I Took CPSC 110 and I Failed It

I Took CPSC 110 and I Failed It

When I first attended The University of British Columbia (UBC), I thought that I would be pursuing a Computer Science degree in a breeze. Well, I was naive. Too naive.

CPSC 110 made things complicated for me real quick, real fast.

This post contains a lot of personal opinion on CPSC 110 and it might not be reflective of your (future) experience of the course.

In this post, I will be sharing my experience with CPSC 110 in my attempt to major in Computer Science through the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. If you are intending to major in CompSci through the Bachelor of Science (BSc), the Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), or the Bachelor of Computer Science (BCS) degree, the requirements will differ.

Regardless, whichever program you are in, all students intending to major in Computer Science will have to take CPSC 110, so you might be able to pick out a few things from my experience in having failed the course.

If you are not too familiar with the process of majoring in CompSci in UBC, here’s a post that might be useful:

At the time I took CPSC 110, the 2 main requirements to major in Computer Science through the BA degree were that:

  1. I had to get a minimum average of 70% across CPSC 110, CPSC 121, and CPSC 210.
  2. I had to have a decent average across all courses I have taken at UBC to make the cut-off into the major. This cut-off average may change every year depending on the number of applicants and the number of seats available in the CompSci major.

I took CPSC 110 on my very first term at UBC when I was still learning how to navigate around the university bureaucracy, the standards held by the university, on top of being new to the city… Long story short, I failed CPSC 110 and it made me put an end to my attempt in pursuing a Computer Science degree.

It Is a Big Deal to Fail CPSC 110

Some people say, “Oh, it’s not a big deal to fail a course.”

To some extent, I agree with that, but at the end of the day, it really depends on the course. If you fail one elective in your university career, then yes, it is not that big of a deal. If you fail one core course in your major after you are already accepted into the major, it still might not be that much of a deal.

If you fail an upper-level core course and you want to apply into a graduate school in a similar discipline, it may or may not be a big deal, but your university career is likely still salvageable.

But if you want to get into a UBC CompSci major and you fail CPSC 110, I personally think it is a big deal.

I got a 45% in CPSC 110.

This was the grade I got because only because of the fail-final-fail-course policy, where 45% was the maximum grade I could get because I failed the final.

Had the course not adopt such a policy, I definitely would have passed. I’m not here to argue the validity of such a policy (I can understand why it’s implemented), but this single 45% in my very first term at UBC stonewalled me in a number of ways that led me to decide that I would no longer pursue Computer Science as my major.

For a start, as per Requirement #1 above, I would need an average of 70% across CPSC 110, CPSC 121, and CPSC 210. 

A 45% in CPSC 110 would mean I need a 95% in CPSC 121 to get an average of 70%. I passed CPSC 121 and I did okay, but I certainly did not get a 95%. Moreover, CPSC 110 is a prerequisite to CPSC 210, so I could not take CPSC 210 unless I had passed CPSC 110 first.

Couldn’t I Retake CPSC 110?

At UBC, retaking a course does not replace your grade. Both attempts will be listed in your transcript. 

After failing the course, I had a few contemplations in deciding whether I should take the course again so that I could try getting into the Computer Science major, but it wasn’t an easy decision as there was no clear-cut way to know how exactly applicants to the major are considered by the department. These were the 3 contemplations I had:

Contemplation #1

In terms of Requirement #1, where a minimum average of 70% across CPSC 110, CPSC 121, and CPSC 210 is required to apply into the major—will having failed CPSC 110 once even if I pass it after retaking it the second time disqualify me from majoring in it?

Considering the number of applicants to the major and the limited number of seats, unless I pull a, say, 90% in my second attempt, I seriously think I stood very little chance. Even if I were to get a 90%, my average for CPSC 110 would only be at 67.5%. I would then have to also ensure to get above 70% in CPSC 210 so that I can get an average of at least 70% across CPSC 110, CPSC 121, and CPSC 210.

Contemplation #2

In terms of Requirement #2, where a decent average across all courses taken at UBC is needed to make the cut-off into the major—what exactly was the average needed?

There was no public information made available on this. After some digging, I found out that at least around 80% across all courses was needed at the time for students in the Bachelor of Arts degree.

Contemplation #3

If an >80% average across a certain number of courses was needed, the 45% I got in my first term meant that I would need to score 85% in at least 7 other courses to bring my average up to 80%.

That is before considering:

  • CPSC 110 is a 4-credit course,
  • Other courses I have taken which I did not get at least an 85% in, and
  • The viability of actually getting 85% in at least 7 other courses any time soon.

All of these considerations regarding the time and money needed, just for a chance to be considered for the major led me to decide that I would no longer pursue the CompSci major at UBC.

Couldn’t I Transfer to Another University?

Once I failed CPSC 110 with a 45% printed clear-as-day on my transcript, it was no longer that simple to transfer to another university.

I did try. I forked out a couple hundred bucks to apply to another university, but whether because of general competitiveness or the dent in my transcript, I didn’t get in. One program that I managed to get into was a non-CompSci program that didn’t interest me that much, in which case, I might as well remain at UBC and choose another major.

Even if I were to transfer to another university, I would still have to consider their program requirements that I would need to try to fulfill all over again for a chance to be considered into their Computer Science major.

After months of contemplation and some extensive research, I realized, perhaps Computer Science isn’t for me.

Wasn’t I Giving Up Too Easily?

Perhaps. But that single 45% I got from CPSC 110 had pretty much stonewalled me from the few viable options that I had. If I insisted on doing a Computer Science degree no matter what, then yes, I could try hammering it away at UBC and try again and again, and possibly risk my academic standing.

I could try sacrificing more time and money, and take a few semesters longer to graduate. I could start anew by moving to another province, transfer to another university, and go through whatever program they have to get into their Computer Science major. There are certainly ways to get a CompSci degree had I really persisted, but I decided they weren’t realistically that viable for me.

In any case, my decision to steer away from Computer Science eventually drove me to a major at UBC that I love, and I eventually graduated with a High Distinction.

The Advice Would I Give to Prospective CPSC 110 Students

(who have no programming experience)

CPSC 110 is often branded as a course that those without any programming experience could manage.

Do not believe it.

I may be entirely biased, but whatever the case…

As a student, it is TO YOUR BENEFIT to treat CPSC 110 with skepticism so that you tread on it carefully.

Don’t be me. Don’t be like many other students who also had their UBC Computer Science dream stonewalled just because they failed this one single course. You do not have to fail if you prepare excessively before taking the course.

I will compile a more general list of advice in this post linked below.

Over and Out

I do not intend for this post to scare people away from taking the course, but rather to give them a perspective they may not have considered.

I took this course with naivety, deluded by the brand of the course in that it’s a course that can be taken by those without programming experience. I believe it is safest if students do not think about it that way. In the context of CPSC 110, it is better to be overprepared than not.

Your Turn

  • If you have taken CPSC 110 at UBC, what was your experience like?
  • If you are planning to take CPSC 110, what questions do you have?

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and perhaps we could share some ideas and encouragement in how to best navigate through the course.

More on My Experience with CPSC 110

  1. I Took CPSC 110 and I Failed It
  2. My Experience With CPSC 110 at UBC
  3. As Someone Who Failed CPSC 110, Here’s My Advice

1 Comment

On March 18th, 2021, Anonymous wrote:

Great read. Wish I read this before I signed up. I think disregarding biased opinions, this is point on with how the course is. Most people I met in office hours and go study alot are students who have failed the exam previously, so it wasn’t rare for students to retake it.

If you absolutely need to take this course, then go ahead. But if there’s other alternatives to less time consuming courses, then I’d go for the alternatives.

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