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Decoding First-Year Course Components (Lecture vs. Lab vs. Tutorial)

Updated: Mar 27, 2022

Hi! My name is Elisha Chan and I am a fourth year CMMB major and a BSA Academic Coordinator. I thought I would write a piece for incoming first years about what university courses are like and the different components you might run into. If you have registered for classes, you likely have noticed that some courses have a lecture, lab, and/or tutorial component. I will go into what each one is and what sort of preparation may be required or helpful.


The lecture will be the course component that is most similar to your high school classes. No, attendance is not taken, but I highly recommend going to every lecture in order to succeed in your courses! Many professors upload slides to D2L (the online portal where you will access all the materials for your course) that you can print or upload to a tablet or iPad before class. I would recommend having the notes before class in some form so you can annotate the slides as the professor lectures. On your first day, the professor will likely discuss the course syllabus which will include all of the due dates for assignments, quizzes, and midterms. This may be overwhelming, but I find it helpful to write all these important dates in your calendar at the beginning of the semester. That way, you can plan your time and won’t miss anything.


If you have registered for a lab, it will likely be a ~3 hour block of time. The lab setting will vary based on the specific course, but many take place in the EEEL building. A lab coat will be required for all labs. Other potential items you may need are lab goggles (usually for CHEM labs), a chemistry lab report notebook (blue), or a lab manual. All of these can be bought at the campus bookstore. Many lab sessions begin with a lab quiz: the content of these quizzes are based on the lab that you will be performing that day so it is a good idea to read the lab ahead of time! Some labs even require a “pre-lab” which is a small written statement about the lab you will be performing that you hand in before you start. After the quiz, the TA will give instructions on how to proceed. You will usually have a partner that you work with in order to complete the lab (sometimes you can choose your lab partner so that might be an incentive for you and your friends to register for the same section). The actual lab report is usually due a week after the lab or sometimes at the end of the lab session (but they will warn you about this if that is the case). I would recommend picking a lab time later on in the week (i.e Wednesday-Friday). A lot of students who have labs earlier in the week tend to be busy the rest of the week and do not work on the lab report that much, so it becomes a large weekend assignment.


A tutorial may be built into your timetable for certain courses, specifically introductory CHEM and MATH. Math tutorials are fairly relaxed, where a TA will be present to help you with that week’s assignment if required. There is also sometimes a very short online quiz that is due and the tutorial is a time where you can do this. Chemistry tutorials usually have a more rigid schedule. They sometimes require a worksheet to be completed before the tutorial session (and yes, they will check this). During the session, there will likely be some group activities and at the end, some sort of assessment (either individual or group based). I always found these sessions quite busy so it is good to be as prepared as you can be. Again, the group work means that if you have people you want to work with, it is recommended that you sign up for the same section if you can!


It’s always a good idea to check your course syllabus or contact your professor for more information about a specific course. I hope this helps differentiate some of the course components you’ll come across as you’re planning your schedule!


Photo by Nam Hoang on Unsplash


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