Books about how to succeed in college and get good grades

I’ve read all of these books over and over again. I bought and gave my Cal Newport books to my younger brother.They made a HUGE difference to the way I study and the way I approach university. I’ve put my absolute most favourite books here!

How to Win at College: Surprising Secrets for Success from the Country’s Top Students

I just bought a copy of this for myself on Sunday.  I’m going to try to implement my favourite tips and record how they help or not help me here on this blog this upcoming semester. As a writer myself, I want to support writers by buying physical copies of their books. I do not want to post the specific advice that Cal gives in his book to respect the work he put in to write his book. So if you want to do this challenge to become outstanding students together with me, please pick up a copy of his book and work on trying “win at college”. (But I’m Canadian so I’m trying to win at university haha)
How to Become a Straight-A Student: The Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less

Don’t we all want Straight As? If you can’t tell already, Cal Newport is one of my favourite authors. This one contains detailed tips on how to write a great paper, take notes for math classes which is different from taking notes in humanities classes, how to manage time so you get good grades and still have time to go to the gym and hit up a toga party. #goals


Medical School 2.0: An Unconventional Guide to Learn Faster, Ace the USMLE, and Get Into Your Top Choice Residency

If I get into medical school, I follow the advice in this book. I have already used the Paul Farmer study method this year to study for MICB 202 and it helped. I also got introduced to the notion of Paul Farmer through this book. How have I not known who Paul Farmer is all these years? Crazy, considering how much I look up to Paul Farmer now.

How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)

This is a book that guided through the high school and helped me get into university. As an university student, I still find these tips helpful. If you’re a high school student trying to tune up your study habits and get into a competitive post-secondary education, read it!!

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CHEM 121 – Introductory Chemistry & Lab

How to get an A+

• Take notes in a notebook. I started the class taking notes on my CHIRP but realized that a notebook was easier to flip through.

• Buy the newest CHIRP (the custom textbook sold by the Undergraduate Chemistry society).

• Pro tip: buy an undergraduate chemistry society membership to get a discount on your lab goggles and lab coat.

• don’t do all the questions in the CHIRP. They’re not worth your time.

• Do the practice midterms.

• Don’t do the extremely old practice exams because the exam format has changed.

• If your learning style doesn’t click with your professor, sit in on another professor’s lectures whose teaching style suits you better.

• Do not stress too much about getting clicker questions wrong. Clicker questions are worth little in the grand scheme of things.

• If you’re having trouble understanding from CHIRP, use online resources.



• Do your pre lab at least the night before. The stress of doing the pre lab a hour before it is due is not fun

• Take pre lab quizzes seriously.

• Listen carefully to your TA’s suggestions on how to do your lab report.
• ERASABLE PENS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND. I wish someone told me to use them so I didn’t have to awkwardly cross things out. Chem labs are pen only so if you make mistakes, you’re not allowed to use whiteout. Game over friends.

• On that note, you must use black or blue pen. I love colourful pens but pink or orange or purple pens do not belong here.
I personnally used Pilot 0.5 mm but any erasable pens will do


Suggested professor: Dr Zachary Hudson

BIOL 112 – Biology of the Cell

Lots of

• Launchpad

• Go to class! I learned more in class than on my own for this course.

• Analogies

Tips for success

• You have to buy Launchpad to do the weekly pre reading assignments

• The weekly pre reading assignments are really short and easy. Do not stress about them

• Exams are first done individually and then done as a group.

• If you’re in Dr Smith’s class, clicker marks are participation based so don’t worry about getting them wrong.

• Important: Keep up with your pre readings.

• Even if you take notes on a computer, bring a pen because there are hand-in at the end of the lecture assignments.

• It’s hard to get a good seat. Come to class on time.

• There are unfortunately no old exams available to study from. Dr Smith does give you a mock exam though.

Suggested professor: Dr Karen Smith

PHYS 117 – Physics

Tips for success:

• You must bring an electronic device to class to answer in-class problems

• Perusall is due every Sunday night. You have to put online comments about the assigned

textbook reading and reply to classmates’ comments for marks. PRO TIP: if you have trouble coming up with questions, answer your classmates’ questions instead. Pro TIP: the diagrams are good places to ask questions.

• Mastering Physics are online problem sets that are due every week. Carve out time to work on these. Sometimes they can be challenging.

Continue reading “PHYS 117 – Physics”

Eng 112 – Strategies for University Writing

You’ll learn:

  • critical reading of academic texts
  • how to write to communicate effectively

Class structure

  • mandatory regular attendance
  • participation in class activities and discussions.
  • In-class essays
  • Take-home essay(s)
  • 3-hour final examination at the end of the course where you’ll be asked to write essays

Lots of

  • Implementing “They Say I Say” into your writing style. You’ll find out what They Say I Say means every soon.
  • Pointing out what established academics have done wrong in their writing

How to get a good grade:

  • Actually do the assigned reading before class
  • Bring the book or print out the reading to bring to class so you can refer to it during discussion.
  • You can bring a digital version.
  • IMPORTANT: Speak in class!! 1) you get participation marks. 2) you force yourself to organize and vocalize your thoughts. 3) your professor will learn that you’re alive.
  • Your professor will often not write or present any notes but you should take notes on what is being discussed.
  • Take notes on good points that your classmates bring up.
  • Start working on your final paper early
  • Choose a final paper topic that you’re personally interested. Do not choose a topic solely because you think your professor will like it. If you find your own topic boring, you will write a boring paper and your professor will cry while drinking coffee trying to read your paper.
  • Go get at least two physical books when you’re conducting background research.
  • The UBC Libraries are great resources.
  • Spend time working on a good thesis.
  • Talk to your professor at office hours if you have questions

Suggested professor: Dr Lorcan Fox (he’s hilarious!)


First year classes for UBC Life Science majors

First year schedule at top,

Click “Continue Reading” for asnwers to Frequently asked questions about First year course scheduling below

You should choose your first year classes based on what majors you’re interested in. You only have to take certain classes if you’re interested in a particular major, e.g. two semesters of physics if you’re interested in the Physiology (CAPS) major. That said, most first years in the Faculty of Science have roughly the same schedule to meet the Lower Level requirements set by the Faculty of science.  I knew I was interested in a life science major such as Pharmacology, Microbiology, Biology, Physiology etc so I choose my first year classes so that I fulfilled the course requirements to apply for these majors. If you’re interested in more about choosing a major particularly a life science major, I intend to write a post on Choosing a Major in the future.

Click on the name of the course to read tips to do well in that specific course

First Year First term:

First Year Second Term


Frequently asked questions:

Should I take BIOL 112 or BIOL 121 first?

BIOL 112 in my personal opinion. Absolutely BIOL 112 if you’re claiming AP Bio credit and want to take a second year biology class term 2. If you’re not claiming bio credit, it doesn’t matter but I personally think the content of biol 112 (cell biology, metabolism etc) is a good foundation to build on for further studies in biology.

Continue reading “First year classes for UBC Life Science majors”

UBC Second Year Courses for Pharmacology, physiology and how to study

First term

  • CHEM 233 – Organic Chemistry
  • CHEM 235 – Organic Chemistry Lab
  • BIOL 200 – Cell Biology
  • PCTH 201 – Drugs and Society
  • STAT 200 – Statistics
  • (Note: You should take CHEM 211 here if you’re a Honours Physiology or Pharmacology major. )

Second term

  • SOCI 102- Sociology
  • PHYS 118 – Electricity and Magnetism
  • BIOC 202 – Medical Biochemistry
  • CHEM 205 – Physical Chemistry
  • PSYC Introduction to Psychology

These classes were really useful for the MCAT

  • BIOC 202
  • BIOL 200
  • PHYS 118
  • SOCI 102
  • PSYC 101

CHEM 233 Organic Chemistry

  • I had Dr. Jackie Stewart as my professor and she’s great. Super enthusiastic about what she teaches and willing to help us if we don’t understand.
  • Don’t take 8 AM Ochem though. You will regret signing for 8 am class every morning until the end of the term. You’ve been warned.

CHEM 235 Organic Chemistry Lab

  • Very useful class.
  • Your TA and your benchmates are your saviours. Love them, be nice to them, help them. You all are part of a team.

PCTH 201 Drugs and Society

  • I highly recommend this elective. It inspired me to major in Pharmacology and Neuroscience!
  • Dr. Horne is awesome. Enough said. Take this class.
  • If you put in the effort, you will do well in this class.

STAT 200 Statistics

  • highly recommend this elective too. Very useful if you do research.
  • The midterm was really challenging so our professor changed the grading scheme so that more weight was on the final.
  • I went to office hours so often that my professor, Dr. Lang, started to anticipate that I would be back the next week haha. Use office hours!

BIOL 200 Cell Biology

  • The material was really cool but the exams are difficult to do well in.
  • The problem sets have no answers and this will anger you while you study. You don’t understand me now but you will later. Going to office hours for answers helps only mildly.
  • You will want to tear out your hair writing your press release because you don’t fully understand the article you’re supposed to be advertising.
  • To be honest, if you don’t need this class and are not taking it for interest, avoid this class. It’s a lot of work and the exams and assignments are frustrating.

Term 2:

BIOC 202 Medical Biochemistry

  • Dr. Williams will play biochemistry songs. He’s cool.
  • I found this class pretty interesting! You will too probably if you’re interested in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, etc because there are many examples related to medications and medical conditions.
  • the exams were tough even with tons and tons of studying
  • Study tip: Study with friends before exams! It helps to explain your answers and quiz each other on details and draw out pathways on whiteboards.

CHEM 205 Physical Chemistry

  • Our professor provided us with tons of practice exams and problem sets – such a blessing.
  • Class attendance is optional – just a FYI for all you self-learners out there.
  • I can’t say I found the material particularly interesting but the material is useful for the MCAT and understanding biochemistry.

PHYS 118 Electricity and Magnetism

  • Useful class, interesting class, easy midterms but the final was difficult because it covered everything from the beginning to the end of the semester.
  • There are clicker questions every class so be prepared.
  • Tutorial is optional but I highly recommend attending to get guidance from the TAs.

SOCI 102 Sociology

  • I was super excited to attend class!
  • Dr. Neil Armitage is the man you want for your professor.
  • The written assignments are difficult to do well on though
  • My TA was really helpful for tips and feedback if you’re struggling with writing.

PSYC 101 Psychology

  • After I took this class, I decided to change my major to Neuroscience and Pharmacology so you can guess how much I loved this class.
  • Easy to do well in if you attend class and study a reasonable amount. I’m not sure why this class is notorious for being alarmingly difficult. My guess is that it might be difficult if you take this first semester of first year when you’re not used to the workload of university yet.
  • Dr. Luke Clark is super cool and a good professor.

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