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How to Succeed in Chemistry

CHEM 142

Notes on preparatory seminar, “How to Succeed in Chemistry”, presented by Dr. Andrea Carroll and Natalie Stagnone.

Table of contents
  1. Select the Right Chemistry Classes
    1. College Chemistry on the Quarter System
  2. Concepts and Patterns are Key
  3. Solving Problems
  4. Study Smart
  5. Grade Composition
  6. Tips from a Tutor
  7. Tips for Returning to In-Person Classes
  8. Where to Find Help
  9. CLUE
  10. Learning How to Use Excel
  11. People and Resources
  12. Questions

Select the Right Chemistry Classes

Class NameClass CodeNote
Prep. for General ChemistryCHEM 110Assumes no chem background.
Principles of Chemistry (GOB)CHEM 120, 220, 221One year H.S. chemistry recommended. Environmental science, pre-health, etc. - not necessarily needing the full chemistry course.
General ChemistryCHEM 142, 152, 162One year H.S. chemistry recommended. Largest chemistry series. Near 2000 students taking General Chemistry each quarter. Will revisit fundamental information, but requires basic algebra and chemistry skills.
Accelerated General ChemistryCHEM 143, 153Strong H.S. math and chemistry recommended. Not different material - compressed. 8 instead of 6 labs, 4 instead of 3 hours a week. Ready to take things at a faster pace.
Honors General ChemistryCHEM 145, 155, 165Honors chemistry placement test required. More advanced topics.

College Chemistry on the Quarter System

  • High School chemistry - about 180 school days, or 60 per trimester.
  • CHEM 120 and 1x3: 4 days a week, or 38 days per quarter.
  • CHEM 1x2: 3 days a week, or 28 days per quarter.
  • A lot of the responsibility is on the student to prepare for class and to develop good study habits.

Keys to Success:

  • Prepare for class, lab, and quiz section sessions.
  • Organize your time. There is a very strict lab schedule. Be where you are supposed to be at that time. Use a good calendar.
  • Use study time efficiently. You have other classes, social activities, etc.
  • Start attending office hours early. Opportunities to come talk about the content, class, college life, whatever you want to talk about. A supportive place - you can come stay for however long the session is, or shorter; the quarter system moves very quickly. You cannot start going to office hours early enough.
    • Office hours may be online, but are not required to be so.
  • You need to be actively involved. Do not rely upon slides and other teacher-driven materials.
    • What questions do you have?
    • Are you ready to identify gaps in your knowledge and fill them in?

Concepts and Patterns are Key

  • You are not supposed to memorize specific problem answers. (Predict the products when you mix \(HNO_3\) with \(NH_3\)?)
  • Chemistry is more than nmemorization; you must engage with the content and build upon the things that yo uhave memorized.
    • There will always be things you have to memorize, but memorization alone is not enough.
  • Focus on understanding concepts, relationships, and patterns.
    • Don’t just look for the answer; look for the process by which you can derive the problem. What are the underlying concepts & relationships?
  • Communicate what you know on the exams. Replicate this exchange of information in study groups, etc.

Solving Problems

  • We begin as novice problem solvers and move towards becoming expert problem solvers.
  • Learn concepts from solving problems (e.g. ALEKS). These can give you lower-hanging fruit but apply these basic concepts to more complex problems (found in the textbook).
  • Pull out relevant information, incorporate it into the solving process.

Study Smart

  • New for CHEM Autumn 21: “Catalyze Your Success: Learning Strategies for Students” - good for information on classes and is located on the course website.
  • Practice active reading and listening. You’re never going to read everything you were assigned, but find ways to move through what you were assigned in an efficient manner.
  • If it’s easy, you aren’t learning. Move on to something more complex.
  • Distribute your practice.
  • You learn best from mistakes - figure out what went wrong. Mistakes are how we learn. When you don’t do as well as you like on a quiz or test, go back and find what you will do to move forward from it. What worked, what didn’t work - use it as a feedback mechanism.
  • Quiz yourself.
  • Talk with other chemistry students and make study groups. Learn study skills from upperclassmen.

Grade Composition

  • Chemistry - 60-70% of your grade is based on assessments.
  • The format, breakdown, and details can vary by instructors. Instructors collaborate and coordinate.
  • There is understandably panic at such a high weightage of grading.
  • A typical student will spend 2 hours per credit hour outside of class sessions each week to earn an average grade. Are you a typical student?
    • Tailor different course goals for different larger goals.
  • Know how you learn best, and be ready to adapt. Try something new if what you did before didn’t work out.
  • Attend office hours - come see professors, it is where teachers find out where the holes are.
  • Engage with material throughout the quarter. Do not wqit until week 8.
  • Get to know your professor and TA.
  • The average is around 68% to 72%. The target median grade is 2.6 to 2.9, roughly a B-.

Tips from a Tutor

  • Two important traits notes should have - organization and post-processing.
    • Make sure you can find information quickly and efficiently.
  • Find an outline style and stick to it. Be consistent with how you take notes.
  • Immediately after class, return to your notes:
    • Summarize key terms.
    • Identify patterns.
    • Write questions.
  • Encourage repetition and consistency.

Tips for Returning to In-Person Classes

  • Follow a routine. Pay attention to your class schedule and take breaks if you need htem.
  • Stay focused. Use a planner, calendar, checklist, etc. Minimize distractions.
  • Ask for help!
  • Cramming will not be your best friend, find time and support if you need it.
  • Take care of yourself; it may be more beneficial to take a break and get rest than to cram more.

Where to Find Help

Professor and TA

  • Help sessions
  • Most knowledgeable about course
  • Information will be provided on Canvas
  • You can just sit and see what other students are asking.

CSC - Chemistry Study Center

  • Located in Bgley. 9 AM - 8 PM Monday to Friday.
  • Tutor and TA help sessions.


  • Availalbe ot help with academic and career planning.

CLUE - Center for Learning and Undergraduate Enrichment

  • Offered in MGH and virtually, Sun-Thu 7:00 PM - 11:00 PM.

Academic Success Coaches

  • By appointment in person or virtually.
  • Support for success in college.

Husky Health and Wellbeing

  • Take care of yourself - physically, mentally, and emotionally.

IC - Instructional Center

  • Mon - Thurs 9:00 AM - 8:00 PM, Fri 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Comprehensive learning for EOP students.


  • Light night hybrid study center in Mary Gates Hall (available virtually too).
  • Great place to study on your own or with friends.
  • Tutors are available to help if you need it.
  • Holds exam reviews before your exams. Will be held virtually this year. A problem set of 10 problems that will be gone over by tutors. You can ask questions that you need and you can come into drop-in hours to cover another question.
  • Academic success coaching available. Coaches can be accessed via appointment.
  • Take advantage of resources before your first midterm. Develop a routine and go from there.
    • ALEKS problem, conceptual problem, quiz question, etc.
  • Offers programs in may other disciplines.

Learning How to Use Excel

  • Lab reports are much easier if you know some Excel basics.
  • Know how to calculate mean and standard deviation, plotting data, performing linear regression.
  • CLUE offers Excel help.

People and Resources

  • Dr. Andrea Carrol - Chemistry
  • Natalie Stagnone - CLUE Lead Chemistry Tutor
  • Lizzy Harman - CLUE Manager
  • Tim Bradford - Chemistry Advisor


Is it beneficial to plan to be a CLUE tutor?Good thing to strive for. Take turns in your study group talking through the material.
When can people be CLUE tutors?Required to get through first 2 years of Chemistry.
Date of Excel workshop?Will be emailed.
How long should you spend on a report?No longer than 2 hours. If you are spending 5+ hours you probably need help with using Excel.
Are questions provided in ALEKS, EoC, etc. sufficient for your own practice or are other outside resources needed?In Dr. Carroll’s class, yes - but there are many resources out there. Khan Academy, etc. Anything you can do to practice is all the better. If you want more practice, go find it. If you don’t know where to find it, then ask. Most professors attempt to stay within the resources that have been given.
Can you use Google sheets for Excel sheets?There are formatting incompatibilities between Excel and Sheets. Use Excel; is included in the UW Microsoft Suite.
Are there certain days that are better to attend CLUE?There is no rhyme nor reason in how crowded sessions are. Come any day - if there is school the next day, CLUE is open (including holidays).