How to Earn an A in Chemistry

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General Chemistry, CHM 1101 at Florida Tech, is one of the most challenging courses that students face during their first year of study. Depending upon one’s chosen major, the introductory semester of chemistry may be necessary to provide a grounding in concepts related to materials used in engineering disciplines or the chemical processes related to biology and psychology. For those majors where chemistry is a core component of study, the first semester provides a strong foundation upon which many other courses will be based. For these reasons, every student enrolled in the first-semester Chemistry course should strive for a complete understanding and strong grades.

But how? What’s the secret to an A in Chemistry?

Here at the ASC, we have it straight from chemistry professors themselves. Here are five ways to earn top grades in Chemistry (and maybe do well in some of your other courses) this semester.

1. Go to class and pay attention.

This seems like common sense, but there are plenty of students who think that sitting in class is enough, and that paying attention isn’t necessary because the lecture slides are online or they can get notes from a friend. Dr. Winkelmann, an associate professor of Chemistry at Florida Tech, reminds students to put away their phones and pay attention. “Lots of your tuition goes to pay for access to the professors who teach you,” he says. Make the most of your investment.

2. Write your lecture notes.

Actively writing out notes is more beneficial than just simply sitting and listening during class. Come prepared to take notes for each class; this means having pens and pencils, looseleaf paper or a notebook, and any other reference materials that the professor may mention. Even if the professor has the lecture on slides, you can annotate them using PowerPoint, Evernote, or another program. Handwriting may provide more flexibility than typing, especially with Chemistry and the need for equations and molecular diagrams. Plus, writing notes keeps you engaged, listening and consolidating the material into a format for later review.

Dr. Winkelmann notes that some of his students try to get by with phones and snapshots of the board. “Write down what your professor says,” he advises. “Taking pictures of the writing on the board doesn’t count.”

3. Practice problem solving.

Chemistry is a subject that requires repeated practice and review. It’s important to read the book and do the homework, but those should be considered the minimum rather than the standard. Chemistry exams are a combination of concept knowledge and applied problem solving, so students should practice solving problems from the textbook as part of their regular review. Dr. Winkelmann likens problem solving to practicing a sport or hobby. “Just like athletics, music, or other activities, you must practice in order to do well.”

4. Manage your time from the beginning.

Waiting until the night before the exam to study will earn you a low D or a high F, if you’re lucky. Cramming all of your studying into a few days combined with minimal sleep won’t help memorization and application, and it can be detrimental to your success in your other courses. During the first few weeks, schedule time to review material and practice problems on a regular basis. This way, studying becomes a regular habit rather than something that only happens before exams.

If you have trouble holding yourself accountable to regular study sessions, schedule them with classmates. Meeting for an hour twice a week to work through practice problems or swap lecture note summaries means that studying for exams is more about reinforcing concepts and processes and less about relearning them.

5. Use office hours and tutoring.

Professors don’t expect you to struggle through the material on your own. They provide supplemental resources and give out email addresses so that you can ask for help. Dr. Winkelmann reminds students about ASC group studies the week before exams and suggests that students talk to instructors outside of class. “Visit your professor during office hours to get more help,” he recommends. A half-hour of questions can help avoid evenings of frustration, if planned properly.

Want more help in Chemistry, or other first-year courses? Make an appointment at the ASC today!

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