Assessments. The word might fill you with dread, but they’re an inescapable part of uni. We’re here to run you through what to expect, and tips to prepare, in order to help you feel confident and succeed in your studies!
UNSW's Grading System
Almost every course will be graded on the following scale. Be warned that these grades aren't indicative of a "good" mark, since you’ll find that in certain courses getting a high mark is much harder than in others.
85+: High Distinction
After you have done a term or more of uni, you'll also receive your WAM - your Weighted Average Mark. This is calculated as the average mark across all the courses you’ve taken. As you do more and more courses, your WAM becomes harder to shift, so do your best during first year in order to make your life easier later on!
* Note that some degrees (such as the Bachelor of Engineering) also calculate a ‘faculty WAM’ which uses a different formula, but this is not important until closer to your graduation.
A small handful of courses (such as PHYS1121) won’t be marked on this scale, and instead are SY/FL. This means they are a pass-fail course: at the end of term, as long as you pass you won’t receive a grade for the course, meaning it won’t impact your WAM. Of course, you can still fail, so this isn’t a freebie course for you!
Your Assessment Breakdown
Now that you’re familiar with the grading system, let's break down three of the most common types of assessment you’re likely to receive as a first year CSE student, as well as some tips on preparing for them!
COMP Course - Assignment
The assignment is the backbone of first year COMP courses. Think of this as the long-form version of your labs. You’ll be given a project specification (spec), potentially some starter code, and a deadline. Then it’s your job to implement the features outlined in the spec. The spec will often be broken down into different stages, often getting harder as you progress to later stages to challenge more advanced students.
Acing your assignments:
- Start early! Even if you know what you’re doing, coding always takes longer than you expect (e.g unexpected bugs) so don’t leave your assignment to the last minute. Sometimes you won’t be taught all the content you need for later stages until partway through the working time – don’t take this as an excuse to procrastinate, since you should still get started on the parts you can do ASAP.
- Read the spec carefully. There may be edge cases or very specific details covered in the spec that are easy to miss, costing you valuable marks unless you’re aware of them.
- Break it down. Your spec instructions can sometimes be confusing or very detailed, so it’s key to identify exactly what you need to do. Try writing comments to plan what bits of code you need before you dive headfirst into coding.
- Don’t forget style! If you’re in COMP1511, don’t forget to run the style command before you submit. And always set aside some time at the end to go through your code and clean up anything hard to read or unnecessary.
Maths Courses - Lab Tests
While in science courses lab tests might involve actual experiments, maths lab tests are similar to the maths exams you’re probably used to in high school, with two key differences. Firstly, they’re held online, on a service like Mobius or Numbas. Secondly, you’ll be provided with a question bank, with randomised numbers or other slight variations appearing in the actual exam, which means you have plenty of chances to prepare.
Topping your lab tests:
- Since all the questions are available to you, it means there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s in the exam. I personally liked to grind practice exams until I could consistently get full marks before attempting the real thing, but even a couple of runthroughs will improve your confidence hugely for the actual test.
- As of 21T3, these lab tests were open book, so make use of your resources! Software like Maple and Wolfram Alpha can be used to do tricky calculations, which can free up brainspace for problem solving.
All Courses - Online Exam
With Covid, lockdowns, and an ever-expanding CSE cohort, more and more final exams are shifting away from in-person, especially first year courses. However, don’t be intimidated by online exams! As long as you’ve prepared well, all your normal exam-taking strategies still apply, so believe in yourself and go forth.
Excelling in your exams
- The work you are provided in your course is usually a very good indication of what’s going to be in the final exam - things like tutorial questions for maths, and labs for comp courses. In fact, this stuff is probably even more important than your lectures, so do as much as you can throughout the term! Pay special attention to challenge questions and past exams, since these are the things that will bump you up to the next grade. If you’ve run out of practice questions, look for similar ones online - nothing taught at UNSW is a secret sauce, so don’t be afraid to look outside the uni’s resources.
- That being said, you'll always regret leaving cramming to the last minute, so don't forget to stay up to date with your lectures and other classes throughout the term too!
- Attend a revision workshop. CSESoc runs revision sessions or competitions for most first year comp courses, and other societies and some courses hold equivalents for other courses. It's the perfect place to fill in knowledge gaps and ask those last minute questions before your exam.
- If the online exam servers go down, don’t panic! Everyone else in the course is going through the same thing as you, and course staff are there to make sure everyone gets fairly assessed. And definitely don't spam the course forum or your lecturer with panicked messages.
Finally, even if the learning curve in uni seems unnecessarily hard, don't stress too much about getting a good mark! While it might be harder to get a HD than in high school, in the long run companies care more about your skills and your passions than a raw mark.
If you’re looking for specific places to study on campus, check out our YT video on study spaces here!
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