This post is part of an ongoing series recapping my experience in Oregon State University’s eCampus (online) post-baccalaureate Computer Science degree program. You can learn more about the program here.
Six-word summary: Not as bad as I feared
Here’s the deal: OSU’s eCampus CS degree only requires one math class. A lot of people dread it, though, because it’s their first math class in years (or decades).
However, I am happy to report that CS225 is completely doable by someone who isn’t a natural at math. You would be hard-pressed to find someone with less of a math background than me, and yet, I managed a 94% in CS225!
Behold, my math “credentials”:
- I had to take algebra twice (in 8th grade, then again in 9th)
- I only earned a B in sophomore year geometry despite really trying
- My last high school math class was Algebra II (another B)… not pre-calc, not calc, not physics, nothing past Algebra II
- My only college math class (and I do mean only) was Math 118, and it was the sort of math class you take when you are pursuing a fine arts degree
- I got a single digit score on my ALEKS assessment at the start of OSU’s CS program
Not my strongest subject, by far. But I think there’s plenty of room in programming even for those of us who suck at math, so if this is you, worry not – CS225 won’t derail your dreams.
This was a good class. The homework problems made sense, the pacing was good, and the test questions were (mostly) recycled from the book, homework, and practice quizzes. The instructor seems to run the whole thing on autopilot but I didn’t need to contact her for anything.
There’s only a handful of homework questions due each week, but potentially dozens more you can do from the book and “last quarter’s homework” if you want. (I did all the extra work, and I think it really paid off at test time.)
- 10 weeks
- 2 homework assignments per week
- 1 quiz per week (7 total, no quizzes before/after midterm and none in the final week)
- 1 midterm around week 6
- 1 final in week 10
The tricky part about this class is the grade weighting. 90% of the grade is from quizzes and tests. The midterm is worth 30%, the final is worth 30%, and your 6 best-score quizzes are worth 30% (collectively). The homework is a mere 10% of your final grade. Since both the midterm and the final are proctored, you do have to know your stuff inside and out before you sit down to take the exam.
Fortunately, nearly all of the test questions were outright copies of, if not very similar to, questions you would have seen in the homework and practice quizzes.
If there’s anything this class isn’t so good at, it’s the video lectures. (Seems none of these OSU courses so far have decent videos.) On the bright side, YouTube is bursting with math enthusiasts who have made short, memorable videos on every topic this class will cover.
My little CS225 algebra prep guide
Many people ask online what they should study in preparation for CS225. I think the ALEKS modules are complete overkill. I found myself Googling these seemingly basic concepts that I completely forgotten in the 15 years since my last math class:
- factorials – what does 5! mean?
- adding fractions – a/b + c/d = ?
- multiplying fractions – a/b * c/d = ?
- dividing fractions – (a/b)/(c/d) = ?
- factoring these things – (2a + 1)(a + 2)
And that’s it. The rest you can pick up in the class itself.
More CS225 tips
Here are my general tips for succeeding in CS225.
Do the extra assignments, too
Every week has the homework that’s required, and then a larger set of extra questions that are just for your own edification. I did those extra problems and found them worthwhile come test time. I also did all the practice quizzes.
Get a Chegg subscription
I never heard of chegg.com before I took this class (I found it through Googling my questions). $15/month gets you unlimited access to the book’s answer key. Not because you’re going to copy the answers and blow off the homework, no – you need to know what you’re working towards on every question you tackle. How else will you know if you got it right? :D
Warning: not every single answer is in Chegg. I think I found maybe 4 of my assigned problems that were just blank in Chegg. But.. chances are if you Google the problem, someone on the math Stack Exchange or their own blog has posted a solution. Or you can solve a different but similar one that does have an answer, and then take a pretty good guess at the one you’ve been assigned.
Yes, this is the most expensive book of the entire program, but you can buy it used on Amazon (which is how I got mine, and the book was in great shape).
A physical copy is great. It’s easier to jump around in than a .pdf, you can sticky note various topics, and you can take it with you and study in more places! I also rented a .pdf version of the book, but it didn’t display well on my tablet or my phone.
Study hard for the tests – and attempt every question
The two proctored exams are 60% of your grade (30% is your 6 quizzes, 10% is the weekly homework). Some of the questions are taken word for word from the book or homework.
Here’s a hint: simply attempting an exam question is worth a lot of points. Every exam question is worth 10 points and they’re ‘free form’ (you type in a box, not multiple choice). Even if you can’t (or don’t have time to) solve it, explaining what you would do to solve it can get you 7/10 or more points on the problem. Therefore, the winning-est strategy is to pace yourself such that you have enough time to at least lay out the basics of your answer to every question.
I ran out of time on the midterm and had to slap together half-baked responses to the last three questions. However, since I was able to type out what I would do if I had more time, and still ended up with a 93% on the test. Phew!
I took the class by itself
I’m on the 4-year track and while CS225 is popular to pair with CS161, I’m glad I took it by itself. As I said earlier, I am not the greatest at math – so taking the class by itself helped me have plenty of time to dedicate to extra problems, studying for exams, and re-watching the same videos until I felt like I understood the topics.
And.. that’s it! My next class starts in autumn, so I’ll report back on my OSU studies in December.