What to Expect in 61a at Cal

This article is part of our mentor tips series, where Edlyft mentors share tips about the course they mentored with Edlyft.

Calvin Wong
61a Mentor

Computers. They’re all around you, in fact, staring at you right in the face. But what lies beneath the colorful pixels, the machine that somehow turns electricity, silicon and glass into this 4 second clip?

Haha, I gotcha there, didn’t I? Imagine trying to play that without a computer. I think you’d have an interesting time putting together a costume and special effects to pull that off!

The Truth About 61a

Computers have only become more important, with the advent of 2020 and stay-at-home work, and CS61a is a great place to start with learning how to write some of the programs that run the world today!

Now, you may have heard the horror stories of 61a, that the projects will have you staying up late trying to figure out assignments, walking out of tests without knowing if your code was right.


“Completing an assignment, in my experience, and in the words of several of my students, has felt super satisfying.”
— Cal CS Students

These stories are all true. There is no denying that 61a moves at a very fast pace, and the concepts may take quite some time to digest properly; however, there is also the flip side, of students arriving at their “Aha! moment” and feeling a sense of joy they’ve never felt before (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but completing an assignment, in my experience, and in the words of several of my students, has felt super satisfying), and leaving 61a feeling confident to take on more computer science at Berkeley.

What You’ll Learn

61a’ers really hone their debugging and problem solving skills, which is quite transferable to any field - start with input, from some step 1, and use some tools, for example, code, to shape it into the output, the end result. Along the way, you’ll be working on a dice game, a racing game based on typing speed, Ants vs Some Bees (get it, Plants vs Zombies? No? I thought it was funny), and lastly, a translator! (Kind of, it’s called an interpreter, but you can think of it as a translator).

Get a Head Start

You’ll be battle-hardened and ready to take on more complex coding challenges by the end of 61a, but during that battle, it may be helpful to know that all the material is online at cs61a.org or at past websites like Spring 2019's.


“Get started on Python Tutorials"

— Cal CS Studnet


So feel free to get a head start on the material, as starting early and practicing is one thing you can’t do enough of for this class! In fact, you could just start learning Python, which is a “programming language” that you’ll code in (as a heads up, the first half of the course will be in Python). It’s as simple as googling “Python tutorials.”

What You’ll Need

Another important part is finding a study group/partner, as two heads theoretically doubles the brainpower! These can be found on 61a Facebook groups (Berkeley seems to love facebook and messenger) and Piazza (which will open around when the semester starts) amongst others.

Join the CS61A Cohort —>

Edlyft intends to make this whole experience better, from providing structured sessions and other spaces for students to connect with one another, to providing a stable mentor who will stay on for the entire semester. If you find yourself getting stuck in the long lines for office hours, or just want a small sized community of fellow 61a’ers, feel free to sign up at edlyft.com.fall to reserve a spot.


Calvin Wong

61a Mentor

Calvin is a Computer Science major graduating in 2022 from UCB