How to Succeed in 15-151 aka “Concepts”

from the perspective of someone who cried when they got their first Concepts exam back and immediately called their parents because “CMU is too hard for me and I need to transfer to an easier program.”
Also from the perspective of someone who was TA and then Head TA for this class.
(yes, they are the same person)

I’m writing this as advice I wish I had as a freshman, and my experiences are by no means universal, but I feel they will still be useful nevertheless.

If you would like to see a looongg detailed version of this guide with examples, stories, comics, and a lot more sarcasm check it out here: https://parmita52.com/2020/10/03/how-to-succeed-in-151/

Otherwise, here’s the tldr:

1. Develop Grit

Have a daily routine or something else consistent in your life that will help you practice the discipline needed to do well and adjust to college.

2 Make the best use of every part of the course

There are a lot of moving parts to this course, let’s make sure you’re making the most of each one:

  1. Lecture

2.1 Lecture

  • Stay engaged and focused
    Otherwise, it’s just not worth attending. imo, might as well watch Netflix if you’re not gonna pay attention tbh ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (and I have done this before…for other classes, not Concepts)

2.2 Clives Notes

  • Be disciplined and keep on schedule with the reading
    This is why you practiced #1. Grit will help you read what is quite possibly the densest technical reading you have ever faced.

2.3 Recitations

  • Ask lots of questions
    This is your opportunity to see someone around your age, who was just in your shoes, solve problems in front of you. Pick their brain!

2.4 Psets aka Problem Sets

  • They will be hard, and that’s okay. That’s the point.
    The goal of this class, (and I’d argue of your degree in general) is to help you answer the question “how do I tackle a problem I’ve never seen before?” So yes, the homework is not going to be just like the lecture and recitation problems, but you still will be able to struggle through and overcome.

2.5 OH aka Office Hours

  • Come prepared with specific questions
    Once again, the prep work above will help with this

2.6 Extra Resources

  • Excel Groups / Supplemental Instruction (SI)
    You mean I can sign up for an extra recitation with fewer students, more individualized time, extra practice problems, and snacks??? Nice.

2.7 Exams

  • Make a study plan a week before
    There’s a reason there’s no pset this week. Plan what tasks you want to do to study and when you’re going to do them (read notes, redo recitation practice, do exam practice problems, attend the review session, etc.)

3 Take Care of yourself

  • It’s just a class
    If you fail concepts, you can take 27–127 in the spring and still graduate on time. It’s not the end of the world.

I hope these tips arm you to have a great semester and push yourself to new limits!

And once again, the looong, detailed, comic-filled (slightly more funny) version of this guide is here: https://parmita52.com/2020/10/03/how-to-succeed-in-151/

Women @ Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science dedicated to supporting women and diversity in CS 👩🏻‍💻💜

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