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How hard are the Berkeley MCB Course?

bladeknightbladeknight Registered User Posts: 76 Junior Member
I have seen lectures from berkeley's online website of Molecular cell biology and I gotta say, it is not as hard as you guys make it out to be. So tell me, why is it that MCB is so hard?
Post edited by bladeknight on

Replies to: How hard are the Berkeley MCB Course?

  • BattlerBattler Registered User Posts: 90 Junior Member
    I'm guessing because you're against a bunch of cut throat competitive people who are desperate for good grades so they can get into a good medical school. If people are on a bell curve, it's easy to imagine they would want others to fail so that they don't end up on the wrong side of it.
  • whosthat1234whosthat1234 Registered User Posts: 554 Member
    Exams can be pretty effing brutal, like nothing you have seen in high school.
  • ecullenecullen Registered User Posts: 179 Junior Member
    whosthat1234, can you be more specific? How do they differ from high school?
  • Waiting4CollegeWaiting4College Registered User Posts: 1,966 Senior Member
    off topic, but post #4 i like your username :D

    i would say that the content of some classes, like BIO 1b, math 1a or chem 1a are the same as the level of ap classes-again its just the lecture hall youre competing with that makes things difficult. everyone is too smart
  • LeftistHominidLeftistHominid Registered User Posts: 3,803 Senior Member
    CampusBuddy (when they reported grades for free) showed MCB at a 2.96 departmental average.

    Here are the averages for other departments that have biology majors (I am using the definition of biology major given by biology.berkeley.edu)
    Average departmental GPAs from CampusBuddy

    IB is 3.34
    BioE is 3.51
    EPS is 3.50
    ESPM is 3.45
    ES is 3.39
    PMB is 3.28
    Public Health is 3.62
    NST is 3.37

    To say the obvious, the difference is in grades given between MCB and other biology departments is huge.

    In the past (and probably in the present too), premeds and other prehealth students have been told (or have been led to believe through some medium or another) that being MCB offers them some advantage in admissions and that if you are prehealth that you should be MCB (when neither is true).

    As a result, there are a lot of competitive prehealth students all grouped together in a major that they might not actually like. If you go into the MCB corridor in VLSB (it is where the Bio 1AL labs are), there is a wall display that shows various alumni talking about their MCB experience, most of them recommend that a prehealth pick a major they like (i.e. that they themselves did not like MCB but majored in it anyway). I have also seen corroborating evidence on the Career Center's website.

    The fact that MCB is a difficult subject to begin with, plus the competitive nature of the student body, and that a sizeable portion of the MCB population is just there because someone told them to be MCB, all adds up to MCB being a very difficult major.
  • tastybeeftastybeef Registered User Posts: 939 Member
    It depends on how interested you are in the subject.
  • mathboy98mathboy98 Registered User Posts: 3,752 Senior Member
    To the poster who began this: often it has nothing to do with how hard the material is, and how hard the class is might be a totally different thing. I think it's safe to say some of the UGBA classes teach very standard material, but they tend to grade very harshly, even if the material's easy. MCB material in lecture may not reflect the grueling detail of the books, and the exams may ask very nonstandard application of knowledge that one just doesn't do well on in the given time.

    This is my comment, knowing the EECS department: EECS material itself isn't really that impressively challenging to me, as a mathematician. Some of it is, but a lot of the stuff is really manageable looking...but the major is still hard because they give you lots of work, and not much time to do it, and challenging applications. I sincerely cannot think of anything that really comes close to beating the mathematics I've grown to become acquainted with in terms of pure intimidation value and being intellectually daunting when one just glances at the material, but that isn't to say my experiences are in the end more painful than those of, say a CS major enrolled in several project courses. Quite the contrary.

    So in short, MCB is hard because it's competitive and harder to succeed in the setting of the offered classes.

    Somewhat elementary knowledge can be applied to solving very hard problems -- for instance, the Putnam competition for math. Much different in character from the real abstract mathematics, which is killer material by itself to even learn the definitions for.
  • anxiousforcolleganxiousforcolleg Registered User Posts: 22 New Member
    here's my two cents:
    chem 1a is a problem for many people mainly because
    1. although the pace isn't ridiculously quick, it is very easy to fall behind and get lost, especially for the few in my class that actually didn't even take chem in high school
    2. the exam itself is not impossible, but really can't be compared to any sort of high school test (at least not one that i've taken- ap or not ap). in chem exams, the questions are not straightforward plug and chug sort of problems that you see in high school. it requires a different kind of thinking and application. there are very few freeby points and some of them look completely irrelevant to the material until you think a little harder. however, i remember getting out of the exam and having everyone think that it was alright, but the next day when the scores came out, everyone was super depressed.

    its just tough because the grade distributions do kind of settle out into a bell-curve, but the professors do everything in their power to prevent students from feeling like they are competing with their peers.
  • Waiting4CollegeWaiting4College Registered User Posts: 1,966 Senior Member
    i am drowning in 3A right now. any advice for that?
  • YellowCocoPuffsYellowCocoPuffs Registered User Posts: 135 Junior Member
    So are you guys saying that it's the bell curve that hurts you?
    It's the curve, not the major?
  • stlystly Registered User Posts: 618 Member
    MCB profs don't really say what they curve to, so you really have to be aiming for 90%+ in every class in order to assure you get an A. This can be realistic for some classes, but completely unrealistic for others.

    The difficult of MCB classes lies in the fact that lecture material can be simple, but the level they ask you to apply it can be extremely difficult. Sort of like how for the first Bio1AL lecture exam, you learned pretty basic stuff and then the questions are really hard and you have no idea how to do them but you have all the tools to do so. Similarly, MCB exams are often on lecture material only. The books go in much more detail, so it isn't your best use of time... however, if you don't read, that hurts you too... so you need to find a balance between the two and how to make the most of your resources.

    Chem 3A. I don't know how Pedersen teaches/does his exams/etc since I took it with Frechet & Vollhardt. But for ochem, to do well, do tons of practice problems. The basic first few problems at the end of the chapters in the vollhardt book help you remember the basic concepts, and the middle problems help you apply the concepts/do synthesis, etc., and the last few problems are ridiculously difficult and unnecessary. I did almost all the problems for every chapter in that book and got A+s in 3A/3B. Other things - stay on top of things, go to lecture, read the book, etc. You really need to put the work in to do well in that class and actually ENJOY it for what it is. I've found that a lot of Berkeley students loved ochem and thought it was much better than Chem 1A.
  • Waiting4CollegeWaiting4College Registered User Posts: 1,966 Senior Member
    good advice thanks stly-geez if i can get some type of A in that class I would be more than happy!
  • Orion8Orion8 Registered User Posts: 112 Junior Member
    MCB is difficult because of all the hardworking students.

    We all want that A, and thus people study. You study less, and you're at a disadvantage.

    I worked damn hard to pull an A in CHEM 3B, and harder to pull an A-/B+ in Physics 8A/8B. These were filled with pre-meds.

    Not to malign pre-meds, but they make the non-pre-meds slightly angry by shoving the curve up to unattainable heights. Thus, I stay away from the MCB classes that are predominately pre-med (MCB 102, 104), and stick to the smaller, more in-depth courses (MCB 100, 110, 140) that tend to have a smaller proportion of pre-med students. Granted, im pre-PhD, so it makes sense, but that's my two cents.

    There's a reason why MCB 102 and 104 are 400 students....PREMED. Apologies for being so anti-pre-med. I respect them, just.....you know.
  • MechRocketMechRocket - Posts: 1,975 Senior Member
    @waiting4college: definitely go to Office Hours. the GSIs are there all day and not many people go (except during Midterm week).
  • ccctitan80ccctitan80 Registered User Posts: 1 New Member
    Hard work is kind of like a pre-req when it comes to getting As in MCB. You need it, but having it won't necessarily get you it. What does net you an A is a legitimate understanding of the concepts they present. So I suppose you should be able to understand the concept in several contexts other than in the way the presented it. Unfortunately, in high school, they have that plug and chug teaching mentality, which doesn't prepare you for that. And it's also true that only a certain percentage of A's/B's/C's are alotted, but most of the time the curve helps. IE. scoring 90% or higher usually means you get an A, and the curve usually shifts the cutoff 5-15% lower. So the fact of the matter is that there's a lot to learn, and you have to have a "true" understanding instead of plain memory.

    GREAt example: Recently on a genetics midterm for 140, one of the bigger problems was a 3 point test cross and mapping problem. 3 point test crosses in it self are very simple to understand and was actually taught by Mike Meighan in Bio 1AL, so most students had experience with it. Unfortunately, there were several quirks added to the problem that usually isn't present in an ideal 3 point test. 1. One of the genes were unlinked. 2. the 3 genes that were linked were sex-linked. 3. the genotypes of the parents weren't given or obvious. 4. two of the linked genes were so close, that no recombination was observed between them. So i guess this illustrates the discrepancy between simply memorizing the ideal concept which they teach you in lecture, and the actual ability to actively understand and integrate that concept in different contexts.

    Sample question for anyone who has a vague idea of what crossing over is. If two genes are 5 map units away from each other, what is the chances of crossing over occurring between the genes in a meiotic cell?
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