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Problem Solving

Problem solving is a skill we often don't get time to explicitly teach in lectures. The four simple steps we use are:

  • READ the question
  • PLAN your approach
  • SOLVE the problem
  • CHECK your answer

You're probably doing something similar when you successfully answer complicated questions: this method just formalizes the steps, and should help preventing you panicking when you encounter an unfamiliar problem. First, READ the question carefully and actively. This means you should look for key terms and try and sort out which parts of the question are most important. Next, PLAN your answer - write down the equations or concepts you think you might need, and/or quickly summarize the main thrust of the question. When you SOLVE a problem, you'll directly apply what you've gone through in the READ and PLAN stages and write down your working and the answer. Finally, a step lots of people forget - CHECK that you've actually answered ALL of the parts of the question and that your answer is reasonable.

Of course, this strategy won't mean much until you see it in action! So how do you learn it? Well, you can certainly ask your TAs or instructors and we'll show you how to problem solve using this approach. However, you can also learn right here on this website. We've made narrated, animated Flash presentations that apply the READ-PLAN-SOLVE-CHECK approach for a wide variety of problems that appeared in past Chem101 exams.

The best way to use this resource is probably by trying the problems yourself first. You'll find them at the end of each chapter of your lecture book. If you get stuck, that's where the narrated problem sets come in:

Use the navigation bar below each movie to pause, play, go back, etc.

If you're using a mobile device, try the Youtube versions instead. Access the correct video by scanning the appropriate QR-code printed in your lecture book. Most Android devices read these codes natively, but at time of writing, ipad/ipod/iphone needed an app to do this. They're mostly free, e.g. "QR Scanner".

Over 75% of students in previous years found the narrated worked examples "helpful" or "very helpful". We hope you do too.

Credits: Problems were sourced by Dr Codding from previous Chem101 midterms and final exams. Solutions were designed and scripted by Krista Vikse and Dr McIndoe. The presenter is Krista Vikse.

Department of Chemistry, University of Victoria. Updated 27 July, 2011.