Chemistry Study Hints
Students often ask for advice about how to study chemistry. There is no
single best method for studying, but here are a few suggestions. These
suggestions were developed with organic chemistry in mind, but apply
well to all types of chemistry courses.
Use the Concept
Focus Questions (CFQ) in the course Thinkbook to focus your thoughts on
the most important
concepts in a unit or chapter. Here is what I have found to work
- Read the CFQ for that unit.
- Scan the assigned reading for that unit. Read the first
chapter(s), as well as the first few sentences of each section.
usually introduce or summarize key concepts for the chapter.
- Read the corresponding Lecture Supplements.
- Do not focus solely on what is written on the board. Listen
down key verbal points as well. The lecture
podcasts will make this easier.
- Carefully read the assigned textbook reading.
- Write down the solution to each CFQ as it is encountered, even if
it well. Writing an answer helps you remember the concept.
- Expand and clarify your lecture notes based on the text
Listen to lecture
podcasts and discuss
points that are unclear with your study group.
- Make flash cards for new vocabulary words, reactions, etc. as
- Do all of the problems the Thinkbook and textbook.
- Go through the stack of flash cards.
On Using the Textbook and Working Problems
- Make copious use of office hours and discussion section.
- The index is a wonderful tool to help you find answers to your
how to use it! It's easier even than sending an email.
- Read the text. Understand the text, do not just skim the
Think about the text. Challenge what it says.
- Do the text problems as you come to them. The are placed so
enhance your understanding and learning of the particular topic they
- Do not look at the answer key unless you have an answer or you
stumped. Ask a study buddy for a clue first if you can.
Other Useful Tips
- If you get a problem wrong, work through the answer on paper
can reproduce it, and until your understand why each step occurs they
it does. Then try another problem of the same type right away!
Most important: Genius requires
dedication (i.e, work ethic). Learn more about How
to be a Genius. Enlightenment is
- Study chemistry for at least one hour of every day of the week
ends in -day. An hour every day is
much better than
ten hours on Saturday alone.
- Start studying early
(i.e., the first day of the quarter). Seek
help early (i.e., as soon as the question occurs, not a week
later.) A recently published study reveals that students who follow
these two common-sense study guidelines earn higher grades in organic
- Do the assigned reading before attending lecture!
- Do not try to write down every word spoken during the lectures.
high points, and fill in the details later (see the next point).
- Rework your notes after each lecture. Work through the notes
and make sure that you understand each concept. Redraw all of the
Have the text open, and expand upon each point covered in the lecture.
Fill in blank spaces or abbreviated material in your notes. Make sure
understand all the material from every lecture. Expand and organize
notes. Making a fresh but neater copy of your notes without adding
new is a waste of your valuable study time.
- Keep up with all of the reading. Read (not just skim) the
before you come to class, and read it again after the lecture.
- Organize the material that must be memorized. Make flash cards
essential memory bank material, especially reactions. The goal is
- Work lots and lots (and lots more) of problems. You should try to
do every problem in
Get another text or other source of problems if you can.
- Do not scurry to the study guide, another student, TA, or
after deciding that you cannot solve a given problem. Find an
section of the text (use the index!) and read through it carefully. The
study guide, etc., should be used as a last resort and not a means of
a reexamination of the text. Getting the 'right answer' is not the main
point of working the problems; becoming more intimately familiar with
concepts is. It is more important to focus on concepts and developing
- Do not spend more than 15 minutes on any one problem. If you
the problem by that this time, you are probably missing something and
effort is a waste of valuable study time. A review of the text, your
notes, or another source of material (perhaps even another text) is
for. Go on to other problems, and return to these difficult ones when
have had a bit more practice.
- Do ALL the problems associated with the assigned reading, even if
seem irrelevant. You must take responsibility for your own
- Attend office hours. Listen to other student questions. Use the discussion board
frequently. Students who use office hours regularly
learn more chemistry and this get higher grades. In addition, if I
know you, I will not write a letter of recommendation should you ask me
- Form study groups. A small groups of students working together
ideas and concepts to the benefit of everyone. Teaching each other is
ideal way to learn chemistry. However, do not allow these study
to turn into pizza parties and gossip sessions. Group study sessions
be all business.
Advice from Organic Chemistry Students
- Think molecules. That is, think about what is happening on the
level. Consider where the electrons are, what they are doing, and why
are doing it. Chemistry is much more than equations. You will find this
course difficult if you ignore this way of thinking.
“The sad truth is that most of your
practice comes from doing problems
and doing the practice midterms. Of course, that sounds bad. But
My favorite way of conquering the 7 or 8 practice midterms that he
posts is to do use a couple of midterms as testers where you can take
your time doing a couple of problems to get a feel for what he's
questions are like, and so you can go back to the Thinkbook and review
areas in which you feel weak in. You can take the next several
exams like the actual midterm: take in a quiet place and under a timed
setting so that you can know how to pace yourself.
Also, I find review Concept Focus Questions always refreshes your mind
about all the general details that sometimes gets lost when you learn
and remember all the tiny details. After all, sometimes he asks
you to write the definition of something and it sucks to miss that
question, especially since those are easy points. “
“I find that doing the CFQs and Practice Problems right after he goes
over the topics in lecture helps a lot. When midterm and final time
comes around it's best to review concepts from the CFQs that were
harder for you to grasp as well as doing all the practice exams that he
puts on his website. I think it's also worth it to listen to relectures
that covered the more difficult concepts.”
“I find that if I do the CFQ's before lecture I am able to understand
the lecture more clearly. Do the one hour of day (although this is many
times not enough time). OWL problems on the other hand haven't been
extremely helpful for me as a whole. Do all of the old exams before the
midterm, they will help you. Hope this helps.”
“Study Ochem everyDAY! It is impossible at times to do it voluntarily,
but I mean, at least 15 minutes or a couple of problems a day doesn't
hurt. It's pretty doable because once his exams come by, you'll be
prepared for his surprises and challenging problems. Trust me, I've
been exposed to his exams before and the best way to prepare for them
is not the night or a few nights before, but it is an ongoing process.
OChem is harder than most people think, and how Dr. H tests- he really
wants you to apply the concepts you learn and not just what you have
memorized! So basically, the tools he has given you (Thinkbook,
"optional" texts, etc.) are useful and meant to help students.”
“I find that going over my handwritten notes and sometimes rewriting my
notes right after lecture really helps.
CFQ's and PP's are a minimal
must to survive this class! And if you have access to Dr. H's book
that's he's writing, you'll see that he has more CFQ's there for you to
practice as well!
Also, does anyone want to form a chemistry study
group? I formed one for 14C and it worked fairly well. It kinda fell
apart at the end because it was hard to coordinate everyone's
schedules, but for the time it lasted it still helped.
interested, please private message me.
Thanks and gluck studying!”
“The best part about Hardinger's course is the access to past
midterms. After studying for so and so weeks it is nice to have
these extra problem sets in a nice bundle that usually summarizes what
you need to know, and allows you to challenge yourself under similar
circumstances. Granted theres always something new on the actual
midterm so focus on conceptual understanding of each question's
purpose. Lecture is awesome though. The metaphors and step by
step explanation allow you to digest info before putting the knowledge
to practice. Go to lecture."
“Sometimes I like to spend quality time with a whiteboard when I'm
reviewing the reaction mechanisms. It's a lot quicker to erase
and keep doing and redoing problems until you get them right. Since I
go back to the dorms after lecture, for the current sn1/sn2 topics, I
just write the mechanism we went over at the top of the board and list
- "why is this sn1/sn2?"
- "why did we use this nucleophile?"
- "what type of solvent is this/why/define everything"
- "what types of products"
- "what if we had a different solvent?"
If you're eligible and are having trouble with o-chem, there are lots
of great tutoring resources. Both AAP (Campbell Hall) and Covel
have great tutors that put things into a different perspective and sum
up the topics really nicely. “
“This is how I study which has worked for me before. I get the basic
idea when I go to class. Then later on I go through the entire section
in the thinkbook: CFQs and Practice Problems, I have had no reason to
really do OWLS unless I have time. Practice Problems already cover the
topic very well. Doing all the practice exams are the most crucial and
I do them the day before the exam. It really test your knowledge and
tells you everything you need to know. The exam will be similarly
formated to the practice exam, with the addition of one or two new
types of problems that are more challengely and really test your
knowledge on the subject and are not seen anywhere else (practice
problems or exams). There's a lot of mechanical work to be done, but if
you do it it actually makes the exam very pleasant to sit
“I think my biggest mistake in 14C was saving up the problems and doing
them all at once instead of breaking them up into manageable chunks.
Towards the end of the quarter, I changed my study habits so that I
would do problems whenever I had a half hour open. The details and
concepts definitely stick better, and that way when you review for the
midterm/final it comes together big picture wise. Also, when Im doing
problems I circle problems that were difficult or tricky and go back
and do them a week or two later when Im reviewing just make sure I
understand the material well enough not to get tricked again.”
“One thing that really helps me study is listening to lecture
recordings. Going to lecture is great for gradual information
retention, but for added reinforcement, around 4 days before an exam, I
go through all the lectures which the exam will cover and listen to
them at 2x the regular speed. You can still understand it and go over
the written notes at the same time. If there is a part that needs
clarification, slow down and repeat it.
This is really helpful if you
missed writing something during lecture. Also, I find it helpful to re
listen to an entire topic (ie substitution reactions: SN1 and SN2) all
in one day. It helps me make more connections and understand the
information more thoroughly. The entire "relistening process" takes
only a day of studying. This way, if you understand everything he talks
about without having to go back and review the topic, you are ready for
the test conceptually. To be completely ready, do A LOT of problems,
every problem given at least twice. Go over OWLS and practice problems
one more time and move on to the old midterms.”
“After each lecture, I usually read the course notes archive. It
includes detailed notes on every lecture topic."