Class Reviews: AP5 Sequence


This is a class review of the BIOS 20234-20235 (The AP5 Sequence) and Physiology 20242 by current 2nd year student, Victoria Sun (email).

Which course are you reviewing and when (year/Quarter) did you take it?
I am reviewing BIOS 20234-20235, and BIOS 20242 (Physiology).

I took these classes in my first year 2010-2011

Why did you take it?

This class is not a Core requirement, is not the regular biology sequence, but it does meet your general education requirement in the biological sciences within two quarters. Now everywhere I was asking, I heard this was a hard class you shouldn’t take as a pre-med. This course was for first-years (although my year they were still allowing upperclassmen, from this year on it is strictly for first-years only), required a 5 on the AP test, and was geared towards teaching “research” biology rather than overall biology. However, they had also just recently changed the biology major requirements, and first years are no longer allowed to take the 20180-20190 sequence, and are required to take an “Intro-to-Biology” class spring quarter. As a determined biology major who hadn’t taken biology since junior year, I wasn’t looking forward to such an introduction class so late in the year, and I was very eager to take a biology class in college immediately. Thus, I decided to take this class, despite its emphasis on research and rumored terror.

Can you describe the course content and whether you still remember anything you learned then?

This course assumes you have already taken AP Biology and learned all the basics, so I didn’t  “re-learn” any AP Biology. This class did not teach biology expansively at all, you are on your own for studying for the MCAT. Instead, this class concentrates on a few areas and you learn these areas to excruciating molecular detail. After all, fall quarter was a molecular biology course, which was mostly about genes, proteins, DNA, cell division, cellular structure. Winter quarter was about genetics and model systems. There were lectures and weekly problem sets based on research papers, although winter quarter started to incorporate lectures as well.

The labs did not seem to correspond to the lectures very well, but they were very valuable in introducing you to some of the basic tools that you would use in research labs, such as RNAi, GFP, and model organisms such as C. Elegans and Drosophila flies. Lab reports were hard, but the rubrics guided you very well.  
Spring quarter, you are allowed to choose an elective, and I chose physiology. This class was nearly on the same level of extreme detail as the previous two quarters, however there was a much less focus on research tools and more on the human body. This serves well for future MCAT takers, however, after taking this class you also end up understanding a lot of research in neurobiology or other areas as well. This class had three midterms and no final, and the class format evolves each year. This was the most fascinating class I had taken the whole year!

I only remember everything vaguely, but looking back, I realize how much back then I thought everything was just rote memorization and completely forgettable, while now that I am actually working in a lab, a lot of what I rely on is what I learned in this class. Thus, you won’t realize it until afterwards, that you will be understand a whole lot of research science that you didn’t understand one bit before taking this class.

How time consuming was the class and how did you manage to juggle it with your other responsibilities?

This sequence was extremely time-consuming. I did not know a single student who did not complain of how much effort this class was demanding. Fortunately, this was my only lab class, and my other classes were humanities, calculus and language. So I could afford to take this class. However, a lot of people were taking Chemistry, or Organic Chemistry, at the same time. I do not know how those people had such capacity, because I was not doing that, but they pulled through it so you could too.

Were the exams exceedingly hard, or did you feel adequately prepared from class notes and textbook?

Each midterm or final required many weeks of studying, and each exam was very challenging. However, everyone usually felt the exams were challenging, and the tests are curved. So as long as you did the reading, understood the homework and lectures, but still felt that the test was out there, you will actually be all right. Yes, the textbooks were extremely helpful (the big red book called Molecular Biology of the Cell, and the physiology book by Silverthorne) except the one for winter quarter. Winter quarter, I just studied from lectures and problem sets. For all quarters, you should study from lectures and problem set questions. The questions lead to what kind of thinking you should be getting used to for the tests. This class was really not about rote memorization, though it required it, it was about thinking in a research-geared and novel way. I almost was shocked by the different level of thinking I had gained by the end of winter quarter, although I don’t know if I’ve retained it without such problem sets haunting me anymore.

Knowing what you know now, would you take it again if you could and do you think you would do better in it?

Yes, I do not regret taking this class because it definitely shaped my first-year in college, my college experience, and my future in college. I don’t know if I could necessarily do better in it, but I would do the same thing I did, which was study hard and prepare myself mentally from the first day, understanding that I couldn’t let my guard down in this class because quarter system is fast, and this class won’t wait for you to catch up.

Advice on how you got through the course for students currently entering the course. Specifically your study methods, and anything special you did (note-taking styles, and using other resources like Harper Tutors, TAs, etc.) that helped you very much.

Not to scare you, but I hope you know what you’re doing. If you are not intending to major in biology, don’t take this class just because you got a 5 on your AP Biology test. The AP Biology is not at all a good indicator of how well you will do in this class. A 5 just shows that you have learned all the basics you needed to know, because this class will not teach them again. However, if you love biology and foresee a future in a biology-related field, even pre-med, then take this class. If you are pre-med, I suggest that you just guard your GPA carefully, or not cry if you are not doing as well as you expected, because this class is renown for taking straight-A students down. How do you guard your GPA? Well, take good notes, listen to recordings of lectures afterwards, do the readings, understand the homework, and most of all, ask the lecture TA’s for help on homework/exams and the lab TA’s for help for lab reports. I think the TA’s were the most valuable asset when the books and lectures weren’t helping and I was stuck. The professors could also be really helpful, but not always as accessible or inviting sometimes. Definitely not the Harper Tutors though, I don’t even know if they exist for this class.

Anything encouraging you have for students entering the course?

I may have made this course sound like a lot of work and a lot of stress, and it is, I’d be lying if I didn’t make that clear. But everyone survived, and it was the most rewarding class of my first year. I entered this class with the mindset that I wasn’t really interested on doing much research, and I attended the BSCD fellowship research symposium with a very confused face. You will all be first years taking this class, and everyone will mostly feel confused and stressed like that. But once summer had started, many students had found themselves working in a research lab, have started reading research papers and understanding them when before they sounded like gibberish, and several students, including me, participated in the BSCD fellowship program this summer. Thus, I promise you that you will go a long way if you take this class, if you just make the effort to get there.

If you took a course that you would like to review, please email us at


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