Work Load: Most of the learning in any university course takes place outside of class and requires sustained independent effort throughout the semester. Unlike many high school courses, attending class attentively and doing the homework assignments is not enough to prepare for exams. The expected work load outside of class for these courses is at least 10 hours per week spent reading the textbook, solving homework problems, discussing questions with other students and/or the instructional staff, attending review sessions and studying for quizzes and exams.
The main tool for exam preparation is the archive of old quizzes and exams posted on the course web pages. Most courses offer weekly review sessions where problems from past exams are discussed. Independently working through problems from past exams (under exam conditions) and following up to clarify key points with the instructional staff or a study group is absolutely necessary to achieve the level of understanding and technical facility required by the exams and the demands of future courses for which this material is prerequisite.
Schedule & Organization: These classes meet in 50-minute sessions three times per week on a MWF schedule at 9AM, 10AM, 11AM or 12:30PM. Most are taught in small sections (15-30 students) that are closely coordinated by an experienced course head. Exams and homework are common to all sections. The bulk of the grade is based on a midterm exam (~30%) in the 6th week of the semester and a final exam (~40%) scheduled by the registrar during the official final examination period. Quizzes (~20%) usually include a placement quiz early in the semester, a dress-rehearsal for the midterm exam in the 3rd or 4th week of the semester and at least one additional quiz in the second half of the semester. Homework assignments (~10%) from the textbook function as a class-participation component of the course grade.
Teaching Style: In a typical class session, the instructor introduces a new concept briefly, giving motivation and developing intuition behind the formal definitions through a sequence of carefully chosen examples of increasing complexity. Skimming the textbook before class and asking questions in class is strongly encouraged and will help students get more out of this time with the instructor. For most classes attendance is not a requirement, but it is strongly recommended. Rare or sporadic attendance sends a strong signal to the instructor and may deprive students of a potentially very useful connection with their instructor should they encounter unexpected difficulties as the semester progresses.
Classes are supplemented with a textbook where the formal definitions along with simple illustrating examples are given. Routine exercises are assigned from the textbook each week to make sure students grasp the basic definitions and computational techniques. Collaboration is welcome on these assignments and homework averages tend to be about 90% or higher.
Grading: It is important to understand that the grading scale for these classes is quite different from those typically used in high school. Our classes aim for an average on the midterm and final exams of about 65% to allow us to make meaningful distinctions among the letter grades assigned at the end of the course. The average grade in these courses is a B. Historically, the top 25-30% scores make up the A and A- range and indicate thorough mastery of the concepts and techniques covered in the course. The middle 45-50% of the class typically receives some form of B. Most of the remaining students typically receive some form of C grade indicating basic competence in the course material with conceptual or technical gaps that are cause for serious concern in future courses where this material is used.