Everybody Loves a Bird Course

Some people may claim that if you work hard enough, you could pull through anything. I used to be one of those people, and unfortunately, last year, I learned my lesson the hard way. The truth, which a lot of people just can’t seem to grasp, is that choosing a slightly easier course doesn’t necessarily mean you are taking the easy way out. Rather, it all boils down to what you want out of the experience: if you think that all the effort you put into merely surviving the thing isn’t going to be worth what you end up gaining from it, why put yourself through the torture that others may ironically view as a valuable learning experience? Don’t get me wrong: by making this post, I’m in no way promoting the idea that taking shortcuts would lead to success, because it doesn’t. Rather, the reality, which many of you have probably come to regretfully experience while cramming for your exams, is that people do what works, and that, my friends, often involves knowing your limits.

From time to time we all need a bird course or two, no matter what our reasons are for choosing to do so. (Didn’t your mama tell you not to judge?) Because of this, the one thing that students are always desperate to get their hands on is the Holy List of Bird Courses offered at UofT. Sadly, if you’ve ever tried looking for it, you might’ve already realized that such a thing doesn’t really exist.

Boohoo. So now what? (Don’t jump off a bridge)

Besides learning that I am actually physically capable of pulling three all-nighters in a row, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned at UofT so far is the importance of the art of asking the right questions. This means that in your quest to find bird courses, it’s not about knowing what they are, but rather, how you would go about identifying them. There are seven kinds of intelligence, 3 types of learning styles, and 16 types of MBTI personalities. Chances are, what someone else might label as being fun and easy, you might just find hellish (adding to that a crappy grade on your transcript—cherry on top of a fantastic semester). Therefore, to cut to the chase, I’ve summarized below some helpful tactics to find the course that’s fly (pun intended):

  1. Seriously man, take the stuff you are interested in!! There is a high correlation between what you like to do and what you are good at. Although a causal relationship has yet to be established, keep in mind that having an interest in the subject means you’ll work harder for the course, which would likely to bring about a good grade (CHA-CHING). In the meantime, your passion for the material might just get the prof to take notice of you and your brilliance, and who knows, door’s wide open from there...
  2. Find a mentor: possibly an upper year student who’s relatively similar to you, who have taken the course of interest before. Ask about his or her experience in the course: what was good about it, what was bad, etc. Rather than having people telling you their judgments, you get to receive the evaluation from a credible source and can make your own judgments, which are usually more reliable. Also, you can ask for: 1. Past notes and tests (to be used as reference only; be extra careful of plagiarism), 2. Advice on how to do well in the course, 3. Cheap used textbook packages, 4. Little things the inexperienced you would never have known had you not talked to this person.
  3. Find the course syllabus for the course of interest. Course syllabi say a lot about the course itself. They are fairly honest depictions of your potential experience in the course—at least much more so than what those wishy-washy descriptions in the Calendar. To demonstrate how misleading it was: after reading their course descriptions, I was actually excited to take GENETICS (!??!). Then our exam came…I became scarred for life.
  4. Know your strengths and weaknesses. This often involves gaining a clear understanding of your preferred learning style.
  5. Anti-calendar: Here’s my take on its usefulness—use it as much enthusiasm as you had when you were filling out course evaluation scantrons for your own courses. Overall, I find it’s fairly accurate in terms of describing the course experience itself, but for effectiveness of professors, go to this link.
  6. For humanity courses: Before you jump to conclusions about the professor (“Hot pepper from Ratemyprofessors.com!? Hell yeah I’m taking this course!”), find out if he or she will actually be the one marking your papers. Sometimes TA’s do the marking instead, which could be a good or bad thing.
  7. For science courses: Find out how “cumulative” each term test and exam is. PSL302Y (Human Physiology), despite being an extremely heavy course, has an exam in May that only covers material from January onwards. On the other hand, IMM334Y (Immunology), being heavy on memorization as is, makes its May exam cover material from the entire school year, from September all the way to May. For those who enjoy challenges, you are welcome.
  8. Past exams: Go to http://eres.library.utoronto.ca/ and look up any past exams that are available for the course. Don’t be too freaked out by the strangeness of the questions—obviously, if you knew all the answers, what would be the point of taking the course? Instead, try to get a feel for the format of the exam. It shouldn't be a heavy source of influence on your decision, although it does provide you with a reality check as to what you will ultimately be facing at the end of the semester.

You may have noticed that I sound overly chirpy in this post. If you feel that I’m cooler this way, give me a shout-out. If you feel like this is too much for you, blame it on the caffeine, the stress and the general crappiness that is student life around exam time. That being said, BEST OF LUCK ON YOUR EXAMS everyone!! And eat something other than cereal if you get a chance.


13 comments on “Everybody Loves a Bird Course

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  1. Aww, I’m sure it’s not 🙂 Have confidence! I still make dreadful grammar mistakes sometimes. It’s not my first language either: I came to Canada when I was in grade 7.

  2. Hey could you tell me if you know any easy Humanities courses for the summer. I am not too good with my english (got a 76) in high school. But i need this course to boost my GPA
    any help will be fine to me Thank you

  3. Hey Flynn,

    I’m not sure if you can still enroll in courses for the summer… sometimes you hear that summer courses are “easier” than it would be during the Fall/Winter term but it’s not necessarily true (case in point: the summer I took HMB265 our course average was like 20% lower than it had been during the previous term and they had to bell curve us like crazy to bring the average up to par).

    For “easy” humanity courses…if you’re not good with essay writing, then take one with more midterms and where exams essentially weigh more. If you are better at doing research, writing assignments, then take one where there is no final exam. It also depends on what you like, and what you know more about. For example, I took Fine Art History (FAH101) in first year, and that course wasn’t even that bad but it killed me, because I had never written a history paper before and I knew nothing about art. Look up the profs too, and see if they’re opinionated (student comments) and therefore unlikely to agree with your point of view. find out if your essays will be marked by your instructor, or a TA, and if you’ll ever get to meet the TA or if this is just an elusive entity that you can’t possibly locate on campus let alone to debate your arguments and mark.

    Hope that helped!

  4. Hi Lucy, your post was a great read.
    I’m currently a gr.12 high school student, and my eyes sort of popped out of my head when I read, “I was actually excited to take GENETICS (!??!). Then our exam came…I became scarred for life.”
    If it’s possible to explain to someone who’s never taken a course focused solely on genetics – what was so hard about it? Grade 12 biology has made me love genetics, and I was considering perhaps majoring in molecular genetics. I’m sure it gets far more complex – but how so exactly?

  5. Hi Josh,

    Yes, it’s truly been a while since I’ve given the area of genetics any extensive thought 🙂

    Please don’t let my old post throw you off the track of a potentially beautiful career as a geneticist! I love genetics myself and I think everything I learned in my course was fascinating, and I do believe that it is the future of molecular biology (if not already a dominating force in the field).

    I don’t really remember how bad my final was for my genetics course, so that proves to you that I wasn’t really scarred “for life” 🙂 But my point was, be smart about your decisions when picking a course, and learn to evaluate how doable a course is based on its method of evaluation. If you are the type to handle a 50% cumulative final with ease (some of my friends in undergrad excelled at acing 100-question multiple choice exams, but I was more of an essay person), then maybe a course with that kind of grading structure would benefit you, as opposed to making life harder. It’s all about flexibility, and knowing your strengths and capitalizing on them! Hope that makes sense! Good luck with your undergrad career.