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Thoughts on my 1A courses at uWaterloo

My 1A class schedule at UW (Biotechnology/Chartered Professional Accountancy) Above: My first term class schedule in Biotechnology/Chartered Professional Accountancy at the University of Waterloo. CHEM 120 TUT and CHEM 120L took place every other week.

I took these classes in Fall 2017. While I don’t think the content/structure of these courses will have changed much, the textbooks and required materials may be different from what I’ve written here.

everything might seem ok until you're a month into the term and you realize there's so much shit going on
so don't think it's easy and slack off in september
– Crystal Chen, second-year Biotech/Econ

In this post I’m going to talk about the five courses (plus one lab) I took in 1A:

I’m also going to leave some comments about the layout of my class schedule and course load at the end.

AFM 101

I made flashcards for this course! Check them out in the Flashcards index.

To be straight up, this course BLEW. It was the hardest course of the term. Going to lectures didn’t help because my prof, although a nice guy, wasn’t the greatest lecturer. Not only was I confused throughout the class, but I also wanted to sleep really bad.

Aside from a spreadsheets course, this was my first-ever experience with accounting, so everything was brand new to me, and I had to spend time going over basic definitions that I’m sure the people who learned accounting in high school already knew (I’d only heard of dividends before in Monopoly…). So if you have the opportunity to take accounting early, definitely do it, because it’ll make first term so much easier.

This was the mark breakdown provided in our syllabus:

Assignments (8 × 1.25% each) 10%
Excel projects 5%
Accounting Cycle Tutorial (ACT) 5%
Online quiz 10%
Midterm 30%
Final exam 40%

The midterm and final make up the bulk of your mark. Also, somehow the Excel projects got fucked up so we didn’t have to do them in my term. I think the 5% was re-allocated to the assignments.


Done completely online with MyAccountingLab (see “Textbooks and Materials” section below). Easiest part of the course to get 100 on. You get two attempts per section, no time limit (except the weekly due date), and the online assignment viewer has a hints option that pretty much gives you the answers. It’s best to try all the questions on your own, though, because that’s the best way to practice for the midterm, quiz, and final (very similar questions). When you’re doing them, make a note of which concepts you struggle with so you can remember to work on those before the exams.

Accounting Cycle Tutorial

A long and tedious culmination of all the assignments, but there are unlimited attempts and no time restraints so if you’re willing to spend hours, you will get 100 :-) Also a good resource for studying for the final.

Online Quiz, Midterm, and Final

Both the midterm and final ended up taking me way longer than I expected—probably an indication of how unprepared I was—so I was scrambling to finish in both exams. They were mainly written answers, with I think 20 multiple choice questions. There were sample tests posted on LEARN, but they ended up being a lot easier than the real thing. I think the average for the tests were 60-70% ish.

The online quiz happened between the midterm and final, and was similar to the other exams. It was done on a computer using the same environment as the assignments, and we were allowed to use the textbook and our friends for help. However, there is a 2-hour time-limit, so you have to stay focused!! I got a high mark on the online quiz with my mad Ctrl+F skills, and did poorly on both the midterm and final, so don’t take your mark on the online quiz as a fair assessment of your performance.

Overall Feelings: 2/5 ★

After finishing this course, I was pretty discouraged and didn’t think I was cut out for accounting. However, the course itself shouldn’t have been so brutally difficult: it wasn’t too fast-paced, there were weekly tutorials (that I never attended), and plenty of practice opportunities. I didn’t put in the effort I should have, and the content was boring, which only exacerbated the first problem. Although I was disappointed, I had to remind myself that I honestly hadn’t worked hard enough to deserve a better mark. It was tough for me to own up to that, but I did learn from my failure, and managed to make a big comeback the following term in AFM 102!

Textbooks and Materials:

The textbook was probably the only thing that got me through this course with a passing grade, plus you need the MyAccountingLab access code to get 10% of your mark. So I would suck it up and shell out the money for both of these.

BIOL 130

Participation (iClicker) 5%
Online quizzes (11 × 0.91% each) 10%
Midterm 1 15%
Midterm 2 25%
Final exam 45%


The clicker questions were pretty jokes because they were only based on participation, not on whether you inputted the correct response (my friend who took it the following term told me they’ve changed this so now you actually have to pay attention in class to get the marks… don’t trust me on this one). It’s a good way to force you to show up to lectures, though. A few of the clicker questions showed up on the midterms and final, so they’re pretty representative of exam content.

Online quizzes

LEARN quizzes with like 10 questions each. Kind of hard for only being worth 0.91%. No time limit, except the deadline (you usually get at least a week), and totally open-book, but some questions are still tricky, the type you can’t readily find an answer to in the textbook.

Midterms and Final

The BIOL 130 tests are notorious for having a lot of questions like this, which makes guessing hard:

a. something
b. something else
c. something different
d. a and b
e. none of the above

I believe the average for each exam was around 70%. I personally found them pretty challenging, but I was happy with my mark… more or less. I was finishing up a chem lab when I heard this rustle of excitement around me as classmates found out about their test scores for Midterm 1. I pulled out my phone to check too, and literally as soon as I saw my score, I heard a girl beside me exclaim, “I got 100%!” Most demoralizing moment of my day LOL.

Don’t think any practice tests were released, but I guess they wouldn’t be that useful anyway since your performance ultimately comes down to how much lecture material you can memorize. Questions were very similar to the clickers and quiz questions, with some that are word-for-word identical, so I would review them before going into the exam. Cramming is NOT recommended for this course.

After each of the midterms there’s this thing called a “Metacog Quiz” where you can guess what you got (in a range: 80-85%, 85-90%, etc.). If you end up guessing correctly, you get a 1% bonus. It’s open for only an hour after the midterm and totally optional, but hey, it’s a free chance for marks.

Overall Feelings: 4/5 ★

I thought this course was fun (then again, I’m a bio major). It covers a bit of everything, from macromolecules to cell division to cancer, and some of it will be review from grade 12 bio. Lowkey though I started to get burnout towards the last couple of weeks, so I’m glad it ended when it did. They throw a lot of content at you and it can feel overwhelming at times, but do your best to keep up and I believe you’ll get a mark that reflects the effort you put into it!

Textbooks and Materials:

I found the textbook pretty non-essential. You can get all the information you need for the quizzes and exams by looking through lecture slides and Google. The textbook might help clarify some concepts, but it also covers a lot of unnecessary content you don’t need to know so that might slow you down.

CHEM 120

I made flashcards for this course! Check them out in the Flashcards index.

The marks breakdown for this course is pretty straightforward:

Participation 5%
Maple-TA Assignments 10%
Midterm 1 12%
Midterm 2 18%
Final 55%

There’s a billion ways your final mark gets calculated, though, so this table isn’t set in stone. For example, if you skip all the participation activities (which are usually iClicker questions or LEARN quizzes), that 5% gets added to the weighting for your final. Or if you do better on the final than the average of your midterms, your mark gets bumped up by 1%. Stuff like that. When your final exam is scored, the instructors calculate your grade using all of their different methods and give you the highest one. Anyway, check your syllabus for the grading details.

I feel kind of bad saying this, but if you took chemistry all through high school you don’t have to go to class. You don’t even need the lecture podcasts, really, if your prof does record them. Study off the course notes and make sure you understand all the Maple-TA questions.

Online Maple-TA Assignments

Mostly numerical and matching questions, done on this website. These take a loooong time if you try to work through all of them, but you get multiple attempts (4, I think) and it’s not hard to achieve the minimum you need, since anything over a 75% rounds up to 100%. Collaborating with friends is allowed :-)

The assignments are good practice for the tests and help solidify your understanding of the more important concepts, but questions on the midterms and final are definitely not as hard as what you’re given on Maple-TA. All three exams were multiple choice and very similar to the samples they posted.

Midterms and Final

The midterms are kind of stressful because they occur during your regular class time, which is 50 minutes. There are only around 16 to 18 questions (with some worth 0.5 points, some worth 1 point), so they are definitely doable in 50 minutes, but there’s even more pressure because each question is worth so much. However, the midterms are very similar to the samples that will be posted on LEARN, so do those a couple of times until you reach a point where you immediately know the steps to solve the problem when presented to you. I’d say it’s all about speed on the midterms! The average was in the high-60’s/low-70’s.

I felt much better about the final exam. Content and difficulty-wise it was the same as the midterms, but this time I wasn’t in a panic to finish. Whereas there was no time for me to double-check everything on the midterms, I was able to go through all of my answers at a leisurely pace during the final. In fact, sometime in the middle of the exam I raised my hand, got up and took a relaxing stroll through PAC (where we were writing), filled my water bottle, and went to the washroom, before I sat back down to write. Helped clear my head before I started checking everything again :-)

This course is cram-able if you go ham the couple days before the final.


There are weekly (or bi-weekly? Don’t remember) tutorials, which are optional to attend. They’re basically summary sessions run by a couple of TA’s who go over what was covered in the lectures that week. Before each midterm, they have special review sessions where they’ll take you through every question on the sample tests. Like the lectures, it doesn’t matter if you go to the section you enrolled in on Quest; you can show up to any/all/none of them if you want. To be honest, I was chronically behind for most of the semester, so I never went to these tutorials since I knew they’d be covering content I hadn’t touched yet. Don’t think I missed much.

In addition to that, less structured drop-in tutorials are hosted in the student residences (mostly REV and V1 in my year). You can go there with a specific question or concept that you want someone to explain to you, but I didn’t find the tutors helpful or engaging. I only went once, with a particular problem in mind, but neither of the tutors I interacted with explained it clearly and I ended up figuring it out on my own.

Overall Feelings: 4.5/5 ★

Reinforces what you learned in high school, clarifies things you maybe didn’t understand, and teaches you a few new things. There aren’t too many assignments and they’re not overwhelming (especially since you are allowed to work with friends or ask for help). Pretty easy to do well, even if you cram.

Textbooks and Materials:

I found the textbook a valuable resource for extra practice problems, but then I went through CHEM 123 without bothering to do any of the textbook questions and got a higher mark. I have no idea how much it actually helped. You don’t need it for class though, that’s for sure.

The Course Notes pack is the only thing you should really buy—profs will refer to it during lectures, and questions you’ll find there resemble the ones on the exam. You can probably get away with sharing one copy among your friends, but it’s convenient to have your own.

You can earn your participation marks either through iClicker or LEARN quizzes. If you choose LEARN quizzes (the easier option imo), you don’t need your iClicker for this course.


Skill development exercise 1%
Laboratory work practical mark 5%
Online pre-lab quizzes (5 × 2% each) 10%
Lab reports (5 × 8.8% each) 44%
Final exam 40%

Skill development exercise

A worksheet you do on the first day about basic lab techniques (fire safety, sig figs, etc). It’s a free 1%.

Laboratory work practical mark

The laboratory work practical mark is determined by your TA based on their observation of your lab performance and behaviour. This is kind of arbitrary and depends on your TA—some are gonna be more lenient than others, and there’s no way they’re gonna remember their justifications for your marks at the end of the term, so it’s whatever. Just don’t commit any of the obvious fuck-ups like take off your goggles in the middle of an experiment.

Online pre-lab quizzes

Online pre-lab quizzes are done in the Maple-TA environment and are due 24 hours before your lab session. Each one is five multiple choice questions based on that week’s lab, and the point is to force you to pre-read the lab instructions for the experiment. Each one is only worth 2%, but some questions are actually kind of hard :-(

Lab reports

The five experiments we did in my term:

  1. Synthesis of Copper Compounds
  2. Emission Spectra and the Electronic Structure of Atoms
  3. Spectrophotometric Analysis: Copper ions in solution
  4. Conversion from cis to trans geometric isomers of 1,2-ethylenedicarboxylic acid
  5. Titration Analysis: Assessing the effectiveness of Antacids

Dw if any of this sounds ridiculously esoteric or you have no clue what something means. (I still feel my eyes glaze over just looking at that 4th one, no lie.) If you read the lab manual before coming to class, you should be able to perform the experiment pretty well even if you don’t understand the concepts being demonstrated lol.

One of the five reports you do will be a formal lab report, you know, complete with a cover page, references, everything. But the other four will be mainly informal with only one section required to be formal (for example, the Conclusion).

Double-check and triple-check your reports. I’ve had marks deducted for stapling pages in the wrong order, or for using pencil, which are things that could’ve totally been prevented. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t do as well as you expect, it is SUPER DUPER hard to get a good grade on your first lab report, even if you follow the instructions in the appendix word-for-word. There are hidden requirements inexplicably left out of the instructions, that are nevertheless part of the marking criteria. As you go through the semester, and pay attention to the feedback your TA leaves, you’ll slowly improve. Don’t be afraid to ask your TA or Sue about something that you don’t understand or that you think was marked incorrectly—TAs are students too and they make mistakes!


Chem lab exams; study every single detail. This is the one case where pure memorization can help you
– Shannon Chakma, second-year Biotech/CPA

All multiple choice but omg, so hard. They’ll ask you things you NEVER needed to know for any of the labs, or questions that you just didn’t think you would have to study for. You could burn the lab manual into your brain front-to-back and still get screwed by this exam. I don’t know if it’s worth spending more than a day studying for it.

Overall Feelings: 3.5/5 ★

Some of the labs were fun but others were a lot of, measure 10 mL of this solution and add it to this other solution, weigh and re-weigh stuff a billion times, wait until some thing melts, etc. The reports felt like a grind because they’re only worth 9% each but you spend forever on some of them. Overall though, I still learned a lot from writing those reports, and they helped prepare me for the CHEM 120 final. Not the lab final though. >:-(

Textbooks and Materials:

uwaterloo lab goggles only full wrap-around goggles like these ones are accepted for first-year chem labs

The lab manual and goggles are mandatory. If you’re a science student, you’ll receive a pair of goggles in your orientation pack. Lab coat isn’t required, but it looks cool and makes you feel like a Real Scientist, so why not!!

MATH 109

I was super salty that I had to take this course, since I was hoping to leave mathematics behind forever in high school, but luckily it wasn’t super hard or time-consuming. For everyone who took high school calculus, this will be the simplest first-year course ever. But you need to be doing practice problems consistently if you want to retain everything for the final.

Assignments 10%
Midterm 1 15%
Midterm 2 15%
Final Exam 60%


Don’t overlook the assignments—I usually started mine the night before, which became a mistake towards the end of the course because some questions took a long long time and I don’t know about you, but I hate the feeling of having to stay up desperately struggling with an assignment due the next day. Recommend: checking your answers against your friends’ before you hand it in! Assignment problems are a lot more difficult than what they cover in class and what’ll be on the exams, so I wouldn’t worry too much if you do fine with in-class problems but struggle with the assignments.

Midterms and Final

All exams were pretty easy, grade 12 calc review except with a few economics concepts thrown in—price elasticity, marginal cost/product/revenue, etc.—but if you’re taking the standard first-term AFM workload that includes ECON 101/102 concurrently with this course, it’ll be pretty straightforward. For me, since I wouldn’t be taking either of those until next semester, trying to brute-memorize those formulas without understanding the larger economics context behind them was kind of a pain.

Overall Feelings: 4/5 ★

By putting in the (very reasonable amount of) work, you will do well, but if you don’t like math it’s going to be very tedious. By the way, the TAs didn’t do a great job of grading my assignments or my exams, so I would look over everything that got handed back and talk to the prof if I felt something was graded wrong. Brought up a lot of my marks this way!

Textbooks and Materials:

The textbook, while not necessary (prof said this on the first day) is a perfect resource for when you don’t make it into class and want to quickly catch up. It explained everything succinctly and was a huge help when I was working on assignments or reviewing for a midterm and wanted to quickly refresh my memory on a topic. The profs said that the exam content would be a bit more challenging than the practice questions in the textbook, but I found them the same difficulty. If you can complete and understand all the assigned textbook problems, you’ll be in more than great shape for the exams.


I took notes for the first couple of classes before realizing that was a total waste of time. There are no exams for this course, so don’t worry about memorizing anything. The purpose of this course is to help you practice your presentation skills and teamwork ability more than anything, so everything except “Assignment 1” is a group project.

Team Contract 4%
Assignment 1 20%
Video Case Team Presentation 15%
Case Study Team Presentation 15%
Improv Team Assignment 6%
Final Project Presentation 15%
Final Project Report 15%
Participation 10%

Assignment 1 was absolutely the hardest to get a good mark on, so don’t let it discourage you. For every assignment after that, it’s fairly easy to get good grades.

The participation mark takes some effort, you have to contribute at least two “insightful” comments every class to get full marks here. It’s not as hard as it sounds though since there’s literally like 20 people in the class. You just gotta be shameless about putting your hand up. Every time the prof asks a question. Say something even if it sounds dumb, no one’s here to judge, we all here for that 100.

Overall Feelings: 3/5 ★

Pretty boring but I appreciate all the opportunities we got to hone our presentation skills. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but they ended up being really helpful experiences for case competitions later on.

Textbooks and Materials:

You need the full textbook package (not just the PDF) to watch the video for your Video Case Team Presentation assignment, but I think it’s possible to find it online somewhere. You’ll also have to answer some textbook questions for Assignment 1. Although it’s not strictly necessary for any of the other assignments, the textbook is still useful as a starting point for research.

Final comments on class schedule

So I posted my class schedule at the top of this page, and as you can see, it’s pretty spread out as far as things go. Nothing crammed super close together, no days off, etc.

Let me say first off that I pretty much stopped attending tutorials after first week. My three TUT sections (CHEM, MATH, AFM) were all at the end of the day, and especially in the case of CHEM and MATH took place a fair while after my other classes ended.

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