P Chem Lab I- Bragg

Dear Student,

Given its reputation, Physical Chemistry Lab may seem like an impossible feat.  Many students say it is the hardest class you will take as a chemistry major.  However, I am going to share a few key strategies that will make this lab seem far less daunting.

1)      Put a decent amount of time and effort into writing the pre-labs.  Since the pre-labs are such a small part of your class grade with in comparison to the actually lab reports it may seem tempting to rush through them and just throw something down on paper.  However, a well done pre-lab can save you a considerable amount of time when it comes to writing your actually lab report.  Take the time to read and understand the required text and write out your pre-lab.  If you write a quality introduction and experimental section for your pre-lab then all you have to do it just add a bit more information and details from the actual experiment to make these two sections lab report ready.  Also, having some knowledge of how the calculations work and possible sources of error and including these in your pre-lab will save time in doing the calculations and discussion section for your actual lab report.

2)      Start the calculations as soon as possible after the experiment is completed.  Even if you’re going to wait till the last minute to write the actual lab report, starting the calculations early will save you a lot of stress in the long run.  Starting the calculations early will give you time to contact your TAs or lab partner with any questions you have before the lab report is due.  And since you have two weeks to do each lab report, if you start the calculations early enough you could just ask your TAs questions during the lab period and not have to worry about tracking them down outside of class time.  Calculations are one of the easiest places to get caught up in the lab report process; starting them early will give you more of time to seek help if necessary.

3)      Remember, the TAs are there to help you.  While a general outline for the lab reports is given out at the beginning of the semester by the professor, most the labs are graded by the TAs.  While the TAs try to keep their grading as consistent as possible, the grading varies slightly between TAs.  Having an open line of communication with your TAs will help you to better understand their expectations for the lab reports.  In addition, the TAs are a great supplement to the textbook for explaining confusing aspects of the lab and/or calculations.  In general, I have found the P Chem Lab TAs are more than willing to help students with any questions or concerns they have about their lab reports.

Most importantly, remember to just breathe and take it step by step.  By putting in the time and effort, you can make P Chem Lab a more manageable class.

Best of luck!

Jessica Strull

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Differential Equations- Tohaneanu

Dear Diff Eq Student,

Diff Eq can seem like an overwhelming course at first.  You may feel like you’re bombarded with all these different ways to solve differential equations.  However, by implementing good studies habits you can succeed in this course.  Here are the techniques I used to do well in this course:

  1. Review lecture notes and the corresponding textbook sections weekly before attempting the homework.  This involves actually attending the class lectures and taking quality notes during them.  This is the first step in absorbing the essential materials covered in this class.  Try to review the lecture notes at least weekly to ensure you are staying caught up with the class materials.  Since the lectures tend to closely follow the textbook, the textbook is a great resource to supplement your class notes.  Reviewing the materials covered in lecture before attempting your homeworking will make completing that week’s assignment that much easier.
  2. Actually do the homework.  The easiest way to actually master the material taught in Diff Eq is to actually do math problems.  This means completing all the assigned problems and really trying to understand how the problem solving strategies work while doing them.  Doing the homework will also let you know what parts of the material you understand and what parts you may need to get some help on.
  3. Go to the TA sections.  While section is not mandatory, I highly recommend going to them.  Section is a great time to ask the TA about confusing concepts covered in class and about homework problems you were struggling on.  Plus, since section is already a part of your class schedule, it saves you from having to go seek out the TA at other times during the week. The TAs are there to help you succeed in the class, so use them!
  4. Before each test do plenty of additional practice problems and take the practice midterm.  It is not enough to just memorize the class material.  Like I said before, the best way to master the material taught in Diff Eq is to do practice problems.  All the different ways to solve differential equations can get muddled in your head, but if you do enough practice problems you will learn to identify which technique goes with which problem. Trying completing some of the unassigned problems in the textbook or find additional practice problems online.  Take the practice midterm at day or so before your test in order to gauge how you will do on the actual midterm and identify which parts of the material you still need to study.  Doing a few practice problems each day in the week before the test will help you become midterm ready.

Following these techniques will help you to sort out and master all the material covered in Diff Eq.  Just take it one step at a time and you are sure to be successful in this class.

Best of luck!

Jessica Strull

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Balancing summer time and organic chemistry – Klein

Dear student,

If you want to be the best in organic chemistry over the summer, but cringe at the prospect of not getting ridiculously tanned on the Beach , then follow the Golden Orgo Success Rules below.

The power of routine

Choose specific study hours. I’d suggest the two hours before class, and the hours before dinner: 2pm – 6pm.  By working the same hours, and the same amount every day, you’ll prevent your brain from overloading. As a bonus, you will start to associate the study hours with work, which will make it easier for your mind to slide into focus. Adopting this schedule should eliminate all guilt you may have when you’re not studying.  It helped me a lot to hear from the top student in orgo the previous year – he was a TA when I took the class – that he put in these consistent hours every day. High focus spread out evenly over the week is the key; there’s only so much hard thinking you can do on any given day.


Selectively read the textbook

Read chapter 2 “Molecular representations” and do all of the end-of-chapter exercises before class starts. Why would you start reading the textbook before the class hasn’t even taken off yet? Firstly, this is one of those rare science classes where reading the book actually pays off big-time. Secondly, Chapter 2 contains the tools and fundamental ideas you’ll rely on every day for the coming 2 months. Mastering these skills will give you a distinct advantage that will carry through until the end.  Thirdly, reading ahead will give you a buffer to get used to the “Orgo Rhythm” – the high pace at which material is covered. Most students mess up on the first exam (which is already in the second week).

When the class is on its way, read the textbook selectively. Ideally, you’d read/skim enough of a chapter to be able to do the end-of-chapter exercises. Remember that your ultimate goal should be to be able to successfully solve problems similar to exam questions. The exam questions are very much the same (read: some are copied verbatim from the textbook) as the end-of-chapter problems. Now what does “reading enough to do the exercises” amount to? Skip all of the material he’s covered in class, and skim the stuff he’s told you to read paying particular attention to the example problems. The exercises you’ll do will reveal the gaps in understanding so don’t obsess about reading every word. Here’s a rule of thumb for what you shouldn’t read: if professor Klein does not cover the reading in class nor tells you to go over the reading outside of class, forget about that textbook section.


Focus on the stuff you don’t want to study. That is, mechanisms and problems

Mechanisms are to organic chemistry, what proofs are to math. They provide the understanding behind organic reactions. Mechanisms show you the chemical reactions steps – including arrows symbolizing electron movement – to get from one compound to the other (e.g. from theobromine to caffeine). Asking professor Klein what I should prioritize, “mastery of mechanisms” is what he mentioned first. Try to understand why each step of the mechanism makes sense. Then close the book and try to reproduce the mechanisms on paper – or better, on blackboard – explaining out loud why the reaction proceeds the way it does. Here’s a simple example: HCl donates a proton to H2O because this reduces the free energy. Why does this reduce free energy? – HCl is a strong acid and the resulting Cl- is very stable – has a low free energy – since Cl- has gained a filled outer electron shell. Thinking about each step in this way will eliminate your craving to memorize. For easy reference I suggest making a bundle with all mechanisms you encounter. Take a fresh piece of paper, write at the top to which REACTION TYPE, STEREOCHEMISTRY, and REGIOCHEMISTRY the mechanism belongs, and write out the mechanism in full below.

Working problems is the other crucial part in preparing for exams. Get the solution manual, and correct your answers immediately after every page or so of the end-of-chapter problems you complete. Reference the specific textbook section or your mechanism reference bundle if you have trouble.


To summarize

1. Choose specific work hours

2. Read chapter 2 before the class starts. Read the other chapters enough to do the problems at the end of the chapter

3. Prioritize mechanisms, and then end-of-chapter problems

Good luck!


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Genetics – Hoyt and Cunningham

Dear Genetics student,

Hi there! If you’ve made it to Genetics, you’ve probably gotten through Biochem and Cell Bio, so go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back. In my opinion, Genetics, in terms of rote memorization, is a little bit of a break in the biology course hierarchy, just because it’s less “dense” in terms of the amount of material you are expected to know. On the other hand, Genetics is all about application and understanding, so skimming and memorizing may not do you as much good as before. Instead, you have to take more of a problem-solving approach to do well. But you can do it!  :D

Here’s what helped me:

1) Use the podcasts and notes!

Just like in the previous courses, Genetics is built off of what the professors go over in lecture. I started reviewing notes and podcasts about a week before the test. In this way, I could space out when I listened to the podcasts and took additional notes. Also, we were lucky to get Genetics notes in “page” format rather than Powerpoint slides. I found this to be extremely helpful, because during class, this allows you to really take notes about what the professors are “adding,” rather than just complete the Powerpoint slides. For me, this also meant that I could study without the podcasts to a point, because they were already in complete thoughts and sentences, and even included important diagrams that he discussed in class. I would suggest using the book mainly for clarification.

2) Do those book problems!

You’ll get a list of “optional” homework problems to do as each chapter goes by. Even if you don’t reread each chapter before the tests, you’ll do yourself a favor by doing the homework problems. First off, they are really good just to get the concepts into your head. Using real numbers and proportions makes the concepts stick in your head much better than just trying to memorize facts from lecture. Additionally, it’s fairly common to see very similar questions on the test (sometimes identical), so it’s very smart to be familiar with how to solve the problems from the book.

3) The test is all about problems.

For our year, at least, the test was made up of what we saw in the optional and graded homework problems, with some basic short answer about other concepts we went over in lecture. That’s why I would suggest that you really structure your studying around what is asked in problems you are assigned, rather than just the information. For example, it is much more important to know what recombination “does” rather than what recombination “is.” Ask yourself how certain phenomena would affect an experiment you are being asked about. Doing more and more problems will prime you for the logic you need to do well.

These are just a few basic tips, perhaps just to slightly modify how you studied for past courses to make it more appropriate for Genetics. In any case, you will do great. :) Good luck and GO SCIENCE!


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Cell Biology – Fisher, Kuruvilla, Tifft, Hoyt

Dear Cell Biology Student,

Hi there! I guess you’re here because you want to do well in Cell Bio, which I’ll admit, isn’t easy. Arguably, Cell Bio is one of the densest courses covered in the whole biology curriculum even considering Genetics and Developmental Biology which are technically “further down the line.” This is why it is critical to make sure you both 1) understand the methods and 2) learn the facts. Both of these things sound pretty obvious but can take some time to really internalize. If you study hard though, you’ll do great, and get a lot out of the class in the process. Here are my tips for you:

1) Podcasts are awesome.

I’ll admit, I’m not the most diligent of note-takers the first time I hear/see something, especially after lunch.  If you’re like me and don’t fully absorb all the lecture has to offer the first time around, listening to the lecture podcasts will be extremely important.  By listening to the lecturers talk again, you’ll get to hear them tell you what is important, and tell you the little snippets that aren’t included in the lecture slides/your notes.

In terms of preparing for the exam, finding the important ideas in each lecture will help you connect the material together, making it much easier to remember than if you treated it as a bunch of random facts.  I mean, think about it. Imagine that you are one of the professors.  If you’re deciding what to teach a certain day, you’ll try to group similar things together. Find these patterns. Draw horrendous pictures. Connect things together. It will keep it much more interesting for you and instead of just having bullet points, you’ll have a big map in your head to work off of. It’ll be the greatest.

Also, give yourself enough time to make this map.  Start reviewing your notes at least a week before the test.  I would always do a few lectures a day, listening to the podcasts while looking at my notes and taking additional notes if I needed to.

2) You don’t HAVE to read the book.

Hopefully no biology professors are reading this because they always tell you to read the book. Really, though, this is a shout-out to them, because they cover a lot of good stuff. I’ll go ahead and say that I used the text sparingly, only if something in lecture seemed really unclear. If reading books is your jam, though, please, please, please read the book. For me, I’ll say the podcasts/notes were enough, so I would suggest focusing on those and using the book for backup.  Regardless of whether or not you include the book in your studying, you should focus on mastering the material the professor covers in lecture.

3) The tests are written “creatively.” Keep this in mind.

The Cell Bio exams are pretty intense, mostly because there is a lot of material and there are lots of different types of questions you may have to work with. This can include true/false, matching, and the dreaded “multiple multiple-choice,” which makes us all want to pull our hair out. But no fear.

I’d say that because the tests are written this way, you will most want to focus on the facts (duh) and the experiments. The experiments are vital because of the question types you’ll be given. It makes sense that you’ll see gels, diagrams, and graphs, and you’ll have to know where to put labels and data points. This is another reason why it’s crucial to connect the information together. You never know what they will ask you about in an “imaginary” experiment. Familiarize yourself with the parts of each pathway and system and how they affect one another. This will help you immensely when they ask you what happens if you add or remove one of the parts, and then the answers to the questions will come easily.

…and that’s about it. Just study consistently, using the notes and podcasts as your guide, and you should be fine. Good luck and GO SCIENCE! :)


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Calculus II- Wilson

Dear Student,

Tackling any math class, especially one of the first you take in college, can seem intimidating at first; however, I have learned a few key strategies that can help you get the most out of Professor Wilson’s Calculus II class.

1)      Stay caught up with the class material.  The material in Calculus II tends to build on itself, which means it is really easy to get lost and overwhelmed if you don’t have a good grasp on the material from the previous lecture.  Make time to review your notes after each lecture or, at a minimum, at the end of each week before tackling the homework.  Additionally, read the corresponding sections in the book to help clarify any confusing ideas and supplement your notes.  Professor Wilson follows pretty closely to the textbook, so reviewing both your notes and the corresponding text will help you build a strong knowledge of Calculus II.

2)      Do the assigned homework problems and try to do them well.  This may seem pretty obvious at first, but it can be tempting to slack on homework when your TA is just giving you a completion grade or only grading select problems.  However, doing the homework is the only way to gage your true understanding of the material, so it is important you avoid this trap.  Using the book and your notes to work through the trickier problems will only help you feel more confident in your ability to handle the material.  Most importantly, don’t check your answers with the back of the book until you have attempted all the homework problems to the best of your ability.

3)      Block out some time before each TA lead class section to review.  Quizzes on the past week’s material are given in nearly every section.  Reviewing your recent notes and homework right before section will help to ensure the material is fresh in your mind when you’re taking the quiz, which will lead to greater success on them.

4)      Before each exam, practice, practice, practice!  In the days before the exam, pick out a few problems from each textbook section that resemble the assigned homework problems and try to solve them without referring to your notes or the textbook.  This will help you to become more comfortable answering potential test questions in a test-like setting.  Professor Wilson also tends to post a past midterm online.  He will usually go over the past midterm the class before the exam.  Attempt the past midterm by yourself before Professor Wilson goes over it in class.  His midterms tend to remain very similar in the types of questions asked from year to year.  Taking past midterms is the closest you can get to taking the actual test before exam time.

By following these steps, you should have such a strong grasp of the material that come final exam time all you should need is to do is a quick review of the material and a few more practice problems in order to be set.  While the method I’ve outlined here may seem daunting at first, once you get into it, going through the steps will become second nature.

Best of luck!

Jessica Strull

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Chemistry of Inorganic Compounds- McQueen

Dear Student,

Chemistry of Inorganic Compounds can be a difficult class. However, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, you can really get a lot out of this course. Here are the strategies I used to be successful in this course:

1) Attend every class lecture. Dr. McQueen does a really good of pinpointing the material that he thinks in most important from each chapter from the textbook. What he thinks in important should be important to you because that’s the material most likely to show up on a test. The textbook has a lot of extraneous information that is not essential to doing well in the class, so relying on the textbook alone could waste time that is better spent on doing more focused studying for the class. Additionally, you cannot get away with just reading the lecture slides that are posted online. Many of the lecture slides are supplemented by additional information give during lecture. McQueen spends at least half his time during lecture writing out additional information on the board. Attending lecture is the best way to get the essential information needed to do well in this course.

2) Form a study group. The fact that there is a homework assignment do each class may seem overwhelming at first. Forming a study group can help you tackle the assignments in an efficient manner and make doing the homework a lot more fun. Because this is usually only a 20-30 person course, it is easier to get to know the people in the class and form study groups. This course tackles some difficult material. Working with other people allows you to bounce ideas off them and better understand the material.

3) Dig up that old modeling kit from Orgo and use it. Just because Organic Chemistry is over does not mean your modeling kit is no longer useful. This course requires you to be able to visual the geometry of inorganic compound. Building models can help you better understand the structure of things and help you work through many problems including those dealing with symmetry operations and coordination chemistry. Even though modeling kits are not allowed during tests, using modeling kits as you do homework and study will help you to more quickly visualize things come test day when you are under a time crunch.

4) Create your own practice problems. Unfortunately, Dr. McQueen does not put up past exams for you to study from prior to test day. However, he will devote some lectures to solving certain problems related to the previous lectures and the homework. These problems are the ones most likely to appear on test day. Practice doing the problems presented in class with other molecules to ensure that you can apply the problem solving methods to various situations. The class TA is also a good resource for helping you come up with more practice problems.

5) Use your time efficiently when taking exams. Dr. McQueen’s midterms are designed to take the entire class period. This means it is best to work through his tests methodically in order to ensure you have at least attempted each problem. Flip through the test and attempt the problems you are most confident with first before attempting the harder ones. This will ensure you get the maximum points possible on test day. By following these strategies you’ll be able to get the most out of this course.

Best of luck!

Jessica Strull

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Nervous System I — Dr. Hendry

Dear Nervous System student,

Nervous System is a tough class, so expect to put a lot of work into it. However, it is the kind of class where the outcome is proportional to how much time and effort you put into it. So do not feel too overwhelmed, because you can definitely succeed. Here are the tactics I used to do well in this course:

1) Go to the weekly review sessions. If I had to select a single thing that helped me succeed, it would be this. Even if you think you didn’t understand the lecture well enough to go through the material again and think that studying it yourself would be a better use of time, just go. You don’t lose anything by attending a review. I am not sure if Hendry or a TA said this, but repetition helps you learn. Seeing and being taught the material twice is much more helpful than seeing it only once. The review sessions are also a very good wake-up call. If you think you don’t understand something the second time you see it, you know you should go through that. So if you don’t go, you might convince yourself that “it’s not so bad,” that you can just “cram this for the exam.” But Nervous System is not that type of class. As a TA told us, you are not just expected to know everything taught, but rather it is supposed to become “second nature” — you have to be extremely familiar with the material and use it to answer much harder questions that require a lot of thinking.

2) Watch the videos Hendry posts on Blackboard. You don’t have to watch every single one of them — that would take a very long time. But you should definitely watch the videos for topics you find somewhat confusing or things that are very important, like light and dark adaptation for the final exam. The videos are also very useful to know what Hendry expects you to know of a specific topic. This is especially true when the content of the PowerPoints doesn’t match up with the notes (which tends to happen). When I watched a video, I watched it twice and wrote down notes so I wouldn’t miss anything Hendry found important.

3) Study the PowerPoints. The PowerPoints tell you what Hendry considers very important. You really need to know at least every single slide from the PowerPoints. Don’t overlook something that is only covered in one slide and not mentioned in the notes. Hendry actually tested us on something that only appeared on one slide in our second exam in 2012, in a question about the effect of increasing sound pressure level on cortical response. So when he says anything is fair game, anything is fair game.

4) Read the notes. I know they are very long sometimes, but they will greatly strengthen your base of knowledge. They are particularly useful if you don’t fully understand something from lecture, or for further explanation of a very important concept (like electric properties of a neuron). I thought that reading them was a very good way to go over all the material before actually studying. I always made sure I read every single collection of notes before an exam, and highlighted all the important information. The notes are basically a textbook, and you should read them at least a week before the exam. They really take a long time to read, so don’t leave them for the weekend before the exam, because then you won’t have time to do past exams — which is what you should really focus on.

5) Do the past exams. These are again, very invaluable in doing well in an actual exam. But please do not wait to do them the day before the exam, or else you will try to do one and realize the detail Hendry expects in your knowledge and answers and you will freak out. I recommend you do the past exams after you have read all the notes for every lecture, and to start at least a week before the exam. Check the answers to each exam after you are done with it, as this will help you know what Hendry is looking for, and make sure you understand all the answers. After you finish all the past exams, you will realize some patterns. If you see a question is asked more than once, you should really learn that. If you find a question is asked repeatedly but you think it hasn’t been covered in lecture and cannot be found in the notes, memorize it anyway — it could be that you weren’t paying attention when it was briefly mentioned.

6) Make a list of all the acronyms you need to know, together with what they stand for. I thought this was invaluable for exam three, which tested on neurotransmitters and pharmacology. You are expected to know so many acronyms that it is really hard to keep track of all of them and what they do. I created a list of every acronym and what it stood for. And, if I had difficulty remembering a specific acronym, I would also write down its function. I organized my list by lectures, so then I could remember what acronyms were related to one another. For me the list served more of a checklist purpose; it wasn’t something I studied from. I studied everything (the notes, the PowerPoints, the past exams…) and then I quizzed myself on all the acronyms and their functions. The last thing you want to do is write the wrong acronym on your exam, like writing DB instead of DBH (dopamine b-hydroxylase), or worse, not remember their functions. So also try to remember what each acronym stands for! It is a lot easier to remember that MAO oxidizes monoamines if you know MAO stands for monoamine oxidase.

And that’s it. As you see, it is pretty straightforward. You really “just” have to work hard, work soon, and work efficiently. It will get tough, but I assure you the class will be highly rewarding.

Have fun!


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Advice on Calc I from a TA’s perspective

Dear Calculus I student,

Whether or not you’re taking this class because you’re really interested in the subject matter, or because you just need the class to graduate, welcome to Calculus! I’m a TA of the course and of many other courses here at Hopkins and I just wanted to share a few thoughts about taking Calculus I that apply to many other math courses here at Hopkins.

The first thing I want to emphasize is that in these math classes, especially for calculus, it is so important to attend class and section. You may be the kind of person who can learn easily on your own by reading the book, but I mean it when I say it’s tough to get that real hands on approach to the material until you watch someone who is very skilled at math do the problems on the board, and then try to emulate what they do at home.

To go off on a quick tangent about section; like I mentioned, I’m a TA and I honestly believe that we are an incredibly useful asset to you guys. The professor no doubt is the ultimate source of knowledge but in a big class like Calc I, sometimes it’s hard to get a hold of the professor for an extended period of time. They’re really busy. That being said, the TA is most likely much easier to contact. We generally are very vested in what we do and we really want to help. We would love to meet for a bit and discuss some the material with you guys. Also, we are much less busy than Hopkins professors.

So we covered going to class, attending section, and utilizing the TA. Another really important part of this class is the homework. Now most of the time, every professor assigns weekly homework but some professors do things a little differently. Dr. Kitchloo had weekly homework, but the graded questions were a surprise to the students. Some professors don’t have homework at all! That being said, if there is an assignment for the week, whether it’s mandatory or optional, DO IT! Homework is the absolute best way to prepare for the tests. The tests are most likely based on material closer to what is seen on the homework than to textbook and class examples. We did the examples in class, we use those to build the basis of learning and we’re going to assume you followed along. We are more interested in the work that you do on your own in the comfort of your own home. That’s what we base our tests off of.

Between all of this work, I urge you to find the wonders of the math that we are learning. I know it can be hard under all of this stress to take a second and appreciate some of the work that we’ve done, but honestly, if you were to take even 30 seconds a day just to put your pencil down, think about what we did in class today and just try to appreciate it, I think you might find that your stress levels may go way down.

In conclusion: go to class, go to section, reach out to the professor AND the TA, do your homework, and try to appreciate what we learn.


Good luck this semester! I know you’ll do great,

Your friendly neighborhood TA,

Sinan Ozdemir

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Organic Chemistry I — Dr. Falzone

Dear Orgo Student,

You have probably heard a lot of stories about Orgo already. But let me tell you something — it is not that bad. Ok, let me rephrase that. It is not that bad as long as you put work into it. Succeeding in Orgo I does not end when you finish reading these steps. What I have written here does take a lot of time and work, but that is when you know you are doing Orgo right. Having said that, here are the many tactics I used to do well in Orgo:

1) Keep up with the material covered. I know it sounds obvious, but I cannot stress this enough. It does get hard to keep up when you take other hard classes, but you need to understand what is covered in class. Otherwise, you are going to be reading through your textbook a couple of days before a midterm panicking because you don’t understand a concept. The weekly quizzes are a very good way to keep up, or to realize you are falling behind. I made sure to do the readings that Falzone assigned before the Thursday conference. And by before I don’t mean wake up early and skim over the readings. I mean read it at least the day before and do the practice problems in the textbook. You will not know if you understand something unless you actually put pencil to paper, which brings me to my next point.

2) Do practice problems, past exams, conference questions…  whatever requires you apply your knowledge. When studying, I did all the practice problems in the middle of the chapters (so not the end of the chapter problems) and conference questions every week. Then, at least a week before an exam, I did some of the end of the chapter problems and all the past exams, but depending on your study habits you might need to start earlier. Please, please, PLEASE do not wait to do the past exams the day before a midterm. The end of the chapter problems are much easier than exam questions, especially because they end up being very predictable — you know you are being tested on the material covered in that chapter. If you only do book problems, you are going to convince yourself you “got this,” that it is super easy. And then you are going to try out a practice exam and realize you don’t understand many of the answers. I mean it. This is particularly true for things that require a lot of practice and a lot understanding… like synthesis problems; these things cannot be crammed for. You have to try out an exam early in order to know what Falzone expects you to know, and then focus your studying on what you struggle with. But then again, don’t do all the practice exams first. Something my TA advised us to do was to create our own synthesis problems. Create your own synthesis, give your friend only the starting and final molecules, and see if they can solve it. Then your friend can make a synthesis problem for you. So if I had to summarize my message, it would be to practice early and practice often.

3) Use your model kit. This will come in especially handy when you cover stereochemistry. I love how the textbook will sometimes ask you “to prove to yourself” things with a model kit, like when it asks you to try out superimposing two enantiomers. I strongly advise practicing using the model kit in stereochemistry problems, for the exams and for the textbook problems. You do not want to come in to the exam without having touched the model kit. Also, it is always helpful to bring in a preassembled cyclohexane chair conformation to the tests, and I always liked to bring a Carbon bonded to four differently colored substituents (mine were red, blue, green, and white). The second molecule comes in very handy if you are trying to go from a structural formula to a Fischer projection to a Newman projection — all you have to do is assign a part of the molecule a differently colored ball, and you just rotate it around until you can see the new conformation. It is a great tool to visualize everything.

4) Write a list of ALL the reactions you have covered, INCLUDING the mechanism for each midterm. This is important. If you think a mechanism is too long or too complicated to be asked in an exam, you should make sure to study that one. For midterm three in 2012, the mechanism we were tested on was ozonalysis, which was one of the hardest mechanisms we covered. Very few people got a full score on that question. It is important to rewrite each reaction and its mechanism for each midterm because you don’t want to become overconfident and realize during the exam you forgot it. If you really think you still remember a mechanism, just do it — it can only help. I did buy the “Orgo Cards” on Amazon, which are flashcards with all the reactions printed already, but I thought it was a lot more helpful to write and re-write them. And once you have finished the page with reactions and mechanisms, try to look at the big picture. Think to yourself, “what reactions do I know that will get me an alcohol? What about an aldehyde? How can I make new Carbon-Carbon bonds?” This will come in very handy in synthesis problems.

5) Read the PowerPoints. I tried out several different methods to study for each midterm. Once I tried to just study from my notes and the textbook (and ignored the PowerPoints), the next time I did the same but looked at the PowerPoints if I didn’t understand something, and the last and most successful method I tried out was to study all the PowerPoints. Keep in mind that I still always studied my notes and the textbook, and made sure I understood everything from them. This isn’t an “either/or” situation — you should study from everything. I thought that studying the PowerPoints was especially useful in knowing what Falzone considers important.  If he dedicates one whole PowerPoint to MO theory, or if he shows a mechanism, chances are you should know about them.

6) When taking the exams, try to think like Falzone. You should think to yourself “what is he trying to test my knowledge on with this?” This will be very straightforward when you have to do synthesis problems, but once in a while there will be a tough question where you really need to think. If a question asked to “write the mechanism for the following SN1 reaction,” I immediately thought “Ok, he is probably going to test us on hydride or methyl shifts.” In class you should pay attention to some comments he makes like “I really like this molecule” (butadiene), or when he really emphasizes some things, like “geometry specifies hybridization.” I actually wrote those things in my notes and made sure I knew the concepts and the applications by heart; so I was ready when they did come up in the exams.

7) Read the exam questions carefully. A lot of times I thought that Falzone gave away the answer in the question itself. For example, he might ask to write the product of a reaction that undergoes “a single carbocation rearrangement.” That pretty much says “there is a hydride or methyl shift.” So read carefully and underline anything that seems important.

So there you go. Now go off and work hard for that A!

All the best,


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