What a year it has been! From finishing high school in the midst of COVID-19 to starting college at UC Berkeley, 2020 was filled with surprises and mixed emotions.
To organize this article series, I’ll break it up into different questions — all meant to help me digest the whirlwind that was 2020. The first question I have prepared is one of my top favorites: what are you proudest of this year?
What are you proudest of this year?
So, let me tell you a story. Before I started college, I had absolutely no experience with computer programming. Zero. As the school year began, and I was thinking of classes to take at Berkeley, I decided to add CS61A to my course list. For those of you who don’t know, it’s actually one of the most difficult introductory classes for computer programming at Berkeley. In fact, most people who take it are familiar with programming.
Okay, so why did I take it? I wanted to pursue a career in product design. Looking back, I obviously was biting off more than I could chew. I didn’t care to audit the website (which I should’ve), but I did take an MIT programming course from edX over the summer (sadly, I didn’t finish it).
I thought that would’ve fairly prepared me, but boy was I wrong. Reality sank in after my first midterm — I had failed, and miserably at that. I realized that I had to change the way I approached studying.
I said goodbye to taking lecture notes and finally understood the saying, “Work smarter, not harder.” Since lectures were webcast and I had all the slides at my fingertips, there was no use in taking notes on pen and paper. Instead, I spent more time working on practice problems. I dedicated my breaks to complete the optional homework problems, and signed myself up for Computer Science Mentors, a CS mentorship program. During discussions, I no longer watched the sections passively, but instead, I made an effort to complete the discussion worksheets ahead of time. That way, I could ask questions during class. Whenever I had the free time, I’d practice some coding problems from the CSM worksheets or the CS61A website.
Fast forward to my final, and I had realized that taking practice exams was my best bet. Every day, I committed myself to complete and correct one practice exam. Of course, you might say this was overkill. I think that because I had been so lax in my studying during the first two months, this was my time to catch up. Never had I ever been so grateful for a whole week dedicated to studying. (Side note: I learned the importance of taking breaks every once in a while. Don’t burn yourself out!)
After taking a painstakingly brutal final, the results were out: I performed slightly below average. Admittedly, I wasn’t as committed to making sure I understood every difficult problem on the homework and discussion worksheets. However, I am proud to say that after re-attempting the exam problems, I have a good understanding of the structure and interpretation of computer programs. Props to the CS61A staff and instructors for such an interesting and robust course!