Bad first semester - advice?

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Nov 14, 2023
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Freshman year microbiology major - I have an A+, A, or A- in everything except two, very heavily weighted classes: calc 1 and gen chem 1.

Calc 1 I have a B in and for me, it's very conceptually hard to understand. The class basically consists of the teacher introducing a unit, doing 2-4 problems within said unit, asking if everyone understands, and then ending class. I've completely zoned out in class and have been self-studying, but don't feel I have a great grasp on the subject. I find this to be a bit concerning, as it's one of the most basic critical thinking classes. How will this affect my performance when I have to take physics?

As far as gen chem 1, I have a very hard-earned C+. I have an easier time understanding it, but the professor is simply not good. He graduated from MIT and his tests are ridiculously hard. The SIs can't even do some of the problems he puts out. His teaching is also not very engaging, and the exams he makes do not correlate to the material in the chapters. I've gone into every exam having studied hours, just to be met with material that wasn't even apart of the units we were supposedly being tested on.

I know it's very early, but I'm sure I'll run into these problems later on in my pre-med journey - not understanding material and not having a good professor. What are some strategies you guys would recommend to get around these problems?

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How will this affect my performance when I have to take physics?
You can take algebra based physics instead of calculus based physics and may find that easier. It's been a while since I've taken physics but kinematics and E&M do use a lot of calc 1 (derivatives and integrals) so I would warn against that if you aren't pretty comfortable with them. There's also basic vector calculations. That being said you probably won't get the same difficulty of integration or derivation as you would in a dedicated math course (most if it is somewhat straightforward). Only thing I would recommend is making sure to use RateMyProfessor since it sounds like the profs may be the biggest issue for you. I'll let others discuss more strategies.
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Look, I struggled as a freshman too. Actually in chemistry. I went to office hours, things got better, I ended up being a chemistry SI leader.

Some basic things about college bro- your professor is god in that class, and he doesn't care about you. Find out what he wants, and give it to him. Go to his office, smile, even when he is a jerk to you. At least let him know you give a rip. Find out how to get what you need to get an A. Talk to your classmates who get As- ask them how they study. Some of those people are freaky geniuses, don't listen to them. Some of your classmates are "normal person smart" but have figured out the right SYSTEM to do well in the course. (He tests from his powerpoints, memorize those. Do textbook problems in the back of the book, he writes similar exam questions. etc etc).

There will be a few times in college where the professor is a bad person and there's truly nothing you can do. In these cases, do what you can, and don't sweat the C. That one C won't prevent you from being a doctor. But these classes should be the exception not the rule.

For biology/psychology/history/memorizing classes- use Anki. Period.

For calculus- problems, problems, problems, problems. And more problems. You should be filling up chalkboards.

For chemistry- it's a mix of "hey memorize these facts/formulas (use Anki for this)" and "Hey solve these problems" (do tons of practice problems).

But for all of these classes, you have to figure out what information your professor is testing you on. Sometimes it's the book, sometimes it's the powerpoints, sometimes it's their ramblings during lecture. At the beginning of each college course, you should be grinding endlessly learning from all of these, because before your first exam, you won't know which information set to prioritize.

Sorry for the essay. I was an SI leader in college, for the class you're currently struggling with actually. Feel free to DM me if you want.
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That sounds like a perfectly normal to fine first semester.

A few Bs and Cs here and there are not what will keep you out of medical school. On the other hand, stressing too much over them and letting it paralyze you or lead you to make bad decisions absolutely will.

On top of that, there's almost no academic performance in your first semester you can't recover from: you just need to grow and show you can get better.

The last few years the expectations for most of my first years for what "good" grades are has gone up to an unattainable level and it's really, really starting to have a negative effect.
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The really good news is that the med school application combines both semesters (or all quarters) of your first academic year into a single GPA. So, you can remediate your year by doing better in the new (calendar) year.

Rate my professor is a good resource if you want to avoid brilliant people who are lousy teachers. Do your part by contributing after the semester is over.
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