Preparing for Chem 201 – Summer Study Suggestions

Several students have asked me in the last few years, “What can I do this summer to get ready for Chem 201 next fall?”

A perfectly reasonable question, and one that deserves an instructive response. But I hesitate to answer. Why? First, I think it is important to know that, practically speaking, there is enough time to work on your fall semester courses during the fall. You shouldn’t feel compelled to make your academic year longer than it already is. Second, I’m worried about fueling student anxiety. Whether your goal is to earn an A or to simply pass the course, you can do this without summer study. I am not trying to make a philosophical point, but just reporting on what I have seen. Hardly any students study for organic chemistry before the semester begins and they do just fine.

Now that my cards are on the table, and you understand that summer study is completely optional, I will freely admit that there are many sound reasons for delving into a subject before you study it formally. I have even done it myself on occasion. So, with all that in mind, here are three suggestions for those who are interested in serious preparation.

#1. Review key topics from Chem 101/102. Chem 201 leans heavily on a number of topics that are developed in the 100-level courses. A logical way to prepare for 201 is to make sure your 101/102 foundation is strong. This approach also has the advantage of practicality. You probably still have your 101/102 course materials, so you can more easily dig them up for review and practice. Here’s a list of 101/102 topics that I think are especially important for creating a strong foundation for Chem 201/202.

#2. Learn/Practice study skills. Many successful 201/202 students have told me that they became successful only after they adopted new ways of studying. That makes perfect sense to me. It isn’t enough to be “academically gifted” or “hard-working” or “attend all classes and take good notes” (although all of these things help). Chem 201/202 ask you to master concepts and skills that don’t appear much, if at all, in Chem 101/102, and achieving these goals usually means cultivating one or more additional (and possibly new) skills and habits. Take a look at this list (under construction) of “new” study skills and consider whether some summer practice might be helpful. Planting the seeds of even one new skill could be helpful. (Bonus: you will probably learn a little organic chemistry along the way.)

#3. Study organic chemistry. Here’s the “obvious” suggestion, study organic chemistry with some kind of organic chemistry textbook before the semester starts. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this except that your book will be your sole guide. You don’t have to complete any particular list of topics. You can skip around, sample a little of this and a little of that if you like. Here is a list of books that have something to offer.

There is also the question of how to study when you work with a book. #2. Learn/Practice study skills contains some important tips, but if you’ve gotten this far, you’ve already decided your skills are fine. So let’s put aside the notion that you want to touch lightly on this or that, and you really want to “go for it”. In that case, you need to do 3 things: read in an organized fashion, learn to draw (correctly, clearly, quickly) chemical structural formulas, energy diagrams, reactions and reaction mechanisms, and finally memorize what you are learning. For more on read-draw-memorize, see these tips (under construction).

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