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Department of Mathematics & Statistics

MATH120 Mathematics for Scientists

First SemesterAlso available:  Second Semester  Summer School
18 points

Do you think science literacy and evidence-based decision making are key to building a fair, sustainable and prosperous modern society? Do you want to have role in building its foundations? Then look no further! MATH120 will build your confidence and problem-solving skills you need to give you a competitive edge in pursuing a career requiring quantitative thinking. No more lists of formulas to memorise or tedious lists of exercises to complete. MATH120 will teach you the maths you actually need to be successful.


The modern world is built on science and technology. As such, the increasingly competitive job market requires new graduates to have confidence and fluency in quantitative problem solving. MATH120 uses a problem-based learning approach to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills by consistently working through applied examples from a range of scientific disciplines, while learning new mathematical techniques and tools. Students are encouraged to try different approaches, critically analyse their findings and communicate them orally and/or as written reports. As a result, MATH120 students are ideally equipped to specialise in any discipline that includes a quantitative component.


MATH120 is suitable for any undergraduates and professionals with an interest in gaining more confidence and fluency with quantitative approaches to problem solving in the natural, social and medical sciences.

Teaching Staff (semester 1)

Fabien Montiel (Weeks 1-7 and 12-13)

Florian Beyer (Weeks 8-11)


If you have any enquiries, please email:

Paper Structure

The paper is structured around 5 modules:

1. Measuring the natural world

2. Empirical analysis

3. Modelling change in time

4. Computing with mathematical models

5. Higher-dimensional models

Course Content

Download MATH120 course syllabus

Teaching arrangements

MATH120 is a standard 13-week semester paper, with three 1-hour lectures and one 2-hour laboratory per week. General drop-in sessions are also available weekly to help students with basic needs. Students will work in groups of 4/5 on a semester-long themed project co-created with academics in other departments across the sciences.


The paper is 100% internally assessed with four types of assessments:

Online assignments

There will be 5 online assignments, i.e. one for each module. The assignments will be run on the online assessment platform STACK, which is integrated into Blackboard. The dates for the assignments are:

Lab-based assessments

During the lab sessions held on weeks 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10, you will be given an activity to complete by the end of the session. These activities will have different formats, e.g. lab worksheet, short report, oral presentation, ... The lab activities will help you develop you computing skills as you will work with computing software Excel and MATLAB.

The project

The third component of the assessment for MATH120 is a semester-long project that you will work on in groups of 4 or 5. The groups will be formed during the lab session in week 1 of the semester. In weeks 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 you will be given an activity to complete as part of the project. Each activity covers techniques and concepts from one module. As opposed to the lab-based assessment, you do not have to complete each activity by the end of the session. In fact, it is likely that you will need to work on the activity outside the scheduled lab sessions. During the lab session in week 12, you will synthesize your findings from each activity and start planning your report and presentation. The assessment takes 2 forms:

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of MATH120 students will:

Final mark

Your final mark F in the paper will be calculated according to this formula:

F = 0.25L + 0.25P + 0.5A


and all quantities are expressed as percentages.

Students must abide by the University’s Academic Integrity Policy

Academic integrity means being honest in your studying and assessments. It is the basis for ethical decision-making and behaviour in an academic context. Academic integrity is informed by the values of honesty, trust, responsibility, fairness, respect and courage.

Academic misconduct is seeking to gain for yourself, or assisting another person to gain, an academic advantage by deception or other unfair means. The most common form of academic misconduct is plagiarism.

Academic misconduct in relation to work submitted for assessment (including all course work, tests and examinations) is taken very seriously at the University of Otago.

All students have a responsibility to understand the requirements that apply to particular assessments and also to be aware of acceptable academic practice regarding the use of material prepared by others. Therefore it is important to be familiar with the rules surrounding academic misconduct at the University of Otago; they may be different from the rules in your previous place of study.

Any student involved in academic misconduct, whether intentional or arising through failure to take reasonable care, will be subject to the University’s Student Academic Misconduct Procedures which contain a range of penalties.

If you are ever in doubt concerning what may be acceptable academic practice in relation to assessment, you should clarify the situation with your lecturer before submitting the work or taking the test or examination involved.

Types of academic misconduct are as follows:


The University makes a distinction between unintentional plagiarism (Level One) and intentional plagiarism (Level Two).

  • Although not intended, unintentional plagiarism is covered by the Student Academic Misconduct Procedures. It is usually due to lack of care, naivety, and/or to a lack to understanding of acceptable academic behaviour. This kind of plagiarism can be easily avoided.
  • Intentional plagiarism is gaining academic advantage by copying or paraphrasing someone elses work and presenting it as your own, or helping someone else copy your work and present it as their own. It also includes self-plagiarism which is when you use your own work in a different paper or programme without indicating the source. Intentional plagiarism is treated very seriously by the University.

Unauthorised Collaboration

Unauthorised Collaboration occurs when you work with, or share work with, others on an assessment which is designed as a task for individuals and in which individual answers are required. This form does not include assessment tasks where students are required or permitted to present their results as collaborative work. Nor does it preclude collaborative effort in research or study for assignments, tests or examinations; but unless it is explicitly stated otherwise, each students answers should be in their own words. If you are not sure if collaboration is allowed, check with your lecturer..


Impersonation is getting someone else to participate in any assessment on your behalf, including having someone else sit any test or examination on your behalf.


Falsification is to falsify the results of your research; presenting as true or accurate material that you know to be false or inaccurate.

Use of Unauthorised Materials

Unless expressly permitted, notes, books, calculators, computers or any other material and equipment are not permitted into a test or examination. Make sure you read the examination rules carefully. If you are still not sure what you are allowed to take in, check with your lecturer.

Assisting Others to Commit Academic Misconduct

This includes impersonating another student in a test or examination; writing an assignment for another student; giving answers to another student in a test or examination by any direct or indirect means; and allowing another student to copy answers in a test, examination or any other assessment.

Further information

While we strive to keep details as accurate and up-to-date as possible, information given here should be regarded as provisional. Individual lecturers will confirm teaching and assessment methods.