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Programming Primer - A short introduction to computer science

Short name: PP1
SITS code: BUCI057N0
Credits: Non-credit bearing
Module leader: Keith Mannock
Lecturer(s): Keith Mannock
Online material:

Module outline

This course is aimed at candidates already accepted for one of our taught postgraduate programmes. If you have been made an offer for the MSc in Information Technology (IT) and wish to be considered for the MSc in Computer Science (CS) or the MSc in Data Science (DS) programmes, but did not achieve the appropriate standard in the admission test, then this module was designed for you.

For students who have already been accepted on the MSc in Computer Science (CS) or MSc in Data Science (DS) programmes this "primer" course will act as a "jump start" into your studies (if you weren't that comfortable with the notes or the admission test then this is probably an appropriate course to take).

The module is run in a "blended" style where the cohort reads materials in advance of the class and then the face-to-face session is devoted to exercises, questions, and clarification of the materials. Each session, apart from the first one, has homework which consolidates the materials covered in the session and prepares the student for the following session.

The programming language used for this course is Python.

Please be warned that this module is an intensive study period requiring considerable effort outside of the scheduled sessions.

Learning Outcomes

To provide an introduction to the content of the Computer Systems, Fundamentals of Computing, and Programming modules, from the MSc CS and MSc DS programmes.


The syllabus is provisional and is adapted dynamically to cope with the varying requirements of the student cohort.

Dates for 2018-19

  1. Monday 10th September
  2. Wednesday 12th September
  3. Friday 14th September
  4. Monday 17th September
  5. Wednesday 19th September
  6. Friday 21st September

All sessions run 6pm-8:30pm. Location of all sessions are in rooms 404/405 in the main Birkbeck building. The end of module test will be on Monday, 24th September 2018.

Session One:

  • A (very) brief intro to Computer Science and Data Science
  • edit-compile-run; types, variables & assignment
  • Virtual Machines (very simple overview - something like the materials in the Computer Systems module)
  • The building blocks of programs

Session Two:

  • Input and output
  • Conditionals, while and for loops
  • Expressions
  • Functions (methods)

Session Three:

  • More on Strings and things
  • Arrays
  • Functions (static methods): signatures, arguments, local variables

Session Four: The Fundamental of Computing material

  • A refresher on basic arithmetic and simple set operations
  • Counting in number bases: octal, hex, binary

Session Five: The Computer Systems material

  • Computer architecture (CA) and Operating system (OS) overview
  • Simple searching and data structures

Session Six: Consolidation and review




All dates and timetables are listed in the programme handbooks of individual programmes.


None - but exercises are provided and it is recommended that the student complete them.

Recommended reading

Notes and lab worksheets will be available for the course and are included in the course fee.

The recommended programming text depends on the programme of study you wish to undertake.

For prospective Data Science students:

For prospective Computer Science students:

which is the text "Python for Everybody" is based on.

We will provide supplementary materials as required.