Chemistry Survival Guide About General Chemistry You should take time to consider that chemistry is important because chemistry is involved with everything! Cooking, cleaning, medicine, environmental issues - having a deeper understanding of chemistry will help you to better comprehend the matter and processes that exist around you. Chemistry is not only foundational for the understanding of other higher-level classes (ex: organic chemistry, biochemistry, analytical chemistry, etc.), the knowledge you gain from this class is also highly relevant and supplemental in your comprehension of other classes such as physics, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and many, many others. By trying your best to do well in chemistry, you will also be doing yourself a favor in your other classes! In-Class Best Practices It goes without saying that you should be going to classes. For most students, simply reading the textbook will not allow them to fully understand the concepts they will need to know for their exams. By attending classes, you can ask your professor for clarification on concepts and ideas that you would otherwise not be able to fully grasp on your own! Also, by attending class, it shows that you care. When the end of the semester rolls around and you are on the edge between one letter grade and the next, who do you think the professor is going to help, the student who attends class and actively participates, or the student who skips class and is just now asking for help? Exactly, go to class. Take meaningful notes! While you might be able to type your notes faster than you can write them, studies show that writing notes by hand allow you to remember the material significantly better than by typing it. Other studies demonstrate that those who took lecture notes by hand perform better in tests and have better recall ability than those who typed their notes. This is likely because when typing, students type whatever the speaker or lecturer says, in a way that involves a relatively shallow cognitive processing of the material. On the other hand, writing down the lecture material by hand involves more indepth processing of the material since people tend to give more consideration to which parts of the material they should write down as opposed to just simply transcribing everything the speaker says word-for-word. Ask questions! If you do not understand a concept or idea, do not hesitate to ask your teacher for clarification. Chemistry is one of those subjects where the concepts covered can be absolutely foreign or very confusing. Your teacher’s job is to be able to explain these otherwise difficult concepts in a way that’s easily digestible for you. It is much better to ask your teacher your question now than to try and hopefully figure it out correctly on your own. Swallow your fear or your pride, it will help you out in the long run. Preparing/Studying for Exams It should go without saying that cramming the night before a big exam is not ideal. Depending on how well you understand the material, you want to ideally give yourself about 2-5 days to study for an exam, breaking up the material into chunks. You want to have already gone over the material so that the night before the test, you only have to briefly review important topics instead of trying to learn everything for the first time. The more time you give yourself the better able you are to consolidate information into your long-term memory. Let’s say that you were busy and it’s the night before – I totally get it, life happens. Even if you’re in a pinch for time, there are still best practices for cramming. Two 3-hour sessions of studying are much better than a single 6-hour study session. By giving yourself time to decompress, relax, and/or grab a bite to eat, you are less likely to overload yourself and burnout. Read the textbook and do the homework! This, I cannot stress enough. Sure, you might understand the concept when it was covered in class. But active learning (doing homework, participating in discussion, critical thinking, etc.) helps to consolidate your understanding of a material significantly better than passive learning (listening to lecture, reading the textbook, etc.). By successfully working through homework/practice problems, you demonstrate not only your understanding of the material, but you also show that you can also apply that knowledge. Besides, your exams are likely to be structured similarly to the homework problems/practice problems assigned. In fact, some professors take homework questions to use as questions on the exam! Clear your area of any distractions. You shouldn’t only turn off/put your phone on silent. You should make sure your phone isn’t even in your immediate vicinity. A study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Researcher shows that the mere presence of your phone hinders your ability to focus. In fact, even students who said they weren’t consciously thinking about their cell phones still experienced a loss in their cognitive capacities. Those who left their phones in a separate room performed significantly better on tests than those who silenced their phones and left them face down on their desks or in a bag. Writing Lab Reports For many of you, this will be your first time writing a scientific lab report. This might seem like a daunting task, but in reality, this process is very formulaic and if you can master it, you will realize this skill is highly valuable for you in your other science classes! During lab, it is critical to take very good notes. For the most part, you will have an entire week to write your lab report before your next lab. If you write your lab report the night before it’s due, you might have forgotten what exactly happened during lab and other important details (experimental conditions, how the experiment was set up, etc.). As a result, you need to take detailed notes so that when you finally write your lab report, you can reference these notes to remind yourself of what happened and to have important information that you can include in your report. You should write down what you did (this will be your procedure), any observations during your experiment, as well as anything that went wrong or anything wrong with your experimental setup (this will be extremely important for your conclusion). While this might vary depending on the requirements of your professor, here is a general outline of your lab report. This lab report outline can also be used in your other classes (Psychology, Physics, Biochemistry, etc.) o Introduction and Objectives: This section is to introduce/define the main concepts involved in your experiment. If you’re determining the enthalpy, entropy, and Gibbs free energy of a reaction, then explain what those ideas mean. If you’re trying to experimentally determine Avogadro’s number through electrolysis, then tell me what exactly Avogadro’s number is and what the heck electrolysis is. If it’s not common knowledge (i.e. would someone who is not taking the class understand it?), then you should explain it. You should also discuss applications of these concepts (why is it important, why should I care?) Lastly, you should state what you think will happen in your experiment. In other words, give your hypothesis and explain why you think it will happen. o Methods (Procedure): What exactly did you do? You shouldn’t go into excruciating detail of everything that was done (I lifted my hand, I grabbed the beaker, I lifted the beaker…), but briefly explain the things that you did and how you set up the experiment. o Data (Results): What were the results of your experiment? This is where you would want to include tables, graphs, and other figures. If you choose to include a visual aid, make sure that it is clear and easy to understand. Have the basic elements for these visual aids (have a title, label your graphs, show your units of measurement, etc.). You are just showing your data in this section, you are NOT explaining these results yet. o Discussion (Conclusion): Did your results support or contradict your hypothesis? Whether or not your hypothesis was supported or opposed, why do you think what happened, happened? Explain your results using the theories, concepts, and ideas that you introduced in the first section. If there were any problems or complications with your experiment, this would be the time to mention them. If your results weren’t what was to be expected, you can explain them through the limitations of your experiment. o References (if necessary): If you used any outside information, you need to cite these sources to avoid plagiarism. Even if it’s just a picture, if it is not your idea or intellectual property, you must give credit to the original author. Yes, you’re writing a lab report for general chemistry. But doing this successfully will be good practice for your high-level lab classes and your writing-intensive courses. By doing a good job, you are communicating to your teacher that you care about the quality of your work and what you’re doing. Your teacher might reach out and give you research opportunities. Take pride in your lab report! You never know where it might lead you! Other Helpful Tips If you’re finding that you’re following these tips and still aren’t doing well in the class, or maybe your teacher is explaining concepts in a way that you don’t understand, JU’s Academic Support Center offers free tutoring for students! These tutors not took and passed the class, they excelled and were recommended to be able to tutor other students. These peer tutors can help you through practice problems, go through lecture slides with you explaining difficult concepts in a way that is conducive for your understanding, and provide helpful study habits tailored for your class. Many students solely attribute their passing of difficult classes because of the help they receive from our highly qualified tutors. However, the availability of tutors is limited, so you must schedule your tutoring appointments in advance to guarantee a session. You can even schedule weekly sessions with a tutor that fits you so that you can receive academic help every week for the semester! There are a plethora of supplemental chemistry resources online – Khan Academy, YouTube, Chem.LibreTexts.org, are all websites that have additional information on most if not all of the concepts that you will cover in general chemistry. Group studying is helpful insofar that you are focused on studying. If you find that when you study with others you ultimately become distracted and get off-task, then it might be beneficial for you to be studying on your own. You should only study with others if you know you wouldn’t be able to learn the material on your own otherwise. Being with friends is always fun, but at the end of the day, you’re trying to learn the material so stay focused! Reach out to your professor. Many of your teachers have dedicated office hours where you can drop by to ask for help. Your teachers want to see you succeed – if you’re confused in class or are stuck on the homework, visit your professor during their office hours and they will help you! Your professors are busy too – waiting for an email response might take too long and seeing them in person allows them to better explain what’s giving you trouble!