Assessments and Study Guide

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!

On this page:

✅ 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. There are many grade definitions that exist, however most of the grades that you will be seeing are as below. You can find all of the grade definitions here.

Grade Mark
Fail (FL) 0-49
Pass (PS) 50-64
Credit (CR) 65-74
Distinction (DN) 75-84
High Distinction (HD) 85-100

After you have completed 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!

Always aim to do your best!

📝 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 Courses – Assignments

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.

5 Steps to ACE your Assignments

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Finally, some of the later stages of an assignment - particularly in COMP1511 - may be very difficult and seemingly impossible. If you find this to be the case, don’t feel discouraged! They are often worth very little marks in comparison to the rest of the assignment, it is not an expectation to finish your whole assignment, so spend more time working and perfecting the earlier stages.

MATH 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, while they are in-person supervised exams, the exam itself is typically conducted online, on a platform such as Mobius or Numbas. This platform will. become very familiar with you, since often you will have weekly quizzes conducted through 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.

How to ACE your Lab Test

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 run-throughs will improve your confidence hugely for the actual test.

As of 22T3, these lab tests are largely closed-book, with the exception of software such as Maple, pre-installed on the computers on which you will sit the test. While such software isn’t particularly needed to sit the exam, I highly recommend getting yourself well versed with using Maple, as it can be a very powerful tool to aid in your mathematical calculations, saving you a lot of time in your assessments.

🧐 Excelling Your Exam Season

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 computing 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 having to cram at the last minute, so don't forget to stay up to date with your lectures and other classes throughout the term too! (It will literally become impossible for you to watch all your lectures before your exam - saying that from personal experience)

NOTE: most COMP exams will have a hurdle that you will need to pass, so relying on your pre-exam mark will not be enough. Always know your course outline and assessment layout.

You can also consider attending a revision workshop. CSESoc runs revision sessions or competitions for most first-year computing 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.

Online Exams

With COVID slowly recessing into the back of our minds, many courses at UNSW are slowly moving back towards in-person exams. That being said, there are still some courses which conduct purely online exams, so be sure to check all the details of your exam! Regardless, a lot of in-person exams today work differently to what you may be used to, including some being open-book/open-web (some CSE courses), or having a question bank provided to you in advance (similar to Math Lab Tests, although there are still unseen questions in the final exam).

Finally, don’t be intimidated by exams! As long as you’ve prepared well, all your normal exam-taking strategies still apply, so believe in yourself and go forth.

If you’re looking for specific study spaces, check here!

Special Consideration

Should anything out of your control go wrong leading up to your exam, don’t panic! UNSW has a system in place to handle such cases, known as special considerations. Applicable circumstances include: getting sick leading up to your exam, in such a manner that it hinders your ability to study, having to isolate due to COVID, hardship or trauma to you or your family etc. You can find an extensive list of cases on the UNSW page here.

In such cases, it is extremely important that you notify UNSW as soon as possible, and follow up with supporting documentation (such as a medical certificate) within 3 days of the assessment. Do note that if you miss your exam due to sleeping in, or you simply forgot the date of your exam, these are not grounds on which you can apply for special consideration, so be sure to check your exam timetable and get plenty of rest!

Choose your next destination below:

Or click here for a list of articles!