CMSC131 is the introductory computer science course here at the University of Maryland. It is designed to ease incoming freshmen into the world of computer science with a focus on object-oriented design. All programming is done with Java. Here are 10 tips to make any prospective UMD CS student successful in their first computer science course!
1. Be prepared to think outside of the box
Computer Science is not like mathematics where often times there is only one approach to solving a particular problem. No, in computer science, there can be many ways to solve the same problem. You will need to find out which way is the most efficient though.
2. Don’t underestimate the first few weeks
The first few weeks, or rather the first month, will go by incredibly slowly and seem super easy. And it is. But don’t think the entire semester will be like that! The pace quickly picks up in the second month as you start to go into deeper and more complex topics like recursion and inheritance.
3. Start projects early
While the first two projects are super easy (The first project has you literally changing whatever statement they have into “Hello World!”) and can be done at the last-minute, projects further down the line will take up all the time the professors give you. Start early so you have enough time to finish.
4. Realize the art of coding does not simply involve banging out lines on Eclipse
While for the first 4 or 5 projects you can certainly just sit down at your computer and type up a storm without thinking too much, the last few projects require a lot more preparation. You need to think before you write. Which leads to…
7. Before you touch the computer, make a flowchart
In the higher level classes, making a chart to organize your ideas is extremely helpful. With so many instructions, it’s hard to visualize what you need to implement first and what depends on which. Making a flowchart keeps the relationship between classes, variables, and objects clear so that once you actually get down to coding, it will be simply a matter of putting your ideas into the machine.
8. Take advantage of the TAs
If you’ve hit a dead-end in your project, it might be a good idea to head to the TA office to get help. The TAs can help you debug your code or tell you if you are heading in the correct direction. And if you seriously have no clue, they’ll probably just do your project for you!
9. Form a Groupchat
GroupMe is a really good application for communicating with your friends, so why not use it to communicate with classmates? You can use it to get clarification on certain topics or collaborate on projects (although its officially banned, but people do it anyways).
10. Take a break once in a while
Computer Science is not a class where you can say, “I am going to accomplish x ,y, z by tomorrow evening in time to catch a movie with friends.” There will be times where you think you have everything perfectly down but the code just refuses to cooperate. When you are hit with such a situation, take a break. Leave the computer for an hour. Take a walk. Eat some food. Get the blood flowing to your brain. Then come back and you might just have a solution to your predicament.
CMC131 may just be the introductory course to CS at the University of Maryland, but it still requires an effort to get through it. Don’t be intimidated by the class, but do be prepared to gnash your teeth in frustration at times. If you have some friends, make them suffer through the class with you. And above all, take charge of your own education. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the class though!