Department of Biological Sciences
Frequently Asked Questions About Biology from GS
students & Transfer Students
Q1: What should I take
first, biology or chemistry?
Take general chemistry first. See Q3 for the rationale.
Q2: I am premed, and never took college level bio before. What
biology class should I take?
you are a postbaccalaureate student, or a continuing education student, you should take Bio.
F2401-F2402. If you need to fulfill
the lab requirement for medical school, you should take
lab Bio W2501. You can take the lab
term; we advise taking it
after you complete F2401.
If you are a CC or GS undergraduate, you should take Bio C2005-2006 instead of
F2401-2402. You do NOT have to take W2501. There are many other ways to fulfill
the lab requirement for the major -- see the
major requirements page for details.
Note that chemistry is a prerequisite for Bio C2005 or F2401,
you should take general chemistry first. (See Q3 for the rationale
See Q5 for details of C2005 vs. F2401. If you have a problem with
the number of points, and need to take the 'other class' for more or less
points (4 for C2005 vs 3 for F2401) please contact the DUS, Dr.
Mowshowitz, dbm2 at columbia.edu.
A3: There is a big difference between most college science courses
most high school science courses. In high school, you
are usually expected to memorize the basic facts and principles. In
college, you are expected to learn the facts in much more
detail and you are also expected to
understand the principles in much greater depth (this is usually the hard part). This means (in
practical terms) that on exams you are asked to apply the principles that
you have learned to solve problems and to explain
totally new situations. This is just as true of biology as it is of
physics and chemistry -- college biology is an experimental
science, not a descriptive science. If you jump straight into Biology
C2005/F2401 without a year of college chemistry to help you "rev
up" you are likely to find the biology overwhelming.
Q3: Why do I have to
take chemistry before biology?
It also pays to take chemistry first for another reason. Most students who
take biology need to take chemistry (eventually). If
you are going to take chemistry anyway, you might as well take it first so
that the molecular parts of bio will make more sense.
Biologists use chemistry as language, the way physicists use math. You can
explain physics without math, but it takes a lot
longer and the explanations are not as satisfying, or you have to teach
the math as you go along. So it is simpler to just do the
math first and the physics after. Similarly, it makes more sense to do the
chemistry first and the biology second.
A4: It all depends on what you learned the first time. If your intro
course included a heavy dose of genetics and biochemistry,
AND you did well (& remember it), you can skip
C2005. If you learned a lot
of cell biology & physiology, you can skip
C2006. However you should be cautious --
C2005/C2006 goes deeper and
demands more thought and application of
knowledge than the usual introductory college bio course (or AP course).
The course covers less topics than usual, but each
topic is covered in great detail. There is more stress on problem solving and
less on memorization. So if there is any doubt, you should
plan to take C2005, not a 3000 level course. To help you
decide what to do, you can look at the old exams on the web page for the
course (F2401/C2005) or the problem book (which
consists mostly of old exam questions). The latest edition of the problem
book is available in the science library. If you look at all the available material, and are still
not sure what to do, we suggest you register for either
C2005/F2401 or a 3000 level course and attend both courses for the first week of
class. Once you decide which course is the right
level, you can drop or add courses as necessary.
Q4: I took introductory
biology somewhere else. Should I start with C2005/F2401or should I skip C2005
and start with a higher level (3000 level) course?
A5: Short answer: Not much -- there is a single web site for both classes.
Q5: What is the difference between Bio C2005 and Bio
* (Note that all exams in both classes, except
the final, are given at night.) Students from either class may attend either set of
lectures; students can switch back and forth as their schedules change (or they
even go twice a day if they want. However, C2005
students must attend C2005 recitations and F2401 students may attend only
F2401 recitations. Sign up for recitation occurs after the first class meeting;
instructions for sign up will be provided in class and on the course web
The lectures in Bio C2005 and F2401 are identical and the overall work load in the
two courses is the same. However the amount of time a student is required to
spend in class is different. This is because C2005 has required recitations (with weekly quizzes) and F2401 has
optional recitations (no quizzes). Because of the required
recitation, Bio C2005 is 4 points while Bio F2401 is 3 points. (The same
similarities and differences apply to Bio C2006 vs.
F2401 has optional recitations because it is assumed that many adult students:
have less time available to attend recitations because
of jobs and family responsibilities,
(2) do not want to pay for the extra
(3) have had more practice at pacing
themselves and are less likely to allow themselves to fall behind.
The exams in the two courses and the grading
scales for the exams are the same - the scale is set using the
scores of the C2005 (undergraduate) students. Therefore the exam scores needed to earn an
A are exactly the same in each class. However
the percentage of A's in each class is often different because the composition
of the two classes is not the same.
Undergraduates in GS &CC should take C2005, and postbacs and special students must register for
If you need additional information, contact the instructors or see
web page which includes notes from last year's lectures, a sample exam, etc.
you have a problem with the number of points, and need to take the 'other class'
for more or less points (4 for C2005 or C2006 vs 3 for F2401 or F2402) please
contact the DUS, Dr. Mowshowitz, dbm2 at columbia.edu.
For an index of web pages with information for
undergraduates, go to
For FAQs for First Year Students and Prospective Students,