Syllabus & Course Policies

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER

THIS SYLLABUS IS CURRENTLY BEING UPDATED AND IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE.

Overview

The CS 61 series is an introduction to computer science, with particular emphasis on software and on machines from a programmer's point of view.

  1. CS 61A concentrates on the idea of abstraction, allowing the programmer to think in terms appropriate to the problem rather than in low-level operations dictated by the computer hardware.
  2. CS 61B deals with the more advanced engineering aspects of software, such as constructing and analyzing large programs.
  3. CS 61C focuses on machines and how they execute programs.

In CS 61A, we are interested in teaching you about programming, not about how to use one particular programming language. We consider a series of techniques for managing program complexity, such as functional programming and object-oriented programming.

CS 61A primarily uses the Python 3 programming language. Python is a popular language in both industry and academia. It is also particularly well-suited to the task of exploring the topics taught in this course. It is an open-source language developed by a large volunteer community that prides itself on the diversity of its contributors.

Mastery of a particular programming language is a very useful side effect of CS 61A. However, our goal is not to dictate what language you use in your future endeavors. Instead, our hope is that once you have learned the concepts involved in programming, you will find that picking up a new programming language is but a few days' work. In fact, you will be asked to learn at least two other languages, Scheme and SQL, during the course.

A complete list of lecture topics, readings, and assignments appears in the lecture schedule.

Prerequisites

Math 1A is listed as a corequisite for CS 61A. That is, it may be taken concurrently. Math 10A or Math 16A are also fine. It is possible to take CS 61A without knowing or learning calculus. Knowledge of calculus concepts will never be required to complete any assignments. However, taking calculus is a great way to practice the arithmetic and algebra that appear regularly in CS 61A.

There is no formal programming-related prerequisite for CS 61A because students without prior experience can succeed in the course, but taking the course without any prior programming experience is typically quite challenging. Students who take the course without prior programming experience typically must spend more time to complete assignments and tend to receive lower final grades in the course. Most CS 61A students have had significant prior programming experience. A typical background includes at least one course equivalent to CS 10 or a score of 3 or above on an AP Computer Science exam.

If you find it challenging to complete all of the required coursework in the first three weeks, we strongly recommend that you take another course first. You'll likely have a better experience taking 61A later. Taking CS 61A one semester later is unlikely to affect your degree progress or otherwise put you behind, but continuing to struggle in CS 61A despite this recommendation can lead to difficult academic circumstances that can affect your future opportunities. It's better to finish CS 61A with strong mastery of the course material, even if that means delaying by a semester, than to rush through it.

Alternative Courses

Here are some alternative UC Berkeley courses that are better suited for students who do not have prior programming experience.

CS 10

CS 10: The Beauty and Joy of Computing is an introductory computer science course which is similar to CS 61A but moves at a more moderate pace. CS 10 covers variables, functions, recursion, algorithmic complexity, object-oriented programming, and many other relevant CS 61A topics, with the overall content overlap being about 50%. CS 10 starts the semester in Snap!, a block-based programming language which allows students to focus on conceptual understanding without worrying about unfamiliar syntax. After the midterm, the course transitions into Python (the primary language 61A uses). CS 10 also covers big ideas and social implications that go beyond programming, showing you the beauty and joy of computing.

Data 8

Data 8: The Foundations of Data Science is an introduction to data science designed to be accessible and useful for all Berkeley students. This course was built for students without prior programming experience. It teaches students to program in Python, but covers a much smaller subset of the language than CS 61A. Most of the course focuses on data processing and statistical techniques that are central to using computers to answer questions about the world. Taking Data 8 before 61A is a good way to gain prior programming experience, but taking CS 10 is a better way.

Data C88C (formerly CS 88)

CS 88: Computational Structures in Data Science is an introduction to programming and computing that has more than 50% concept overlap with CS 61A. It is designed for students interested in data science who want to expand their knowledge of programming and program structures beyond what is covered in Data 8. Students who complete CS 88 can either proceed directly to CS 61B or subsequently take CS 61A, a path that offers a substantial amount of review because of the high topic overlap between the courses.

Info 206A

Info 206A: Introduction to Programming and Computation is a 2-unit introduction to programming that overlaps with many topics in the first eight weeks of CS 61A. Professor Hany Farid has placed all of the videos and exercises for this course online, and these are an excellent resource to supplement CS 61A.

Course Format

The course includes many events and opportunities for learning: lecture, lab, discussion, office hours, and more. Try everything out to figure out what combination of these course components help you the most.

Lectures & Videos

There are four 80-minute live lectures per week. In addition, there is a video playlist for each lecture. Please watch the video playlist before attending live lecture or section. The videos cover all required content for the course. Live lecture will not cover all course material and will focus on examples (so watch the videos).

Section

Weekly sections include a programming-based lab assignment and a discussion.

There are 10 lab points. Receiving credit for any 10 (or more) labs will earn a perfect lab score for the course.

There are 10 discussion points. Receiving credit for any 10 (or more) discussions will earn a perfect discussion score for the course.

This semester, we are offering two section formats: regular sections and the mega section. Both are designed to help students learn the course material equally well. You can choose which format you want. It is possible to change formats at certain points during the course that will be announced.

Regular Section

Regular Sections meet four times a week with their section TA. Labs are Monday & Wednesday and Discussions are Tuesday & Thursday. Attendance is required for students enrolled in a Regular Section.

Mega Section

Mega section does not meet on a weekly basis. There will be videos released each week that cover the discussion topics. Mega section may meet at certain points throughout the semester (on Zoom) but attendance will be optional.

Students in the mega section must complete and submit the weekly lab assignment but are not expected to come to lab. You are welcome to ask questions about lab assignments during course office hours. If you need more support than that, you should switch to the regular section.

All students in mega will automatically receive full discussion credit. It is up to the mega section students to keep up with weekly videos and discussion worksheets as they see fit.

Any Zoom-based mega section meetings will be webcast and recorded.

Choosing a Section Format

Mega section is only recommended for students with considerable prior programming experience who are confident that they can succeed in the course without the support of in-person section.

Both options are meant to be great. Mega section is designed to appeal to students who learn well from watching videos, working independently, and coming to drop-in office hours when they need help. But the smaller format of regular sections has clear advantages for students who wish to work with others and get to know the course staff. Most students choose regular section.

Office Hours

Office hours are drop-in tutoring sessions in which you can ask questions about the material, receive guidance on assignments, and work with peers and course staff in a small group setting. See the office hour schedule and come by.

Assignments

In addition to programming-based lab assignments, there are programming-based homework assignments and projects.

Homework

Weekly homework assignments let you apply the concepts learned in lecture and section to more challenging problems. Homeworks will typically be released on Fridays and be due the following Thursday.

Partial Credit

Homework is scored out of 2 points, and every incorrect question reduces your score by 1 point.

Projects

Projects are larger assignments intended to combine ideas from the course in interesting ways.

You are allowed and encouraged to pair program with a partner. Make sure to alternate roles so that both of you understand the complete results. You may also work alone on all projects, although partners are recommended.

Projects are graded on correctness, with points earned for each problem successfully completed.

Exams

There will be two exams:

  • The Midterm will be held 6-8pm on Thursday 7/11
  • The Final will be held 7-10pm on Thursday 8/8

Exams will be taken on paper on campus in designated exam rooms. There will be no remote exams this summer.

We will post an announcement on Ed ahead of each exam with information for students who cannot take the exam.

Accommodations (DSP and Otherwise)

We will provide appropriate accommodations to all students enrolled in Berkeley's Disabled Students Program (DSP). To ensure that you receive the appropriate accommodations, have your DSP specialist submit a letter confirming your status and accommodations.

If you're not enrolled in DSP, or are in the process of being onboarded by DSP, you may still be eligible for accommodations (such as extended time on exams or extended deadlines). You may also be eligible for accommodations if serious extenuating circumstances should come up during the semester. If you believe you may require accommodations, please email cs61a@berkeley.edu.

Assignment Extensions

If you need to request an extension, regardless of your DSP status, fill out this form. Submissions to this form will be visible only to the course instructors, and certain Student Support staff members.

Any extension request up to 24 hours will be approved. Any extension request up to 3 days made by a student with a DSP accommodation for assignment extensions will be approved. Any longer extensions require a strong justification and will be considered on a case-by-case basis. There will never be a penalty for requesting an extension.

Joining CS 61A Late

Work submitted late will not receive credit, even if it is from a student who joined the course late. However, it is possible to submit assignments if you are not enrolled. Therefore, if you would like to take the course but are having enrollment issues, please submit all assignments by their due date.

To request to be added to course platforms, email cs61a@berkeley.edu.

Accommodations Appointments

If you're not enrolled in DSP, or are in the process of being onboarded by DSP, you may still be eligible for accommodations. You may also be eligible for accommodations if serious extenuating circumstances should come up during the semester.

If you believe you may require accommodations, please visit this page to book a short (20-minute) appointment with one of our student support TAs. You can also reach us at any time to discuss accommodations by emailing cs61a@berkeley.edu.

Privacy

All DSP and accommodations-related materials for this course are kept in a repository separate from the rest of the course materials that is visible only to the instructors, selected staff, and staff course managers.

For any DSP and accommodations-related communications, please reach out to cs61a@berkeley.edu, which will put you in touch with our student support team. This inbox is only visible to staff members marked with "cs61a@" on the staff page. This inbox will be visible to future members of course staff, so if you ever have a communication that you wish to remain private, let us know and we can delete the email exchange once the conversation is resolved.

Resources

Textbook

The online textbook for the course is Composing Programs, which was created specifically for this course, based on the classic textbook Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. Readings for each lecture appear in the course schedule. We recommend that you complete the readings before attending lecture.

Past exams appear on the Resources page.

Grading

Your course grade is computed using a point system with a total of 300 points, broken down as follows:

  • The Midterm, worth 64 points
  • The Final, worth 96 points
  • Four projects, worth 100 points
  • Homework, worth 20 points
  • Lab, worth 10 points
  • Discussion, worth 10 points

There are 4 extra credit points available to everyone for early submission of projects.

Each letter grade for the course corresponds to a range of scores:

             A  ≥ 285    A-  ≥ 270
B+  ≥ 255    B  ≥ 230    B-  ≥ 210
C+  ≥ 190    C  ≥ 180    C-  ≥ 175
D+  ≥ 170    D  ≥ 165    D-  ≥ 160

Your final score will be rounded to the nearest integer before being converted to a letter grade. 0.5 rounds up to 1, but 0.49 rounds down to 0.

A+'s will be given at instructor discretion.

There is no curve; your grade will depend only on how well you do, and not on how well everyone else does. Score thresholds are based on how students performed in previous semesters. Thresholds are not usually adjusted based on student performance and never increased.

In a typical semester, 50-60% of students taking the course for a letter grade will receive a B+ or higher.

Incomplete grades will be granted only for medical or personal emergencies that cause you to miss the final or last part of the course, only for students who have completed the majority of the coursework, and only if work up to the point of the emergency has been satisfactory. If you wish to discuss an incomplete in the course, please contact cs61a@berkeley.edu.

Many students end the course with perfect homework, project, lab, and discussion scores. These parts of the course are not meant to be evaluations, but instead learning tools.

Exam Recovery

TBA.

Late Policy

If you cannot turn in an assignment on time, you can request an extension. For late work beyond the extended deadline:

  • Labs receive no credit.
  • Homework receives no credit.
  • Projects: Submissions within 48 hours after the deadline will receive 75% of the earned score. Submissions that are 48 hours or more after the deadline will receive no credit.

Citizenship

It is our expectation that all interactions with course staff and other students will demonstrate appropriate respect, consideration, and compassion for others. Please remember to be friendly and thoughtful; our community draws from a wide spectrum of valuable experiences. For further reading, please reference the Berkeley Principles of Community and Berkeley Campus Code of Student Conduct.

For exceptionally rude or disrespectful behavior toward the course staff or other students, your final grade will be lowered by up to a full letter grade (e.g., from an A- to a B-) at the discretion of the course instructors. You don't need to be concerned about this policy if you treat other human beings with even a bare minimum of respect and consideration and do not engage in behavior that is actively harmful to others.

Learning Cooperatively

With the obvious exception of exams, we encourage you to discuss course activities with your friends and classmates as you are working on them. You will learn more in this class if you work with others than if you do not. Ask questions, answer questions, and share ideas liberally.

Learning cooperatively is different from sharing answers. You shouldn't be showing your code to other students or looking at others' code, except:

  • During lab, you can share all you want as long as you're all learning.
  • For a project that allows partners, you can share anything with your partner.
  • If you've finished a problem already, you can look at others' code to help them finish.

If you are helping another student, don't just tell them the answer; they will learn very little and run into trouble on exams. Instead, try to guide them toward discovering the solution on their own by thinking through examples. Problem solving practice is critical to progress in computer science.

Since you're working collaboratively, keep your project partner informed. If some medical or personal emergency takes you away from the course for an extended period, or if you decide to drop the course for any reason, please don't just disappear silently! You should inform your project partner, so that nobody is depending on you to do something you can't finish.

Academic Misconduct

Any students caught collaborating on exams will receive an F in the course. Please don't be one of these students.

Reading others' homework or project solution to a problem before you solve that problem on your own will incur point penalties. You are free to discuss the problems with others beforehand, but you must write your own solutions. The exception to this rule is that you may share code with your project partner.

The following is a list of things you should NOT do. This list is not exhaustive, but covers most of the big offenses:

  • Do not copy code from any student who is not your partner.
  • Do not allow any student other than your partner to copy code from you.
  • Do not copy solutions from online sources such as Stack Overflow, Pastebin, and public repositories on GitHub.
  • Do not read others' solutions to an assignment before you have completed the assignment
  • Do not post your solutions publicly during or after the semester.

If you find a solution online, please submit a link to that solution anonymously. When we find an online solution, we ask the author to remove it. We also record the solution and use it to check for copying. By reporting online solutions, you help keep the course fair for everyone.

In summary, we expect you to hand in your own work, take your own tests, and complete projects with code written only by you and your partner.

Rather than copying someone else's work, ask for help. You are not alone in this course! The entire staff is here to help you succeed. If you invest the time to learn the material and complete the projects, you won't need to copy any answers.

A Parting Thought

Grades and penalties aren't the purpose of this course. We really just want you to learn. The entire staff is very excited to be teaching CS 61A this semester and we're looking forward to meeting such a large and enthusiastic group of students. We want all of you to be successful here. Welcome to CS 61A!