How to Study Chemistry

What Goes Around

After so much advice on how to study chemistry, it is obvious a lot of “information” is not really helpful.

What You Usually Hear

There must be better advice than “to study more” , “remove distractions”, “eat well”, “make a schedule”, and “get organized”. Many schemes and systems rely on six different hi-lite colors, fold out notebook pockets, and a dreaded weekly planner.

What they all mostly lack is a real nuts and bolts list of techniques that help you in an actionable way .

Try Something New

Everyone has their own “best thing” that will help them master how to study. But that implies they have tried more than one thing rather than saying: “This is how I know how to study so it must be the way to study.”

Every person is an individual with their own quirks. But don’t imagine you must reinvent the wheel to find success. There are proven methods to succeeding. If what you are doing is not producing the results you want, then try something else. You would be surprised at the number of students who simply will not do that.

Find A Reason

Your Brain Decides

The single largest predictor of whether you do well is if you see a purpose to what you are studying. Your brain acts as a well tuned instrument to filter out whatever it thinks is irrelevant. If you have an attitude you do not really need to know or care about something , you will find cramming an uncomfortable experience; which may or may not be successful despite super human willpower.

When you find something interesting or believe this particular bit of studying has some real world advantage, remembering things and studying becomes far easier.

Think About This

In the case of studying chemistry, well over ninety percent of people on the board of directors in fortune 500 companies have a degree in chemistry or chemical engineering. The vast majority of new patents come from someone in the field of chemistry. No matter what your eventual field, your ambition will be well rewarded with at least some knowledge of chemistry.

Bear in mind also, the vast majority of Americans change their career path multiple times before they settle into a specific tract.

Treat It Like A Job

How Much time?

You can not succeed in studying without putting in a certain amount of effort. This does not mean you must put in hour after relentless hour with your nose to the grind stone. It means if you put in study time of at least two times the amount of time you spend in class studying outside of class, you should be studying enough.

For example if you have a class that meets MWF for one hour three times a week, this equals three hours per week you spend in class. That means you should study a minimum of six hours a week outside of class. Never more than nine hours a week.

Here is what this translates into in real world terms. If you take a typical class load of twelve credit hours, this means you would study twenty-four hours outside of class each week. Together the twelve hours and twenty-four hours comes to thirty-six hours of time you commit to academic pursuits.

This leaves evenings and weekends free for you to do whatever you want. Provided you actually study and produce academic results when you study. It also alerts you when you study a standard amount of time and do not produce the best results. This means you do not understand something crucial and need to seek help from the instructor or a tutor.

Don’t Major In Minor

Another critical problem is when you choose what to study and for how long. Not all material is equally important. Treating everything like it is equally important blurs a hierarchy of information which you should pick up based on how something is taught.

The mere act of organizing material into major topics and subordinate topics will help you to retain as much information as possible.

All too often students spend an inordinate amount of time on problems which do not advance their preparation. If you must spend time on one type of problem or even one problem, budget your time so other information which needs attention does not fall behind. Don’t walk into an exam with large parts of a topic neglected because you got stuck somewhere else.

Quality Control

Have A Specific Goal

Something which is also often neglected is finding out whether or not you have made progress as a result of the time you spend studying. You should begin every study time with specific goal in mind with a specific and measurable way to decide if you mastered given of skill.

What Kind of Goal

A goal means something specific you can measure.

It is not a goal to say you will study until you understand phase changes in water. This is too vague, and the term “understand” can mean almost anything.

Real Goals

When you set a real goal it means something like: “I will show my mastery of the phase changes of water by drawing a phase diagram of water as it changes from ice to water to steam. I will label the diagram correctly and carry out calculations which show how much energy is required for both gram and mole quantities of water to change phases

Do not consider you have “studied” the material simply because you spent a fixed amount of time looking at it, looking at flash cards, or anything which is passive or does not require you to put something in writing or solve a problem in writing.

The Product of Studying

A Paper Trail

You are looking for concrete physical evidence of progress. Do not rely on doing all this in your head. Thinking you understand something and really understanding something are two different things. One you can look at later if the exact details escape you. The other (the bad kind) evaporates after a remarkably short period of time.

When you have solved problems, have notes with explanations, and written explanations of graphs, you have something in your hand you can look at. Remember that as a professional anything you will be required to produce written reports, summaries, and briefs.

Test Yourself

The last piece to quality control is self-testing. Work on problems you anticipate will be of the same or similar difficulty on an exam. Be certain you can get them right in an appropriate period of time.

You may find explaining concepts and problem solving techniques to a study partner or study group enhance how well you understand material.