, 121, 140. Or ENGL 110 and 112. Should I take them in a specific order or in a specific term? Can I defer one of the ENGL to second year? SCIE 113 vs. ENGL?
7. How do I register in BIOL 140?
8. What courses should I take?
9. Can I defer some credits for a lighter course load?
10. Which MATH is better/easier?
11. How many credits is normal? How many do I need to take?
12. Should I use my transfer credit from IB/AP?
13. Should I take BIOL 140?
14. Which ENGL should I take?
15. What first year professors are good/bad?
16. What are some good electives?
17. My course is full, what should I do?



1. What are first year courses like? How do they grade?
2. What is the structure of a typical 1 hour lecture/class?
3. What should I bring to class?
4. What is the structure of a typical day?
5. What is the structure of a typical term?
6. Should I take summer courses?
How difficult is UBC Sciences? 
8. How much should I expect to study a day?
9. How should I study/review?
10. My prof doesn’t really help me in office hours/How do I ask profs questions?

Involvement, Work, Extracurricular Activities

1. Do I have time for involvement or a social life if I’m taking 30 credits?

Getting Help with Academics

1. How do I stay organized?



1. Where can I study on campus?
2. Where are the banks on campus?
3. Where can I get food on campus?
4. When and how do I get my UBC card?
5. When and how do I get my U-pass?
6. How can I get a UBC alumni e-mail?
7. What phone provider should I use?
8. How much sleep should I expect to get?
9. My i-Clicker number rubbed off.






Before you read further, read Choosing Courses in First Year carefully and in its entirety.

How do I find out when I register for courses?

First year registration for courses is a process that occurs online on the SSC (under Course Schedule) from June 24 to 28 inclusive. You will be given a time (in PST) by e-mail prior to your registration time. Simultaneously (roughly), the date/time will also show up on the SSC. Everyone will be given their own time so don’t expect to have the same time as someone else. Registration begins at 7:00 AM PST on June 24th. It ends in the afternoon sometime before starting again in the morning the following day. Registration times are based on your high school grades, the earlier the time in the June 24 – 28 period, the better, because you’ll have a higher chance of getting into a course/section you want before all the seats are full. Until your registration time, the Course Schedule will say that your registration is blocked. The time frame in which you can register for courses in a particular term is the time between your registration time and the start of third week of classes in the term, generally speaking.

What are the options for choosing courses in first year Science?

There are three first year options in Science — the Coordinated Science Program (CSP), Science One (Sci1), or the general Science program. The general Science program is the biggest program by far. One of the benefits I see with Science One is the fact that classes are small so you get to know both your classmates and your professors better. Another is higher level of rigour. In CSP, you also get to know your classmates better (but the classes are not smaller) because all the sections you enroll in are the same, just like in Science One. CSP and Science One involve registration through a standard timetable (STT) rather than picking and registering all your courses individually. However, electives such as English courses must be registered individually — it is separate from registering in the STT. I will not cover Science One nor CSP further. If you’re wondering what courses to choose from in the general Science program, see below.

How do I use the Course Schedule on the SSC to make worklists and register for courses?

First, you create a worklist (or several) prior to your registration time. I suggest doing this as early as possible (a week or two in advance is probably good enough). To the worklist, you can add courses that you wish to take and then you can view the timetable to see what your schedule will look like. On your registration day and time, you simply register all the courses in your worklist as soon as you can.

Make sure the correct Campus and Session are selected at the top right of the Course Schedule page. The session should be the Winter Session, which runs from September to April. There are two terms in the Winter Session, and you register for both simultaneously.

There are links to videos on the Course Schedule for how to use it (making worklists, registering courses, etc). I have never used these videos, but they seem fairly useful.

When you add courses to your worklist, you must add the particular section and not simply the course. For example, if you browse for CHEM 121, you will be brought to a page with many CHEM 121 lecture sections (e.g. CHEM 121 101, CHEM 121 102, CHEM 121 103, and so forth). Under the ‘Activity‘ column appears the type of section it is. It can be lab, lecture, or discussion. For CHEM 121, you should see a lecture section followed by several lab sections. For this course, you must choose one section from each activity type. This means you choose one lecture section and one lab section to add to your worklist. Click on the section you want (e.g. CHEM 121 103) and it should bring you to a page titled ‘CHEM 121 103 (Lecture)’. Then you can click ‘Save to Worklist‘ on the right. Then you can go back and add your lab section, e.g. CHEM 121 L01. CHEM 121 103 and L01 should now appear under ‘Sections‘ if you click on your worklist (e.g. Worklist 1) at the top right. There should not be anything under the ‘Courses’ header which is under ‘Sections’ (if you’ve done this correctly, you won’t even see the ‘Courses’ header). If there is something under ‘Courses’ on any worklist page, it means you added a course but not a specific section.

This is the order of events in which I make my worklists:

1) Make a list of courses that need to be added to the worklist on a piece of paper.
2) Browse for the course that has the least flexibility (least amount of sections available). Some courses only have one section, so it makes sense to add these courses (sections) to your worklist first so you can work around it when you add your other courses. For first year courses, this shouldn’t matter which course you decide to add first because there are multiple sections for first year courses.
3) Hover your mouse over the different lecture (and lab if applicable) sections and choose one while keeping a mental note of the other sections available.
4) Choose one lecture section by clicking on the section which brings you to the section page, then click ‘Save to Worklist‘. Note BIOL 140 does not have a lecture component.
5) Repeat steps 2 – 4 for all the lecture components of the courses on your list you made in step 1.
6) Go to your worklist by clicking on its name at the top right. You will notice that under certain lecture sections (such as CHEM 121), it will say that you are missing a lab section or a discussion section and you need to add it. Add the lab section or discussion section by hovering your mouse over the different choices (note: this is still on the worklist page) for each course, and then picking the ones that fit the best to add to the worklist. Do this by clicking on the lab/discussion section on the worklist page and then clicking ‘Save to Worklist.’
7) If sections of different courses conflict with each other, resolve the conflict by removing sections from your worklist and adding different ones. You may need to do this several times.
8) When you click the ‘Test registration‘ button on the worklist page, it will tell you whether the sections of the courses can be added successfully. If you cannot register in a section of a course, it will tell you so you can fix the problem. Common reasons include not having the prerequisite or the course having run out of seats.
9) Repeat steps 1-8 for another worklist so you can play around with your schedule and have different combinations so you can decide which one is optimal for you. Also, if sections on your first worklist get full, you may be able to use the second worklist to register instead. If you have time on your registration day, you can go on the SSC an hour or so before your registration time to monitor the status of the sections you plan to register to see if they are becoming full. If so, then you can quickly make changes to your alternate worklists to use them as backups.

You should generally not try to register for courses you do not have the prerequisites. Once your registration time opens (note the timezone is PST), you can go onto your SSC – Course Schedule, pick your preferred worklist, and near the bottom, hit the button ‘Register All‘.

The page should refresh and there should be a green box under every section saying that it has been successfully registered. If there are any red boxes instead of green boxes, find out why. If nothing changes, check for error messages like an unpaid registration fee or a message saying it isn’t your time to register yet. If there are no such error messages, you may need to try to register using a different browser/computer. Try any of Chrome, Firefox, Chrome (incognito), Internet Explorer. If that doesn’t work, you should call UBC Enrolment Services.

Please note that adding courses to your worklist does not register you in the course. Similarly, removing courses from your worklist does not de-register you from the course. You will need to go to Registration -> Add/Drop Courses for doing these things.

If you need to switch sections at anytime during or before the term, go to Registration -> Add/Drop Courses, check the box of the section you want to switch, and click ‘Switch Selected Section‘ below. This is preferable to dropping the section because someone may steal your spot once you drop it and you won’t be able to get back in.

What does restricted/STT mean?

When you browse courses/sections, you will come across sections that say “Restricted” or “STT” next to them. Sections labeled “STT” indicate that you must use a standard timetable to take the course (e.g. it is part of CSP or Science One). Sections (or entire courses) labeled “Restricted” means that certain but not necessarily all the seats in the section are restricted to certain students. If you click on the section, you can see the restriction under ‘Restricted seats remaining’ at the bottom of the page. For example, it might say “restricted to students in BSc, year = 1”, in which case, you are allowed to take a restricted seat. If you don’t meet the restriction, you have to take a general seat, or if they don’t have any general seats, you cannot take the course without special permission.

Read ALL the restrictions for a section before you conclude that you are unable to register for that section. You only need to fall under any one restriction to be able to register!

How should I spread out my courses in my schedule?

It’s up to you. The flexibility of the general Science program allows you to make a schedule that best suits you. You can have as many breaks as you want or as little as you want. You can have early morning classes or no classes before 11 am. You might even be able to squeeze all your courses onto three days (MWF), leaving Tues/Thurs completely empty.

I don’t recommend having several small breaks on a single day because you will be limited in what you can do. For example, if you want to use a 1 hour break to study, you’ll spend the first 10 minutes traveling to the library and finding an unoccupied seat; and you’ll spend the last 10 minutes of that break going to your next class. You do not need to schedule 1 hour breaks between your classes so you can get from class to class. 1 hour lectures are actually only 50 minutes long, and 90 minute lectures are only 80 minutes long, which allows you 10 minutes of travel time, which is plenty for getting around campus. Looking at other students’ schedules, it seems that students want as little break as possible so that they can do other things like club activities or events or just going home to study/sleep.

If you’re a commuter, be wary of 8 am classes or early morning classes in general. Taking transit from Richmond will take at least an hour on average, for example, which means you would have to wake up at 6 am or maybe earlier. If you want to make a schedule that only has classes 3 days a week, be warned that your sleeping schedule may be jeopardized. Also, it will be annoying if you have a midterm or office hours on your Tues/Thurs off.

Here is an example schedule I made within 20 minutes. Notice none of the classes are before 11 am. If I were to change anything I’d probably move one of the BIOL from Term 1 to Term 2 to balance things out better.

term 1 first year 02

term 1 first year 01

I am taking BIOL 112, 121, 140. Or ENGL 110 and 112. Should I take them in a specific order or in a specific term? Can I defer one of the ENGL to second year? SCIE 113 vs. ENGL?

I think if you do BIOL 140 in first term then you get to work on marine organisms, and if you do it in second term then you get to work with land organisms, however I am not completely certain this is true…

The order of BIOL 112 and 121 doesn’t matter. I consider 121 to be easier than 112 and to be more memorization based whereas I found 112 to be more about critical thinking, relatively speaking. It’s completely fine to take them in the same term, just make sure your terms are roughly the same in number of credits to balance your workload.

BIOL 121 is more related to BIOL 140 than BIOL 112 is to 140. I took BIOL 121 and 140 simultaneously in Term 1, and BIOL 112 in Term 1. BIOL 140 is actually a lot of work so I recommend putting it in the Term that has the least number of credits. If both your terms have the same number of credits before adding BIOL 140, go ahead and chuck it into second term so you don’t have to deal with it right from the start (but really, it doesn’t matter). You can take BIOL 140 with either BIOL 112 or 121 in the same term; you could even take them all in the same term but that’s kind of weird and you probably would have a lot of credits in that term, which would be bad because like I said BIOL 140 is a lot of work even though it’s worth 2 credits.

ENGL 110 and 112 — order doesn’t really matter. I took ENGL 112 in first term and 110 in second term.

Note SCIE 113 is only available to first year Science students. You cannot take it after you finish first year.

You must finish the Communication Requirement, which is 6 credits of English, in your first 60 credits. This means you could defer one or both of the English courses to second year (except SCIE 113 because it’s only available to first year BSc students).

I do not have an opinion of SCIE 113 vs. ENGL 110. I have heard people praise SCIE 113. Note SCIE 113 does not count towards the 6 credit English requirement for UBC Medicine in case you are interested in that program.

How do I register in BIOL 140?

It’s quite straightforward if you read the instructions on the BIOL 140 page on the SSC Course Schedule. First, add something called a primary section into your worklist. It might be called BIOL 140 101 or BIOL 140 201, or they may have changed the names. It has no scheduled meeting time, and it is worth 2 credits. Then, choose an actual lab time under the primary section.

What courses should I take? Can I defer some credits for a lighter course load?

Use this chart.

Generally, students take the courses shown in the example schedule above, usually with minor changes.

Also read this.

Here is a list of courses required for entry into the second year programs. You should keep those in mind for specializations you are interested in so you meet the prereqs to apply for them after first year. Take prereq courses such that you’re able to choose from a variety of different specializations, but don’t take so many prereq courses such that your course load is no longer manageable. Deferring courses to the summer? Note that any summer courses may not count as prereq courses for the purpose of entering second year programs until the following Winter Session. They will however, count as prereqs to take second year courses that require them.

e.g. If you’re interested in going into the Biology program or perhaps the Microbiology & Immunology program, then you wouldn’t defer BIOL 112 nor BIOL 140 to the summer or beyond, because BIOL 140 is required for entry into Biology and 112 for Microbiology.

To be promoted to second year, you need to have completed 24 credits by the end of the Winter session of first year. 12 of these credits must be science credits that meet the Faculty’s lower level requirements. See Promotion Requirements for more details and note that transfer credits do count towards this requirement, but summer courses following the first year Winter Session do not.

Which MATH is better/easier?

Since MATH 100, 102, 104, 120 (or 110, 180, 184) are equivalent courses, you can take any of them. Similarly with MATH 101, 103, 105, and 121. Most students I have talked to about this believe that MATH 100/101 is harder than MATH 102/103 which is harder than MATH 104/105. In terms of material, there are differences in the applications (physical sciences vs. life sciences vs. social sciences). Honestly, I don’t think it matters much. If you really want, you can go browse the past exams on the UBC Math website to see for yourself the level of difficulty.

You can also check out the syllabi for the different courses.

There is also a 1 hour weekly lab present in MATH 102/103 that is not present in MATH 100/101/104/105. I recommend simply choosing the MATH that fits in your schedule the best.

How many credits is normal? How many do I need to take?

In Science, 30 credits is the “regular” course load, but in reality, it is common to find Science students taking more than 30 credits per Winter session. I took 34 credits in my first year Winter session, and it wasn’t too difficult in my opinion. I think the maximum number of credits you can take in the first year Winter session is 38 credits, but I am not sure.

You need to take a certain number of credits to be eligible for certain things. For example, you need to take 30 credits in the Winter session to be eligible for Honours programs later on. Transfer credit and summer session credit do not count towards this number. See this page for other minimum credit requirements.

To be promoted to second year, you need to have completed 24 credits by the end of the Winter session of first year. 12 of these credits must be science credits that meet the Faculty’s lower level requirements. See Promotion Requirements for more details and note that transfer credits do count towards this requirement, but summer courses following the first year Winter Session do not.

Some students like the idea of taking less credits in first term than second term because they want to first get used to university. I don’t feel this is important because usually it’s a difference of 3 credits, and I question how much difference that will make, but go ahead if you really feel like it’ll help.

Note that you can always drop courses as long as it’s before the drop deadline (displayed on the SSC Course Schedule under each course). Many people register in more courses than necessary, and then during the first two weeks or so, drop one if they think it’s too much work.

Should I use my transfer credit from IB/AP?

Check ‘Transfer Credit’ under ‘Grades and Records’ drop down list at the top toolbar of the SSC page to see which transfer credits you got. You can also look at UBC Admissions – International Baccalaureate.

I had credit from French HL, Chem HL, History HL, and Theory of Knowledge in IB. This gave me a total of 22 transfer credits and I decided to use them all except Chemistry. I got 6 cr of FREN, 6 of HIST, and 6 of PHIL. This helped me fulfill the Arts and Breadth Requirements of the BSc.

I decided to take Chem 121 instead of using my transfer credit because my chemistry was pretty weak and I wasn’t confident that I knew enough. I was also worried that I would encounter later courses that needed knowledge from Chem 121 that I might not have fresh in my head.

There are students who have credit for Chem 121 but take it anyway and then struggle through it, but there are also those who decide to skip it using their transfer credit without any negative consequences later on. There are some courses you will encounter later that require knowledge from Chem 121. For example, there is a bit of molecular orbital theory and quantum mechanics in Chem 233, but not too much. There is also a little bit of quantum mechanics in Chem 205. Although I wouldn’t explicitly recommend using transfer credit for Chem 121, I wouldn’t exactly say skipping Chem 121 is a problem because even if you need some of the material in later courses, you could simply teach yourself whatever you need to know (e.g. using a textbook from the library or friend or Bookstore).

As for MATH 100 — if you are confident in your calculus abilities, I’d say you don’t really need to take MATH 100 or equivalent. You can check the UBC Math website (link above) to see past exams and syllabi so you can assess the difficulty and decide for yourself whether to skip MATH 100 or not. If you can skip both MATH 100 and 101, then it’s even more reason to use the transfer credit because you won’t need to take MATH past first year unless you are going into a program like Math or Stats. However, Chemistry and Biochemistry require one or two second year Math courses. Most specializations do not require Math beyond first year.

If you took Biology HL, you might be able to skip BIOL 121/140 and I recommend doing so. BIOL 121 is about ecology, evolution and genetics. This is basic material you probably won’t need in later courses, and if you do, they will most likely reteach it to you (e.g. BIOL 234). Also, BIOL 121 for me was just reading out of the textbook, so technically you could review it on your own. Most of the courses that require BIOL 121 are simply BIOL courses that you wouldn’t normally take unless you are in the Biology program.

BIOL 140 is a lab course (there is no lecture component) and it is a one term course. It is a lot of work and it is only two credits and it is very difficult to get a high mark in the course. I really didn’t learn much from the course and I wish I hadn’t taken it because my specialization (Microbiology & Immunology) doesn’t require it — in fact, most specializations do not (exceptions below).

Since transfer credit may be given later than your registration time, it would technically be safer to register for courses even though you might get credit for them. Then, you can decide to drop them later on before the drop deadline (the exact deadline is on the Course Schedule of SSC). If you are confident that you will receive credit, then this is not needed.

Should I take BIOL 140?

If you are considering the Biology specialization, or any Combined Major specialization that involves Biology, or if you are considering Biophysics, or Psychology, then you need to take BIOL 140 as per this list.

If you are not considering any of the above, then you don’t need to take BIOL 140 (to my knowledge). However, it is as prereq for UBC Medicine. Honestly, BIOL 140 is a lot of work and if it’s unnecessary I wouldn’t bother.

Which ENGL should I take?

The most common options are ENGL 112 and 110. They are not too difficult. I don’t know the difference between 110 and 111 other than that one of them is fiction and the other is non-fiction. The grades don’t seem that different. SCIE 113 is a common alternative to ENGL 110. UBC Medicine does not accept SCIE 113 for their ENGL requirement.

What first year professors are good/bad?

I think this question is generally not worthwhile; that is, I think it’s a waste of time to go out of your way to avoid certain profs because other people don’t like them, especially in first year. Students use Ratemyprof as their guide to deciding whether a prof is a good/bad, despite the fact that Ratemyprof has very biased ratings — it’s most likely that people post on Ratemyprof only if they really like a prof or if they really hate a prof.

There’s also the grades distributions site which will give you grades distributions for every past course and you might be able to see which profs have higher section grades — however, use with caution.

What are some good electives?

Go through all the different course codes on the SSC Course Schedule and look for whatever interests you. Psychology (e.g. PSYC 101/102), Philosophy, Linguistics, Economics (e.g. ECON 101/102), Anatomy (e.g. CAPS 390/391), languages, Earth and Ocean Sciences (e.g. EOSC 112) are common choices. Some people (less commonly) take a Computer Science course (i.e. CPSC 110, one of my favourite courses). I wish I had done a Combined Major in MBIM and Computer Science.

My course is full, what should I do?

You can’t really do anything other than wait and check back regularly to see if someone drops it. If there is a waitlist section then register for it, and check back regularly. People tend to drop courses during the first two weeks of class, so you could attend classes for a course you’re not registered in and then register within the first 2 weeks.

Many seats are added to sections during registration time, and sometimes extra sections are added, so check back regularly.

Also see this link.




See Buying Textbooks – First Year.




What are first year courses like? How do they grade?

This is a vague question. See First-year Courses in UBC Sciences! for a detailed description of each first year course I took.

What is the structure of a typical 1 hour lecture/class?

The typical class (e.g. BIOL 121/112, CHEM 121) will involve going to the classroom, listening to the professor (or not) and writing notes and possibly answering clicker questions for 50 minutes, then going to your next class and repeating the process. Clicker questions are multiple choice questions that you answer on a device called a clicker, which costs about $40. It’s like those devices used to ask the audience in the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” show.

What should I bring to class?

See What to bring to school – First Year. Essentially, the following:

Lined paper + clipboard or notebook
Laptop (only if you want; it’s not necessary at all)*
NOT your textbooks generally speaking*
Pens, pencil/eraser
Calculator (SHARP EL-510-R preferred)
Course schedule*
Campus map*
Water bottle*
Lunch or lunch money*
Planner/Agenda (The Distillation)*
U-pass, UBC card
Robe and wizard hat

* means completely optional (technically, most of the other items are merely recommended)

What is the structure of a typical day?

Wake up, eat breakfast, go on the bus to class.  If you prefer studying in the morning maybe you’ll wake up early to do pre-readings for class or whatever.  Or not, because who the hell wakes up early (a lot of people actually, just not me).

Go to your first class, then your second, and so on.  If you have a break, you’ll probably be eating or just chilling or maybe studying at the Student Union Building (SUB) or library.

Maybe you’ll use the break to go to office hours for your professor or TA to ask questions.  Maybe you’ll have a study group meeting for one of your classes.  Maybe you’ll go to the gym or swimming if you’re cool like that.  Maybe you’ll visit the Science Peer Academic Coaches at Coaches’ Corner in Irving K. Barber if you’re amazing and want peer support in the form of academic coaching (we can help you improve your grades too).

After all classes, you’ll probably go home or to the library to study or do your assignments on Connect if you have any, or maybe just go on Facebook or 9gag or reddit instead until 2 AM.  Maybe you’ll go do some club activities before going home. Then sleep.

Rinse and repeat.

If you don’t know what 9gag or reddit are, do NOT search them up because they will destroy your soul (and your grades).

What is the structure of a typical term?

Term 1, Winter Session is from Sept to Dec. Term 2, Winter Session is from January to April.

-Imagine Day! You’ll get to meet your Orientations leader and a bunch of other first year Science students, and get oriented to the campus. Your Orientations leader is an extremely valuable resource and you should not hesitate to ask them any question at all.
-First day of school is right after Imagine Day. Go to your classes.

-the first round of midterms will probably begin in early October. There are usually two midterm examinations for every course in first year Science. Midterm examinations are either in class (50 min) or a 1 – 2 hour exam in the evening on some day.

November-just when the first wave of midterms is over, the second begins! And ends in mid/late November.

-just when the second wave of midterms is over, final examinations begin in early December and end in late December. Each course has one final examination. You do not need to go to classes during the exam period. Final examinations are typically 2.5 hours long.

Should I take summer courses?

See Transition: First Year to Second Year

How difficult is UBC Sciences?

‘Difficulty’ is very subjective, so I will state objective facts and leave it up to you to evaluate the difficulty of the program.  Students entering UBC Sciences have a high school average of approximately 93%.  Students finishing their first year in UBC Sciences have a first year average of approximately 70%.

A related question is how much sleep people get: it depends, but according to some blog polls, anywhere between 5 and 8 hours a night is normal.  Get as much sleep as possible — remember, you are in complete control of how much sleep you get every single night, so get enough of it.  If you have an exam the next day, it is not worth staying up late even if you have an assignment due for another course or something like that.

How much should I expect to study a day?  A week?

It varies from person to person and course to course, but generally speaking, you can expect to be studying between 1 and 3 hours for every hour spent in class.  For example, since you spend 3 hours in CHEM 121 a week (not counting lab), you might spend 3 – 9 hours a week studying for that course.  When I say studying, I mean reviewing your notes, doing pre-readings from your textbook, and any assignments/practice problems, without counting any breaks.  This translates to studying a few hours (somewhere roughly between 2 and 7) a day, again not counting any breaks.

Note that this is a rough estimate and it will also vary from week to week.  When you have midterms in October/November; or finals in December, you can expect your studying to increase significantly.

According to a poll on my blog which 26 people answered, students study 2.5 hours hours a day on average.  31% of voters study an average of less than 1 hour a day.

How should I study/review?

It depends on the course, but generally speaking:

1. Do pre-reading before class
-do not spend time on sections that are unrelated to the learning objectives or the course material
-skim over sections that you know already or you think is less relevant
-do not try to completely understand the material (classes exist for a reason), just get a gist of the ideas
-if you find pre-readings to be useless for a particular course, then don’t waste your time doing them! (most of the time for first year courses, pre-readings are useful though)

2. Go to class
-skipping is RARELY a good idea and you’ll probably regret it come exam time (same with being perpetually late to class)
-jot down notes (ask yourself: is it better for the particular course if you took notes on blank paper, or on printed out lecture slides?)
-if you get bored/tired, consider chewing gum or coffee.  Alternatively, you can try raising your hand and asking/answering questions during class.  Or you know, actually sleep regularly every night instead of wasting time on Facebook until 2 am.  You are the one to decide this.

3. Review the lecture
-should be done within 24 hours, otherwise you’re going to forget a lot of the material
-I find re-copying your notes to be a waste of time, but if that helps (some people swear by it) then go ahead
-read over the notes, and try to summarize them in a short paragraph
-if there are example problems, redo them without looking at the solutions
-if there are formulae, study them and understand what each variable means and how to use the formula
-look up things you don’t understand in the textbook or online — if you still don’t understand, highlight them so you can ask the prof/TA later

4. Ask for help
-if you don’t understand some concept and the textbook is useless, ask the TA/prof the same week. Seriously, ask for help if you need it.

5. Practice problems
-these are extremely important. If you haven’t done practice problems and you think you know the material well just by reading over your notes, you’re probably wrong
-if you’re in BIOL 112, you can make up your own problems based on the learning objectives (e.g. for the learning objective “Describe the structure of a gene”, you can ask yourself what would happen to gene expression if the promoter was mutated?  If the coding region was mutated?  If the terminator region was mutated?  Would the answer change for prokaryotes vs. eukaryotes? etc.)
-do not look at solutions while you are doing practice problems
-you should do practice problems every week for every course
-if you need more practice problems for CHEM 121, consult a general chemistry textbook from the library or ask your prof for recommendations or find past exams.  You can also redo the CHIRP problems, but this time you can time yourself for speed
-if you need more practice problems for MATH 102, you should probably email me
-if you need more practice problems for BIOL 112, you should make your own (see above) and then get in a group with some classmates and discuss each others’ problems that you made up (& the learning objectives — test each other!).  Alternatively, use Peerwise.  Even though you think most of the questions are bad, I’m sure if you go through 1,000 of them you’ll find maybe 100-200 good ones.  Also, the textbook may or may not have useful problems (I don’t remember anymore)
-keep track of the time when you do problems.  Remember, the point of practicing problems is so you can do it on the exam, and on the exam you won’t have all the time in the world to tackle each problem.  Use a timer if you wish.

6. Practice exams before the midterm/final
-an example schedule: do practice final #1 seven days before the final.  The next day, review what you did wrong from your notes.  The day after that, do practice final #2.  Repeat until the day of your final.  Hopefully your practice final marks will increase.
-lock yourself in a quiet room without any distractions, just like in a real exam, and do the practice exam on paper
-use a timer.  If you want to be super strict on yourself, give yourself less time than is actually allotted
-DO NOT look at the solutions until the time is up and you’ve tried to go over the problems you skipped
-remember, if an exam is old, some questions might not be relevant

Please see First-year Courses in UBC Sciences! for more details.

How do I ask profs questions?

Sometimes, when you ask a prof a question, they won’t answer it directly.  This is because they want you to work for the answer, and they want you to think critically about the material before expecting help.  Also, sometimes students are just very vague.

An example of how not to ask for help:

“I am really confused about this question”

A better way to ask for help:

“I got up to this step of the problem using , and I am not sure how to proceed.  I think perhaps the next step to do is because .  Am I on the right track?”



Involvement, Jobs, Extracurricular Activities

Being involved on campus is a great way to develop skills, meet other people, diversify your experience at university, and have fun. University isn’t just about studying, after all.

See Get Involved for a fairly comprehensive list of things you can do to get involved. I recommend joining a club or two that interests you. From that list, I myself have been involved with my Faculty, Athletics, Clubs, Orientations, Peer Programs, Research, Service Learning, Work/Volunteer.

EDIT: Unfortunately, the above link is no longer a list and you’ll have to explore several pages to learn about all the different involvement opportunities.

See my  Involvement & Extracurriculars post for a description of stuff I’ve been involved in on campus.

The UBC Birdcoop is a fitness facility available to students for $25/term. It is subsidized by your student fees; and unfortunately it is often crowded. UBC Rec is also a place you can go to exercise — they have free drop-in basketball/badminton/volleyball and they have classes (martial arts, yoga, etc). They also have competitive leagues (different levels) for those sports and others, including soccer and ultimate. The UBC Aquatic Centre also has a fitness centre and pools obviously, and they are both free for student use. If you look at the list of AMS clubs, you’ll see that some of them are dedicated to exercise related activities, such as the Quidditch club (lol), Weightlifting/Powerlifting Club, Fencing club, Tennis club, etc.

There are several ways to get a job on UBC. For starters, I recommend looking at CareersOnline and Student Services – Build my career.

Do I have time for involvement or a social life if I’m taking 30 credits?

My suggestion for people who want to get involved but are afraid of being too busy with school is to start off small — for example, sign up for a volunteer position that’s only an hour or two of your time a week on average, or sign up for just one club that interests you.  With clubs, it’s not like you need to attend all the events; you can just attend when you happen to have more free time that week.  After your first term/year you’ll be able to better judge how much time commitment you can take on on top of school work and adjust accordingly.



Getting Help with Academics

Free tutoring is available courtesy of AMS Tutoring and the Math Learning Centre:

AMS Tutoring, for help with a variety of subjects:
Math Learning Centre, for help with math courses:
Writing Centre (Chapman Learning Commons) for help with writing essays and the like:

There is a Chemistry Resource Centre somewhere. Your Chem prof will most likely mention it during the first class or so.

There is a Biology Learning Centre on the second floor of Wesbrook that is open from 9 to 5 weekdays for help with courses such as BIOL 112, 121, 200, and possibly others. Your instructor should mention it at the beginning of the course.

Other than tutoring, there are other ways to improve your grades! One of these ways is by getting help through Academic Coaching. Students coming in to university often do not adapt their study strategies for university courses, because they don’t know how or they don’t know to do so. Academic coaches meet one-on-one with students to assess their study skills/strategies, and give them appropriate tips so that they can study more efficiently and more effectively, leading to less stress and possibly better grades. We are often asked for tips in improving time management and general study skills.

Science Peer Academic Coaches (SPAC): Currently, SPAC offers free one-on-one academic coaching both via appointment and via drop-in basis in the Chapman Learning Commons in IKB. SPAC also offers free workshops that focus on exam prep strategies for final exams (see the website above).

What is academic coaching, you ask?  There are many ways to define the role of an academic coach, but basically, an academic coach will use their experience and knowledge to provide insight and guidance to help the student achieve their unique academic related goals.  For example, the academic coach and student may brainstorm together to develop a study plan for the student to use for a particular course.  Or, they might work together to create a study schedule for finals.  Or the coach may provide potential resources for degree planning & choosing a specialization.

Academic coaches are generally senior students who are able to provide advice about the courses the student has concerns about, since they’ve usually taken them already.  What the academic coach and student discuss is completely up to the student.  Sometimes a student may simply want to meet every other week or so to casually talk about coursework or university life with someone they can relate to.

Another resource is the Wellness Centre. Health and well-being are important for doing well in school, it’s not just about studying hard/smart. You can drop in the Wellness Centre to talk to a Wellness Peer about any concerns or questions you have concerning health and well-being.

1. How do I become better organized?

There are many ways you can become better organized, and there are many tools out there to help. Some methods and tools work for some people but not others. Experiment, and stick with the tools that are useful for you.

I personally use Dropbox to store, organize, and backup all my files for my courses, including notes, syllabi, assignments, etc. I also use Google Calendar to schedule meetings, events as well as reminders and deadlines. I use an app (works in your browser too) called Remember the Milk, which acts as a to do list. Sometimes, I do use the old fashioned pen and paper to write to do lists for the day/week, and I occasionally use a planner.

For my physical notes (ie. notes I’ve written by hand), I typically store them in a clipboard, and then later on I’ll either organize them in a binder, or place them in a large butterfly clip.

Another blogger has a post listing her favourite productivity phone apps.




The Science Co-op program is a great way to get real, paid work experience, ideally in a field that is related to Science or your specialization. Many students do their co-op term in an academic lab on campus (or at another university); at a pharmaceutical or biotech company; at a government lab facility, etc. Students are able to do their co-op term not only out of province, but in another country.

The Science co-op website has plenty of information. They also have info sessions: see their info session schedule, which they start updating in September.

If you are in Physics or Computer Science, the deadline to apply for the co-op program may be in first year (see Co-op Deadlines). Otherwise, you apply sometime in second year or third year which means you don’t need to worry about it for now.

If you happen to miss the deadline, e-mail the co-op coordinator for your field and they may still let you apply.

See my  Involvement & Extracurriculars post which includes a description of my co-op experiences.




Where can I study?

See this post. Or this link.

Where are the banks?

See this link.

Where can I get food?

The Student Union Building is by far the most popular choice. There is also the University Village (Google “University Village, UBC”) which has a McDonald’s, underground cafeteria, bubble tea, sushi etc; and Wesbrook Village (Google “Wesbrook Village”), which has Chef Hung’s Taiwanese Noodles, Menchi’s, Togo Sushi and Save on Foods.

There are cafeteria/coffee shops in certain buildings, including the Life Sciences Centre, Fred Kaiser, CIRS, MacMillan, and so on…

Where and how can I get my UBC card?

The UBC card is a very important tool that you should carry with you at all times while you’re on campus or while traveling using the U-pass.  To be eligible for the UBC card, you must be enrolled in at least one course.  You use your UBC card as identification during exams; for your meal plan if you have one; to get your U-pass at the Bookstore; to buy textbooks at the Bookstore; to get access to the Aquatic Centre or Birdcoop gym, etc.

You can apply for a UBC card online.  You need only apply and retrieve your UBC card once; after that, you probably won’t need to renew it ever.  Once you apply online, you can pick it up starting mid-July, prior to the September that you officially start courses.  This pretty much means you can go pick it up anytime in August or later.  You could even pick up your UBC card when classes start in September; however, it will be busy at the Bookstore.

Exam invigilators usually accept the UBC card as a form of identification; however they usually accept other forms of identification such as a BC driver’s license.

Where and how can I get my U-pass?

The U-pass program is a subsidized program that gives students unlimited access to bus, Seabus, and Skytrain services in Metro Vancouver; and discounts on the West Coast Express.  Fees for the U-pass will show up in your tuition fees online at approximately $35/month.

You must be taking classes in order to be eligible for the U-pass.  For more information about eligibility and exemption from the program, see here.

You can pick up your U-pass on the 16th of every month using your UBC card and the “high-speed vending machines” at one of the following locations:

1) Carding Office in the UBC Bookstore
2) Student Union Building
3) UBC Robson Square

For example, if you want to pick up your U-pass for September, you can pick it up anytime between August 16th and September 15th inclusive.  You have to pick up the U-pass every month if you want to use it for transit.

You MUST carry your UBC card with you along with the U-pass or else the U-pass is invalid.  You MUST write your name on the back of the U-pass or else it is invalid.

For more information, see here and here.

How can I get a UBC alumni e-mail?

By following the instructions on this site:

A UBC alumni e-mail address is useful because there are a few (emphasis on a few) professors that only accept e-mails from a UBC alumni e-mail address.  Furthermore, it’s cool and you can use the e-mail on resumes, granted you test it out to make sure you can receive e-mails properly.  You also need the e-mail to join official UBC Facebook groups.

To sign in to the e-mail website at, you must have set up an e-mail that uses a UBC hosted mailbox and not forwarding.  Furthermore, your CWL password must contain a number or special character.  If it doesn’t, you must change it on the SSC first.

I recommend using a UBC hosted mailbox. Once you graduate, you aren’t able to switch between forwarding and a hosted mailbox, and to me, a hosted mailbox provides more functionality, like being able to send mail from your alumni account. Furthermore, you can actually forward all your incoming mail to your personal e-mail account, even if you use a hosted mailbox. You can do this simply by setting an Inbox Rule that applies to all messages. Select the option “forward to…” (you may need to click on ‘more options’ to see this) and then enter your personal e-mail address. This should allow all mail to be forwarded to your personal e-mail, while allowing you to keep your UBC hosted mailbox.

You can also send mail from your personal e-mail account, but have it say that it’s sending from your alumni e-mail. To do this in Gmail, you go to your mail settings to ‘add another email address you own”. Enter your alumni e-mail address, and make sure the box about using an alias is checked. On the next page, enter ‘’, then enter your Gmail account and your Gmail password. Use port 587 and TLS.

What mobile phone service provider should I use?

The entire first week of school, there will be kiosks set up in the Student Union Building (SUB) from all the major cell phone service providers: Telus, Wind, Bell, Fido, etc.  They will also have sweet deals for students at that time.

In terms of the specific providers, I recommend Fido, Virgin Mobile or Koodo if you want good reception and aren’t looking to change phones very often. Fido probably has the best service (they are owned by Rogers and use the Rogers network too). I have been with Virgin Mobile before, and their reception is generally quite good, plus their customer service is better than most carriers. The only places I didn’t have reception were near Buchanan on campus, and at Wesbrook Village (it seems like only Rogers/Fido has consistent reception in Wesbrook Village). I am not that familiar with Koodo, but I suspect their reception isn’t too bad since they use the Telus network.

I am currently with Wind, because of their cheap plans ($30 a month for unlimited data/text/talk). The downside is that the reception is quite spotty in many areas of the Lower Mainland, although it is pretty good on campus (however, I don’t have good reception in Wesbrook Village nor near Allard Hall/Iona Drive). The data is also somewhat slow. Mobilicity is also really cheap, but I do not recommend it as I have heard that their reception is unbearable.

Basically, my opinion is go with Fido/Virgin Mobile/Koodo. When choosing your plan, keep in mind there will be wifi on campus in most buildings (although it is sometimes spotty). If you want to cheap out (like I did), go with Wind — the downsides as I mentioned are the spotty reception, and less variety in phone choice. I don’t see any point of going with Rogers over Fido unless they have a special promotion or you want to update to the newest phone on the market often.

How much sleep should I expect to get?

It depends, but according to one of my blog polls, anywhere between 5 and 8 hours a night is normal.  Sleep is good, get as much as possible, and regularly, especially before any exam.

My i-Clicker number rubbed off.

One way to retrieve your iClicker code is to go to the Chapman Learning Commons (Irving) help desk.  Also, you should put some transparent tape over the number if you don’t want it to rub off in the first place.  For other iClicker related questions, see here.






  1. Is it a bad idea to put phy 101 lab and chem 140 lab on the same day (thurs)? or is it a better idea to do chem 140 lab thurs and phy 101 lab fri?

    Thank you! :)

    • What is CHEM 140 lab? Do you mean CHEM 121 lab or do you mean BIOL 140 lab?

      Having two labs on the same day isn’t really bad or anything, but keep in mind you’ll have to do pre-lab work for both so if you want your work to be more spread out, you would put your labs on separate days. But it’s really up to you! I’m sure you could choose either one and it’d be fine.

  2. The most amount of credits you can take is 36 in a winter session for Science (Its 30 I think in arts lol.) Do you think its a bad idea to take 38 in 2nd year (w/ credit extension)? (A number of them are pretty easy like 6 credits in second language courses that I’m fluent in, and like phil220 and psych102)

    • I don’t think it’s a bad idea, especially if like you said you already know some of the material

  3. I was in CSP my first year and I consider it to be the single best decision I ever made while at UBC. I saw the same students every day and made friends easily. They were also diligent in their studies which motivated me to work hard too.

    I agree that Bio 140 is not worth the work unless you need it as a prerequisite for a program. I would also add to schedule labs in the afternoon and lectures during the morning. This is so if you happen to miss a morning class for some reason (traffic, alarm clock didn’t go off etc…), it’s not as critical if you miss a lecture than if you miss a lab.

    I took Engl 112 first then 110 since I thought I could use what I learned from 112 and apply it to 110. I enjoyed 112, but felt it didn’t prep me for 110. Maybe each section is taught differently…

  4. This is seriously genius! AMAZING! Mind if I link it onto my blog?

    • Sure thing, I’m already linking your blog on my blogroll thingy!

      • I totally JUST saw that, made me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside! haha, thank you! :)

  5. […] An incredibly useful post on the whole transition aspect from high school-first year, probably the best thing I’ve ever seen: Transition: High school to first year […]

  6. an amazingly thorough post.. this must have taken you a long time to make

    just a note that the UBC Robson Campus bookstore is now closed and no longer distributes upasses

    “If you don’t know what 9gag is, do NOT search it up because it will destroy your soul and your grades.”

    please add reddit

    • Thanks koreanman, I believe they distribute out of the UBC Robson Square and not the bookstore itself anymore. But yeah wow I didn’t know their bookstore closed. Thanks for the correction!

  7. What do 2nd years do on the first day of school (Sept.3)? Are there classes?

    • No, all undergrad classes are replaced by Imagine Day, except for people who are in special programs. You can choose not to be on campus on Imagine Day, but your department will likely have some event planned like an orientation to the department and stuff like that. You should receive an e-mail from your department or you can look up UBC Orientations and it may say there.

      There is also the main event/carnival that will be going on where you will be able to look at booths for clubs and other events/organizations

  8. I cannot thank you enough for this post! It helped me incredibly. Even though I’m going to study primarily in the Faculty of Arts, I’m going for a minor in biology. If I hadn’t read your post, I would have completely missed registering properly for BIOL 140. You’re amazing :)

  9. Hello,
    I was wondering if you know which bus takes you the quickest to UBC? (I’m commuting from Richmond as well) I have a class at 8am (T/Th) for Term 1 and the rest are at 9am for Term 1 and 2. I end class early in both terms ~12:30 so I suppose I won’t have to worry much about the rush hour. Thanks! :)

    • Hello,

      Which bus is fastest from Richmond to UBC after getting off the Skytrain depends on who you ask. Some people say the 49 is fastest, others prefer the 41/43 at Oakridge. One of these two options is probably the best in my opinion. Some people do choose to take the 480 at Bridgeport so they can sleep on the bus — since the Bridgeport station is where the 480 route begins, you’re guaranteed a seat if you wait long enough. I hear the 84 is fast as well but I’ve never taken it myself. The 99 is slower but more reliable — comes more frequently. Although you’ll hopefully rarely commute to UBC on the weekends, keep in mind that if/when you do, some busses don’t run very often or at all.

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