ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DOROTHY TU, EDITED BY JADE LIU
The difference between lecture, discussion, and lab:
Lectures are taught by your professor: you go in, sit with EVERYONE enrolled in the course, and listen to your professor teach! Discussions are smaller, usually with 15-30 people, and are taught by GSIs (graduate student instructors). Discussions are where you will usually turn in homework, take quizzes, go over the course material, be taught supplementary material to lecture, etc. Labs are similar to discussions in size and in the fact that they're taught by grad students. They will include hands-on applications of lab techniques. By lab, I meant the lab COMPONENT of a course, not lab COURSES like Chem 1AL. As far as I'm concerned, Chem 1AL is a class in its own right with its own lecture and lab.
Are discussions mandatory?
There will not always be a discussion or lab to a lecture, but sometimes there will be, especially for larger classes. You attend them separately. For example, if you sign up for Econ 1 lecture on tele-BEARS, the system will prompt you to sign up for discussion/section as well at a different time. You will need to attend BOTH. They are considered two parts of the same course, and you will receive one grade at the end. The professor's grading method will vary from course to course, and you will find that for one class, attending discussion may count for half your grade, while for another, it counts for nothing. Either way, you will need to sign up for both because again, they are two parts of the same class. You cannot do one without the other.
GSIs will usually take attendance, so while you may skip lecture because the room is too damn filled and no one will notice, most likely you cannot skip discussion because you may lose points. There are some exceptions in which discussions are not mandatory. This is the case in a lot of biology classes in which you might not be graded on attendance or participation. However, it is still recommended to attend as you will learn a lot of valuable info, especially since GSIs are prone to emphasize what will likely be on exams while profs will cover everything they deem important. ALL labs, if they are part of the course, are mandatory.
Other things you should know...
It is imperative to attend all classes during the first week or two of class to ensure your spot. The professor has the right to drop those who don't attend to let those on the waitlist in. This does not always happen (you need to take your own initiative to drop if you don't plan to keep the course), but it CAN, so you must attend. And if you are waitlisted for a class, you also need to attend all lectures and discussions during the first few weeks to snag a spot as soon as they open up. You also might talk to the professor to discuss how enrollment will work for those who are waitlisted (they might have you sign a sheet).
Discussions and labs, more so than lecture, determine whether or not you get into a class. So choose an open section if possible. It will not matter if you're number one on the waitlist if there is no space in the discussion you chose. When a student drops, the first person on the waitlist whose discussion/lab section has space will be the first to get in, NOT the first person on the waitlist, period. Choosing a non-impacted discussion/lab is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not you'll get into the class. You cannot enroll in a course without getting into all parts of it.