Resources and strategies for successful chemistry studies
As with any science, Chemistry is certainly a challenging subject! It requires a deep understanding of content, often incorporating knowledge from math, physics, and other subjects, as well as the ability to apply that understanding and logic to solve multi-step problems. Students get the opportunity to obtain and explore real data and ask deep questions of how the world works – building their understanding on a molecular level. Ask any of our majors, graduate students, or faculty, and they will certainly tell you about the long hours they have dedicated to working hard on understanding this material – but we still love it! That’s why we believe that all students can be successful in chemistry and science, if they have the right support, commitment, and drive to follow through. In order to support our students, we continue to work hard building resources and programs to help you improve your study habits and problem solving ability in chemistry. Below are a number of resources you might consider.
One of the most important parts to a successful start in chemistry is taking the right course! Often students get into trouble when they jump into a sequence without the right background and prerequisites. Therefore the department offers an online placement exam each summer to help you decide whether Chem31A or 31X is right for you – check out more information in our undergraduate program description.
As you progress through the major, each student chooses a major advisor within the department to help them create a plan for coursework, find research opportunities, and think about next steps. If you are not yet a major, or just wondering how to proceed through coursework in our department, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your current instructor or our Student Services Officer, who can suggest helpful people and information.
If you find yourself struggling, don’t be too quick to assume that you’re not cut out for chemistry. Often, students come from a high school where expectations were much different and perhaps just memorizing the key concepts or knowing the steps to each of the homework problems was enough to ace that exam. But you came to Stanford to be challenged and grow – which means your studying will probably have to change too! It might be as simple as devoting a bit more time to practicing the material, but it is more likely that how you are studying will actually need to change too. While it can be difficult, changes you make in your studying of chemistry will be sure to help you in your other classes too, so it is well worth the time.
Additionally, don’t forget that there are many other resources on campus that can help with general study skills, note-taking, time management and more! Check out the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (VPTL) page on academic skills for more information:
You can even make an appointment with one of their academic skills coaches to get a personalized plan for improvement.
Problem-solving Workshops and Office Hours
As we mentioned earlier, chemistry is all about problem solving – and just like riding a bike, this skill needspractice this get better! This is certainly something that you can do on your own, or better yet in a study group. If you are looking for additional guidance, our first year sequence of courses Chem31A (Aut), Chem31B (Win), and Chem33 (Spr) offer optional Outreach Workshops on Monday and Wednesday evenings, in which an advanced TA provides guided practice through problems that highlight current lecture material. You’ll get a chance to start problems on your own and then work them through with a TA, when you can ask questions about each step as it arises. The worksheets are also posted on the course websites so that you can work these on your own too – the key is dedicating specific time to PRACTICE. If you can’t explain how or why you solved a problem in a specific way, then make sure to ASK.
Although our other courses do not include a specific outreach workshop, all courses have office hours where you can work with TAs to practice problem solving and ask questions about any course material to build deeper understanding. Additionally, VPTL offers free tutoring and drop-in hours for many of our courses as well:
Companion Course Sequence
As our Introductory Sequence [Chem31A (Aut), Chem31B (Win), and Chem33 (Spr)] can be challenging, especially for students whose high school may not have offered a strong chemistry program, we also offer a Companion Course (Chem31A-C, 31B-C, and 33-C) to accompany each course in this sequence. These classes provide students additional opportunities to work through challenging course problems and applications with one of the parent course instructors in a small section setting, which emphasizes group study. The companion courses do not introduce new material, but rather give highly motivated students the chance to go into greater depth on material and problem solving that is otherwise covered quickly during the courses. The goals of the companion course are to:
- Provide additional practice and explanation of the parent course material
- Gain problem solving strategies and study techniques that can be applied in chemistry and other science courses
- Help develop critical thinking skills to analyze and solve problems in chemistry and beyond
Leland Scholars Program
The Leland Scholars Program was created to facilitate the transition to college for incoming Stanford freshmen who may be the first in their families to attend college, or who attended schools with limited curricula or Advanced Placement options. Leland Scholars participate in a fully funded, four-week residential summer program of carefully crafted activities, coursework, seminars, and trips designed to facilitate the transition to Stanford. This includes a course in chemistry problem solving, designed to help students build a “tool kit” of strategies for studying and problem solving within the sciences and to gain practice taking a first exam! During the academic year, Leland Scholars will have access to additional advising and freshman seminars that sustain the community and reinforce the skills and strategies acquired during the program.