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Chemistry Survival Guide Points

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
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
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!