A summary of my courses in Track One Engineering at the University of Toronto.

Hi everyone,

I am going to briefly outline the 5 courses I took in my first semester in the University of Toronto's Track One Engineering program. I hope that my review of these courses will help you to approach the course in the right direction, and use my mistakes to your advantage!



1. MAT 196 - Calculus A

This was by the far the hardest course of the semester. Although the material itself is not that difficult, and for some even a review of material taught previously in high school, the work load is heavy and there is not time (or so it seems) to get all the homework done. This vast majority of this course is focused on differential calculus, starting off with the basics that you already know, and moving into more complicated material as the course progresses.

The best advice I can offer you is that you should make time to do ALL of the homework. Even with the excellent textbook and solution manual set we had, the questions on the tests and final exam were much more difficult than anything seen in the homework problems (or anywhere in the textbook for that matter). By doing all of the homework problems, you will accomplish two things: first, you will not struggle with carrying out the test problems when you figure out how to approach them, due to the large volume of problems you have done at home, and second, you will understand how to solve almost any type of that particular problem. Essentially, there is a limited number of variations of, let's say, a particular method of taking a derivative, and if you have seen all of them, it should be no problem on a test.

Again, do not take this course lightly. If I were you, I would allocate thirty percent of my time to studying for this course, and spread your remaining time between the other four.


2. MAT 188 - Linear Algebra

This course is relatively straightforward for the first two months. It involves the use of matrices to represent systems of equations, and the various methods of solving these matrices or obtaining a certain piece of data from them. The midterms and exams were very similar to the ones given in previous years, and thus were an invaluable studying tool. 

The last month in the course becomes very abstract; my best advice at this point is to do the suggested problems if you cannot understand the concept. This way, you may be able to solve a question on the final exam, even if you do not fully understand why you are solving it the way you are. Stay on top of your homework and this course will not be too hard; it can be used to raise your GPA if you dedicate more time to it.


3. APS105 - Computer Fundamentals

Although this course has the APS course code, it is taught by professors from the ECE (Electrical and Computer Engineering) department and is a first year programming course, using the C programming language. It is mandatory for all first year students, and again, will be relatively straightforward IF you have some previous knowledge of programming. I was fortunate enough to take two years of computer science in high school, and I did not open the textbook once in this entire course (although I did not do as well as I should have).

However, if you have not done any programming before, ensure that you go to all of the classes, ask questions, and most importantly, attend the assigned lab times and ask the TA's questions. Most people who have not programmed before find this course difficult, and for a good reason - learning to program is like learning a new language. It is not a math course, where brute force repetition will garner high marks. Rather, you must understand why everything you are typing has to be done.

Although I do not agree with the way tests are written in this course, they are difficult even for those who are strong in programming. The labs are relatively easy, however, the tests will challenge you on the intricate details of the C language; the best way to study for these is to read the book and ensure you understand everything in detail.

If you are strong at programming, get the labs done early and brush up on details in the book before tests. If you are weak at programming, do as I said before - go to all the lectures, read the book and code, code, code! You will learn a lot by typing as opposed to reading, so ensure you do enough actual programming before the tests. 


4. APS111 - Engineering Strategies & Practice I

This is the engineering communications course that first year engineering students must take. It involves weekly lectures (of which I attended very few), and a tutorial in which you are grouped into a team of five members or so and assigned a semester-long project.

If you can stay on top of your schedule and attend all the lectures (and actually pay attention in them), you will do well on the tests/exam. However, I attended basically none of them, and still ended up with marks higher than some who attended every lecture. I cannot explain why; the multiple-choice type questions on the tests seem like common sense and I did not struggle with them.

The group project will consume a significant amount of your time (although a lot less time than team projects in future years), so ensure that you have the foundation of a strong team laid down before you begin to do your work. I will write an article in the coming weeks on teams and teamwork related directly to engineering projects, and how to succeed in this type of situation, which occurs quite frequently in your four years at school.

The group project will revolve around some sort of engineering design specification that you and your team will devise as a solution to the problem given. As long as you and your teammates contribute to the project equally, and meet your deadlines, you will have no problem getting a decent mark. Ensure that someone outside of your group proofreads the papers before you submit them. You will have a few milestone papers to submit, and then a final paper with a presentation. This project will make up the bulk of your mark in the course, but is easy to do well on provided you stay realistic in your design and back all your decisions up very rigorously. 


5. CIV100 - Mechanics (Statics)

This course is an introduction to physics (of the static variety). You may have seen some of the introductory concepts in high school physics, such as moments. This is a civil, or structural, engineering course, and is relatively straightforward if you were half decent at physics in high school. 

The course consists of several problem sets, which you submit for marks, and a midterm and final exam. If you are going to attend the classes of any course, this should be the one - the material is relatively interesting and it is essential for you to understand the concept in order to succeed. The professors are willing to answer any questions you may have, and will often relate the problems in class to real-life structures they worked on (or have seen). When you understand the concept, solving the problem is easy. When you do not understand the concept, even if you have done the same question five times, it may still not be easy. Thus, try to understand why the question was solved in a certain way, and stay on top of the course by dedicating time to doing the problems sets. The exam questions are often similar to the ones found on the problem sets, often with a small twist or trick added. This is where going to the lectures pays off; you will immediately recognize the trick and solving the problems will be easy.


This concludes my review of the courses I took in first semester within the Track One Engineering Program at the University of Toronto. Stay tuned in the coming weeks, I will be writing about my second semester of first year, as well as how to succeed on engineering exams, and how to create the perfect team dynamic for an engineering project!

Until then,

Michael Capicotto