Advice for Learning and Studying Chemistry
Learning chemistry requires both the assimilation of many new concepts and the development of analytical skills. As you proceed through your course in chemistry, it is important for you to develop good study habits to help you in the learning process. Here are some tips for success in your study of chemistry:
Don't fall behind! In your chemistry course, new topics will build on material already presented. If you don't keep up in your reading and problem solving, you will find it much harder to follow the lectures and discussions on current topics. Cramming just before an exam has been shown to be an ineffective way to study any subject, chemistry included.
Focus your study. The amount of information you will receive in your chemistry course can sometimes seem overwhelming. It is essential to recognize those concepts and skills that are particularly important. Listen intently to the guidance and emphasis provided by your instructors. Pay attention to the skills stressed in the Sample Exercises and assignments. Notice the italicized statements in the text, and study the concepts presented in the chapter summaries.
Keep good lecture notes. Your lecture notes will provide you with a clear and concise record of what your instructor regards as the most important material to learn. Use your lecture notes in conjunction with the textbook; that’s your best way to determine which material to study.
Skim topics in the text before they are covered in lectures. Reviewing a topic before lecture will make it easier for you to take good notes. First read the introduction and summary, then quickly read through the chapter, skipping sample exercises and supplemental sections. Pay attention to the titles of sections and subsections, which give you a feeling for the scope of topics. Try to avoid thinking that you must learn and understand everything right away.
After the lecture, carefully read the topics covered in class. You will probably need to read assigned material more that once to master it. As you read, pay attention to the concepts presented and the application of these concepts in the Sample Exercises. Once you think you understand a Sample Exercise, test your understanding by working the accompanying Practice Exercise.
Learn the language of chemistry. As you study, you will encounter many new words. It is important to pay attention to these words and to know their meanings, or the entities to which they refer. Knowing how to identify chemical substances from their names is an important skill; it can help you avoid painful mistakes on examinations.
Attempt all the assigned end-of-chapter exercises. Working the exercises that have been selected by your instructor provides necessary practice in recalling and using the essential ideas of the chapter. You cannot learn merely by observing; you must be a participant. In particular, try to resist checking the Solutions Manual (if you have one) until you have made a sincere effort to solve the exercise yourself. If you really get stuck on an exercise, however, get help from your instructor, your teaching assistant, or from another student. Spending more than 20 minutes on a single exercise is rarely effective unless you know that it is particularly challenging.
Here is a LINK to a set of problem-solving video clips for typical examination problems for Chem 101.
Make use of the web. Some things are more easily learned by discovery. The companion site for the course text no longer exists, but other useful material exists on the web. In general it is best to choose materials from university-based web sites.
© Department of Chemistry, University of Victoria. Updated 28 August 2012 .