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What am I doing wrong while studying for Chem tests?

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Eramere

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Hi all,

I'm about at my wits' end. I'm a freshman, and no matter how much I study, I never do well on my chemistry tests. I KNOW it's me, not the professor or the class, because, while many people fail the tests, there are always people who get in the low 90's, so I know I can do better if other people can. I make sure I can do all of the odd problems in the textbook, I take notes, I go through and make sure I can do the professor's study guide at least half a dozen times before each test until I understand every single detail of each problem and could basically write a dissertation on each, I watch YouTube video explanations, find extra problems online, go to science hours to work on chemistry and get help, I have a good student-professor relationship with the professor and she knows me, and still, my three test grades so far have been a 60, a 69, and a 65. I don't test well in general, but even in math, which I also struggle with, I somehow manage to get A's on tests after lots of studying.

In my chem class, there are also grades for homework, the lab portion of the class, quizzes, and one project. I usually get high 90's or 100's on the homework, have an 89.5 in lab and am going to bring it up to a solid A with the lab practical grade next week, I get A's and 100's on the quizzes, and I'm going to work my butt off to get a good grade on the project, but it's only 1 percent of our class grade.

I just don't know what else to do. I don't go to parties, I don't stay up late with friends, I go to a one hour French club meeting per week, mass on Sundays, lunch with my boyfriend on Fridays, and we study together over the weekend because he's also taking chem (we actually do study)--that's it. Otherwise I'm in class or studying. I even try to get food to go so I can eat while I'm studying. I just don't know what else I can possibly be doing to prepare for my chem tests. I usually make really stupid mistakes. For example, I'll get the 20 and 30 point problems, the hard calculations completely right, but then I'll get more than half of the stuff that's supposed to be easy--definitions, simple stoichiometry problems--wrong, and, while they're only worth a few points individually, they're worth a lot combined.

Please give me some advice--there must be something key I'm not doing that makes me get such horrendous chemistry test grades despite my efforts. I still have the final exam, and my professor told me during office hours that, if a student who struggles on the tests gets a really good grade on the final exam, she'll find a way to make sure the student gets a good final grade in the class. This is my last chance to make sure I get a good grade in this class. Please don't suggest I drop out of the premed track or find another major. As much as I hate failing exams, quitting isn't an option for me. Medicine is my passion, and I refuse to give up on med school, and somehow or other, I will make it work, so if your advice is to "find something else," I'm not interested.

Thanks!
-Desperate chem student
 

Lost in Translation

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Don't just repeat the questions. Understand the concepts involved. Draw pathways, make analogies, describe what's happening in a way you can understand. The best way to do this is to teach the material to a friend. If you find that your explanations aren't making sense to your friend, find a way to make them (explanations) make sense to them (friend). That will deepen your own understanding of the material.
 
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WedgeDawg

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Here is what I recommend:

1. More problems. If you can't find any more in the book to do, ask your professor if they have old homework problem sets, quizzes, or exams they would be willing to let you use. Also, make your own. Take a problem you got wrong, change the numbers a bit, then have you and a friend (or your boyfriend) both do it and see if you get the same answer. Problems are key. Do the hardest, most involved problems you can.

2. Study in a group at least a few times and teach each other! Make sure the group has people with similar ability levels. If you can teach something to someone else and have them understand it, you know it very well. Also walk each other through problems as in one person picks a problem and goes to the board and then asks "okay what's the first step" and then when someone answers they should ask "why" and keep doing that.

3. Study the simpler stuff. You seem to have the complex stuff down but are being tripped up on easier stuff, so take some time to pay attention to those. It might also just be an issue of either checking your work or slowing down.

4. If you get frustrated, take a break for an hour and so something else, then come back to it. If you're still not sure about what you're doing, ask a friend for help.

5. Try a tutor out and see if that helps. Sometimes it doesn't, when the teaching and learning styles conflict, but when they match well, it works wonderfully.
 
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Eramere

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Don't just repeat the questions. Understand the concepts involved. Draw pathways, make analogies, describe what's happening in a way you can understand. The best way to do this is to teach the material to a friend. If you find that your explanations aren't making sense to your friend, find a way to make them (explanations) make sense to them (friend). That will deepen your own understanding of the material.

I feel like I do this all the time!! I'll explain all of the concepts to my boyfriend and to other friends, I take notes that explain why everything is the way it is, my friends know that I explain things well, so they always ask me to explain things they're not understanding, I'll cross-reference topics in other notes I've taken, I try to relate concepts to other things I know, and our SI is always getting fed up with me because I'll always ask him to explain why something is the way it is and refuse to just accept stuff without understanding. For example, the past exam was on quantum, orbitals, light, and electrons in general. I taught at least two people how to do Lewis Dot structures, I taught my boyfriend how to do electron diagrams, I stepped one of my friends through some of the equations, and I worked problems on the board at the SI sessions, and yet, somehow, there were still questions on the test that I just couldn't do--two of the "easier" problems that I had absolutely no idea how to start and only got partial credit for. This is basically my problem--I could write a dissertation on the topics explaining every nuance, but when I actually take the test, the results don't show this.
 

Pierre Escargot

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Maybe you're devoting too much attention to certain topics compared to others (as you put it, you've been falling short on definitions, stoichiometry, etc.). It could be as simple as putting a bit more effort into those kinds of topics, even if they seem comparatively minor or not worth as many points on the test.
 
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Eramere

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Here is what I recommend:

1. More problems. If you can't find any more in the book to do, ask your professor if they have old homework problem sets, quizzes, or exams they would be willing to let you use. Also, make your own. Take a problem you got wrong, change the numbers a bit, then have you and a friend (or your boyfriend) both do it and see if you get the same answer. Problems are key. Do the hardest, most involved problems you can.

2. Study in a group at least a few times and teach each other! Make sure the group has people with similar ability levels. If you can teach something to someone else and have them understand it, you know it very well. Also walk each other through problems as in one person picks a problem and goes to the board and then asks "okay what's the first step" and then when someone answers they should ask "why" and keep doing that.

3. Study the simpler stuff. You seem to have the complex stuff down but are being tripped up on easier stuff, so take some time to pay attention to those. It might also just be an issue of either checking your work or slowing down.

4. If you get frustrated, take a break for an hour and so something else, then come back to it. If you're still not sure about what you're doing, ask a friend for help.

5. Try a tutor out and see if that helps. Sometimes it doesn't, when the teaching and learning styles conflict, but when they match well, it works wonderfully.


Maybe I don't do enough kinds of problems--I do a lot of problems out of the book and the study guide and maybe one or two websites, but all the problems from one source tend to be kind of the same, and then, on the test, things will be worded strangely or she'll ask to solve for something I hadn't solved for in any practice problems and I just go stupid. I'll ask her if she'd be willing to give me all of the old tests she's given. And I'd never thought of making my own! That would be helpful.

I also haven't really done a lot of study groups--I usually study alone or with one other person. I'll try that.

Thank you so much--this was very helpful.
 
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mistafab

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It sounds like you are only doing the questions in the text with answers in them.

You likely are a person who makes a small mistake in every problem, looks at the answer - realizes the mistakes, then tricks yourself into thinking you know how to do it.

You have to get all the easy points - make sure you understand the math. The math in entry level chemistry is really easy if you understand the concepts instead of memorizing formulas. There really is nothing you need to memorize in chemistry, just understand concepts and constantly test yourself. Make sure you do practice quetsions with no answers in the text book so you can honestly assess yourself with the teacher's or TA's help during office hours or something.
 
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Eramere

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It sounds like you are only doing the questions in the text with answers in them.

You likely are a person who makes a small mistake in every problem, looks a the answer and realizes it, then trick yourself into thinking you know how to do it.

You have to get all the easy points - make sure you understand the math. The math in entry level chemistry is really easy if you understand the concepts instead of memorizing formulas. There really is nothing you need to memorize in chemistry, just understand concepts and constantly test yourself. Make sure you do practice quetsions with no answers in the text book so you can honestly assess yourself with the teacher's or TA's help during office hours or something.

This actually does sound like me--I make small mistakes in problems while I practice, and when I go back and figure out what mistakes I made, and do the problem again or even a problem like it, I'm intentionally making sure I don't make that mistake again, but that doesn't really help me because then I'm not looking at it with fresh eyes and I then know exactly what to look out for for that specific problem or type of problem. I usually don't do the problems with no answers because I don't have a way of checking them, but that would be a good thing to bring up with my prof when I bring her my questions during science hours and office hours...

Thanks!!!
 
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lucin

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drop the class and take it next term with another prof. (if possible)
 

NoTownPreMed

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I'm currently taking chem 1a, currently holding an 89% overall. What I've learned that fare well with me as compared to my lab partner who is barely holding on to a "C" is that repetition is key when working with problems. One huge mistake I catch my partner in doing wrong, is that he would read the book word for word over and over and focus less on practicing questions and key points from PP slides. No matter how much I try to convince him to change his study habits, he still repeats it. Try revamping the way you prep for tests and see how you do.
 
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Eramere

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I'm currently taking chem 1a, currently holding an 89% overall. What I've learned that fare well with me as compared to my lab partner who is barely holding on to a "C" is that repetition is key when working with problems. One huge mistake I catch my partner in doing wrong, is that he would read the book word for word over and over and focus less on practicing questions and key points from PP slides. No matter how much I try to convince him to change his study habits, he still repeats it. Try revamping the way you prep for tests and see how you do.
Thank you!!
 

djsbaseball2014

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Just my two cents but I am currently a second year student who got A's in Gen chem and biology, i am starting Ochem and the same methods apply. What i would do is find out who the students are who are getting A's. Talk to them and see if they are doing anything different than you are currently doing. Also, try and study with them, i have 2 other friends who i study with for every science class. We don't waste our time trying to learn the material for the first time, we do that on our own time, but we meet every day and talk over concepts, relate concepts to other topics and do a TON of practice problems. A lot of the physical sciences are all practice problems and you just need to develop that way of thinking for the exam. Think of how your professor words certain questions and then try and predict a test question they could ask. Don't get complacent with getting C's, I have had my fair share of hiccups during my first year bur try and minimize them. Change something up.
 
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Lannister

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When you study, do you ever find yourself saying, "I know this part of the material, so I'm not going to waste my time studying it."? I've found that when I do that, I usually end up getting questions based on that material wrong, so I always make sure to review everything, even if I think I know it. The fact that you say you're getting the simple stuff wrong might point to the fact that you're just not studying it because you think it's simple and you think you know it.
 
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MrLogan13

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Make sure you do a variety of different types of problems. Many students end up knowing how to do certain types of problems very well because they do similar questions, but then find they don't do well when the same concept is tested in a manner that is different to they way they learned it; in other words, they don't know how to actually apply what they learned. Make sure you understand why you do things vs just how to do them.
 
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Eramere

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Just my two cents but I am currently a second year student who got A's in Gen chem and biology, i am starting Ochem and the same methods apply. What i would do is find out who the students are who are getting A's. Talk to them and see if they are doing anything different than you are currently doing. Also, try and study with them, i have 2 other friends who i study with for every science class. We don't waste our time trying to learn the material for the first time, we do that on our own time, but we meet every day and talk over concepts, relate concepts to other topics and do a TON of practice problems. A lot of the physical sciences are all practice problems and you just need to develop that way of thinking for the exam. Think of how your professor words certain questions and then try and predict a test question they could ask. Don't get complacent with getting C's, I have had my fair share of hiccups during my first year bur try and minimize them. Change something up.

I'm DEFINITELY never going to be complacent with C's...C's in chem are killing me. And ironically, I just found a classmate who gets A's on the tests today and we're going to meet up to study for the coming final and hopefully she can show me what she's doing that I'm not doing...thanks for the advice!!!
 
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