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Changes to 1A Promotion Rules

Note: This article is hosted here for archival purposes only. It does not necessarily represent the values of the Iron Warrior or Waterloo Engineering Society in the present day.

As part of ongoing efforts to mitigate first-year failure rates, a new option will be offered to 1A students on a trial basis starting this Fall term with full implementation projected for Fall 2011. Students who find themselves in trouble between midterms and finals will be able to drop 2 of their courses, presumably enabling them to focus on and pass their remaining courses.

The two courses will be re-taken the following summer, along with “Special Topics in Engineering,” a course designed to develop students study habits, note-taking skills and generally prepare students for university life. Only common courses can be dropped, as the remedial classes will see students from all programs combined: those struggling with concept courses are out of luck. Similarly, each program may place additional restrictions (eg. Chem Eng students may not drop Che 102).

4-stream students who already have a job would still go on co-op as regular, while those without a job are given the option to drop co-op as well. 8-stream students would also gain an extra co-op the following fall or winter before joining the next years’ cohort. While the exact implementation is being worked out with the pilot and is difficult to explain in text, students will graduate 1 year late with the extra ‘half’ academic term, one extra co-op, and one term off (or possibly another extra co-op).

This option came as one of 25 recommendations from the First-Year Performance Task Force, designed to address first-year failure rates that have been rising since the elimination of Grade 13, with a 1B failure rate of almost 20% in recent years. It’s clear students entering from high school are less capable of handling the university workload: while UW can attempt to address this cause, the bulk of UW’s power lies in what to do with students once they are here.

Other recommendations from the First-Year Performance Task Force include creating a ‘hell week’ for midterms, revising the 1A curriculum to incorporate study skills, revising admission standards, quicker marking and feedback on student performance and improving the quality of teaching through the Centre for Teaching Excellence. It is incumbent the student executive hold administration accountable to these recommendations and hopefully many of the 25 recommendations will be implemented and create a positive impact on mitigating the first-year failure rates.

One of the more controversial aspects of this measure is that it replaces a previous transitioning measure in the form of a lowered passing standard (50%) for 1A students. The main problem with this rule was that over half the students passing 1A with a mark between 50 and 60% subsequently went on to fail 1B. Rather than displacing failures to 1B, the new measure is designed to help struggling students self-identify and improve their preparedness for university before moving on to more difficult terms. The measure was largely student-driven, as students were concerned about failures appearing on their transcript negatively affecting future job prospects. While graduation may be delayed a year, the new measure will ideally give students the skills they need to be successful at the University of Waterloo, while not leaving a black mark on their transcript.


  1. Farce

    This wouldn’t happen if waterloo did not pretend to be a world class innovative institution. Professors still design exams to obtain a certain distribution of test scores. Exams do not measure your understanding of the content, but your dedication in abosrbing and mindlessly reproducing garbage. My point is clear if you attent any class of any engineering course, at any level (1st year or 4th year). The only question students have when difficult material is presented: “Is that on the exam?”. “How much do I have to know?”, “Formula sheet?”, “Can I haz old exams?”

    …only a matter of time before: “Can you just give me the [expletive] degree, so that I don’t have to put in any effort?”

    They don’t care to learn about the material itself, which should be of concern since these people will someday design products that will affect people.

    This is the traditional educational model used at other institutions, waterloo that prides itself on being innovative should bring in collaborative learning environments and projects to engineering classrooms.

  2. Ercousin

    Thanks for the comment Farce, I love seeing people put thought into their education, and care about something other than grades.

    While I agree with you on some aspects of your comment I have to argue that not all of the blame can fall on the university and it's professors. Learning is a complex process and it requires the students to meet the professors half way. When students ask questions like: “Is this going to be on the midterm?”, or “Will there be a question like this on the final?”, I can imagine that over time a professor would begin to lose faith. I can agree with you though that professors just aren't teaching effectively, ever had a math course taught on powerpoint slides? It sucks…

    With both of those different perspectives, it's hard to say who is at fault for deteriorating the UW learning environment, but it is clear that neither party is innocent. I would love to see professors get regular instruction from the university on effective lecturing methods, but I would also love to see students take a step forward and demonstrate that they are here to learn not just earn a degree to go on your resume.

    University isn't going to teach you everything you will face on coop or in your career, it's not supposed to. University is supposed to help you develop the skills that you will need to learn everything you need to know to succeed in your career. For example you will never learn about IEEE standards in a lecture.

    I encourage all students to do your best to show your profs that you're here to learn, not to get the piece of paper.

  3. BB

    Farce, I don't think it has to do with Waterloo being a world class innovation institution but rather quality vs quantity with we see with many issues with the faculty when growing so quickly (e.g. rising faculty to student ratio).

    The administration stopped caring about quality but rather produce quantity. I see the quality of the incoming students deteriorate over the years as Waterloo Engineering grows to be the biggest engineering school in Canada. Like most administrations in large institutions, they only care out what is written on their reports of how students are doing. The changes to 1A promotion rules are clear, as long as the passing rates look fine on their reports rather than addressing the underlining problem, quality.

  4. Me

    I think this is more of the prof's fault rather than students. I'm in math but not in engineering, I've had many engineer friends complain to me that stuff in the midterm are not taught in class at all. In math faculty, I've encountered some profs who doesn't seem to know how to teach, or the material taught is completely different than assignments/midterms, I can still do well in those courses because I can just simply go to another class with a different prof. However in engineering, students have very tight schedule and they are unable to go to a class with better prof without skipping another course.

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