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How I Study for Chemistry

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

Hello my lovely readers, today I am FINALLY bringing you all this highly requested blog post and video. I know it has low-key taken me a while to bring you all this blog/video....but I figure now is actually a great time as we are about to head into a new semester!

So before we hop into all things chemistry, be sure to check out my blog on "How I Study for Biology" and my video on "4.0 GPA in College" - I am going to try not to be too repetitive in my study tips so be sure to check those out as well.

I hope you all enjoy the video:


First off, if you are new to this blog, Hi! My name is Kyeisha and I am a senior Cellular Biology & Genetics major and French minor at the University of Maryland, College Park. I am on the pre-medical track and so far I have taken chemistry classes from General Chem 1 through Biochemistry 1.

I always start every blog post when I'm talking about studying and academics with the same message: this is just what works for me! Some topics you found easy to understand might have been a challenge for me, some classes I loved, you might hate....I could go on and on. I still want to write this blog because we can learn so much from each other. I love being open and transparent about my college journey while acknowledging that everyone's college journey is different.

Going into starting my college chemistry journey, I have always loved chemistry and high school chemistry actually sparked my interest in STEM more than my biology classes much so that I actually applied to colleges as a biochemistry major. This lead me to take AP Chemistry in my senior year and I even won the Senior Award for Science courses based on my performance and passion in chemistry. As you'll see as I talk about some of these chemistry courses, although challenging I truly enjoy them and I know that simply isn't the same for everyone...which is ok! We all have topics we like more than others but hopefully I can touch on some of the highs of each course.

In today's blog and Youtube video, I want to chat about each chemistry course and give some overview of what you learn in each class, how the class went, and then I want to talk about some strategies and important tips I've found helpful for studying for chemistry courses.

So without further we go!


General Chemistry 1

General Chemistry is the first college chemistry course I took during my second semester of my first year. In general chemistry, you learn atomic and molecular properties, principles of reactions such as stoichiometry, equilibrium, acid-base chemistry and thermochemistry. I remember feeling really nervous about starting this course because I was told how difficult UMD chemistry classes and I wasn't sure how college chemistry courses would compare to chemistry I took in high school.

The warnings of the challenge were absolutely warranted. I went from scoring over 100% on my AP chem exams in high school to scoring in the 70-80s in my college chemistry course which I soon found out to actually be good scores with averages in the 50-60s. This was a really big adjustment for your mindset. I remember feeling proud of my hardworking but also feeling so strange about a C+ being a good grade. I really didn't like the fact that it those were the higher scores and that was a difficult thing to adjust to.

So for transparency of what getting an A in this class looked like.

Exam 1: 70 | Avg = 61

Exam 2: 77 | Avg = 72

Exam 3: 86 | Avg = 54

Final: 176/200 | Avg = 129

With homework/clickers my total score was a 85% and this became an A on my transcript.

So as you see looking at my exam scores, I was scoring just above average but there was a upward trend going into exam 3 and the final exam. *Remember, for every class the curve changes*

I believe the best part of this course is that it really does built upon what you have learned in high school, so if you are entering college and preparing to take this course you can start studying now! This course really aims to teach you some key principles in chemistry that will follow you through all of your other chemistry courses, principles such as

  1. How to balance reactions

  2. Significant figures

  3. Reading the periodic table

  4. Limiting Reagents

  5. Stoichiometry

  6. Le Chatlier's Principle

  7. Acids and Bases

These are some of the key principles that you will be expected to "master" in this course, so the more practice you can get now, the better you will set yourself up! The thing with chemistry is that when you understand the theory/principle behind it, you are able to solve problems that you may not have explicitly seen in class before.

And this takes me into my study tips: Understanding the concepts! I think something that made the course difficult is like I said, your professor is not going to put the same example that they went over in class, instead their goal is to test your understanding.

Thankfully, there are some great resources online to help! I love CrashCourse videos for some really clear and entertaining summaries of concepts. I liked to watch these videos before or after lecture.

Study tips for Gen Chem 1

Since this is likely your first college chem course, really try to give 110% effort! I think the level at which you may have felt ready for a high-school chem course might not be the level needed to succeed in the college course.

Practice. Practice. Practice....this is going to be a reoccurring theme in this blog post because it is so important. General chemistry is similar to a math class in this way, there are different ways to make a problem but once you understand how to solve it you can apply it to each problem.

How do you know you understand the concept? Try out practice problems on your own. If you just re-write notes from class or listen to your TA in discussion you might feel like you get it and can reproduce it until you're facing an exam full of questions. I know this sounds like an obvious tip but I have seen time and time again how easy it is to be studying by looking at how to solve the problems or too many review of notes, etc.

The way that you will improve the most is by closing all the notes and working and honestly struggling through the problems yourself. When going over the answer, pay attention to where and WHY you are making the mistake.

Finally, keep track of super small mistakes. I found that I often lost points because of small mistakes such as the wrong molecular weight or forgetting a sig fig, so rack up as much points as possible by paying attention to these.

How Did I Study?

What I did to study for this course was kind of a bit of everything since again, it was my first college chemistry course. For example, I tried reading the textbook chapters before lecture - but I've found that to be more of a waste of time.

In lecture, I sat at the front of the lecture hall and since then I've ALWAYS sat in the front of the chemistry lecture hall. This was so great because it really helped me to focus and to get to know the professor a bit more.

I didn't go to office hours for gen chem 1 mostly because I was too timid, but I started going more in my sophomore year and I highly recommend that you go! There really is nothing to be afraid off.

I also made study friends like you see below! I think it is so important to have friends that are supportive of you, and we are still friends today!


Organic Chemistry 1

Time for everyones favorite topic: Organic Chemistry! I honestly can't stress enough how anxious I was to take this class because organic chemistry gets the worst rep ever lol. So, I try to do my best to shed some positivity and encouragement about orgo 1 while still, as always, keeping it 100% real with you all. But yeah, based on what I was hearing and everything I saw online or from students about orgo I was convinced there was NO WAY to do well in this course and get an A.

Guess what...I aced it! And I want to share how you can do well too!

I already have two orgo 1 resources up up on my blog right now including an organic chemistry intro guide in which I go over some key principles that you can start learning before you take the course!

I also have a blog How I Got an A in Organic Chemistry that goes into more details, but I will share the main points here again!

Let's start by quickly going over what organic chemistry even is?! This is one of the first reason it's a difficult course, compared to general chemistry in which you have a lot of foundation from high school, organic chemistry is a whole lot of new information for you to learn, understand, and master within a few weeks. Whew....that is always a challenge.

The basics of the class is looking at organic molecules which contain carbon. One reason why I turned to love this course is because of the applications to biology since we learn about molecules and reactions that are so important to life!

Before we hop into some study tips, here is the breakdown of the grades in my course:

Class grading/curve

I got a 77 on the first exam, 12 points above average

82 on second exam, 35 points above avg

70 on third exam, 23 points above avg

130/150 on final, 40 points above avg

In the end I had a 81 percent with a class average of about a 54 percent, this was curved up to a 95% as my final grade.

So some of my biggest tips about studying for organic chemistry are about giving yourself the time to study and practice. Something I did was schedule in specific times after class each week in which I would dedicate that time to going over the new material. The key with Orgo 1 more than any other chemistry course is not letting it pile up because it really is like learning a new language.

For that reason, I highly suggest the book "Organic Chemistry as a 2nd Language" This book is sooo amazing in that it breaks down orgo in a way that is easier to understand than your textbook. The practice questions are really helpful as well.

I actually bought this book BEFORE the class started and began working through the first few chapters. I think this really helped me because I had some introduction to all the new things that orgo teaches you such as bond-line structure and review of the general chemistry topics that appear in organic chemistry as well.

This is a class that I studied for by really avoiding procrastination at all costs. In this class I started my technique of multiple versions of notes. I had my in class notes and after class and for every single lecture I would rewrite my notes. While rewriting my notes I tried to make sure I understood what was happening and at this time I would also watch youtube videos, read the second language book and other resources. All these steps helped me to get one step closer to understanding the concepts, anything I didn't understand I could circle and I took it to office hours or to my TA.

Another amazing resource that helped me a lot is Leah4Sci. She has amazing notes and videos for organic chemistry that really helped me! The way her study guides were color coded and broken down helped a lot! I would make my own similar study sheets and compare mine to hers when needed. I also watched her videos for EVERYTHING I learned in class.

In a lot of courses, material really builds upon itself and this is especially true in organic chemistry. By the end of the course we learn synthesis in which you are given a start reaction and end product and you have to write out the steps to get there, this is where that skill of truly understanding why something reacts with a molecule and this is why you can't approach orgo with memorization tactic.

Looking back at getting an A in organic chemistry and the work I did, I can't stress enough how much it is possible to do well in this course but it truly takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. But you can absolutely do it. I also wanted to show the grades that I got because again, I was getting Cs and C+ on those exams! Every class and curve is different but my tip is do study to do YOUR BEST and not just the "beat the curve" or do more than everyone else. I think it is way more important to focus on doing your best.


Organic Chemistry 2

Similar to orgo 1 I also have some resources for orgo 2 as well! Be sure to check them out on my resources page!

After getting through organic chemistry 1 I had a lot of gained appreciation for the course and I was really excited to take organic chemistry 2. The way in which organic 1 and organic 2 are different is that in organic 1 you learn a lot of the principles of organic chemistry but in organic 2 you get to have fun with reactions and mechanisms! This made organic 2 a bit easier in my opinion.

The main key for success is keeping a list of the reactions you have done and review all of them. I also did "white board review" in which I would just use the white board to test myself on reactions and mechanisms.

Once you know the basics of the reactions, it's really important to also learn possible "tricks" that your professor could use. My exams usually featured molecules with lots of different functional groups on there and you had to remember what is going to react and how and what will not react.

My professor would also use sometimes 5-7 different steps in a reaction for you to solve, so it was really key to remember what each individual reaction did in order to get the problem right!

To practice this, I just made up my own problems by using my notes and trying out what would happen if I put this reaction here. Learning things such as "protecting groups" is also really key to be able to pick up on the patterns. But you can't pick up on a patterns without, you guess it...lots and lots of practice.

I took Dr. M.S for orgo 2, and was lucky to have him as a professor because he gave us past exams all the way back to 2011! To prep for each exam, I usually studied for about 30-40 hours and I would do between 8-10 practice exams.

For each practice exam, I would time myself for 50 minutes, no notes, no distractions and take it like a real exam. Next I would review it and then I would actually pull out the problems I did wrong and combine them to make a whole other exam. I would then retake that exam with the more difficult problems and review again.

So for this course, it really helped me to be organized and really list out each reaction and mechanism covered and then study each of them. For example, lets say I'm doing reactions with amides, I would review my notes, rewrite my notes, watch some youtube videos, and then go through the exams and pull out any reactions with amides and work through those.

Same with mechanisms, I tried to know them forward and backwards and to understand why each step was happening. If you try to memorize without actually understanding each step then that makes it easier to draw a blank on the exam! So when I'm doing mechanisms I try to tell myself a story and that really helps me to get full or almost full points on the mechanism portion of the exam.

GSS was also a major key for this course! I had a great GSS leader who really helped us focus on key tips and tricks and reactions to know for the exam!

Here is my exam breakdown:

Exam 1: 94/100 | Avg = 72

Exam 2: 96/125 | Avg = 84

Exam 3: 110/125 | Avg = 90

Final: 226/245 | Avg = 183

Final Grade: 88%

Grade Curved = A

As you can see, this is a major change than organic chem 1 in which exam averages were moreso in the 70s. Also, in organic chem 1 we still had 50 points of clickers which helped to give me a bit mor points but organic 2 was legit exam 1 + exam 2 + exam 3 in the grade book and THATS IT.

That really made the stress high to do well on exams, but I tried to channel that stress into motivation and just keep studying in the ways I described above.


General Chemistry 2

At UMD we actually take Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 before taking General Chemistry 2. This course really builds upon the concepts of general chemistry 1!

What is interesting is that this class if the first time I used a textbook for a chemistry course. I found the textbook really helpful and I was able to buy it off of a friend for a discount which was great!

For this course, you know by now it is your forth college chemistry course and all the material was familiar so I followed a lot of the tips I have already explained in detail above.

I went to each lecture and there I took my in class notes. A tip with this cource is that it is the first one that is only 2 credits rather than 3 credits an so we only had 2 exams and the first exam took FOREVER to come around, so this class it was actually easy to put it on the back burner. Especially since I was taking 20 credits with both Genetics and Cell Bio in this semester as well.

To help avoid getting behind, I scheduled time each week to read the textbook and the chapters covered that week. I also always attended discussion each week. I would retake my notes, which are my "out of class notes" and these notes were taken using the textbook and Khan Academy.

Then I would try to do practice problems from the book as well as working through the discussion problems and again this is so key to do constant practice. By the time the first exam came about I actually had 3 midterms on one day followed by this exam and so I was extremely overwhelmed and I wouldn't have done well if I wasn't constantly reviewing and keeping up with notes and practice.

When it came to preparing for the exams, I didn't have any practice exams for this class unfortuanlty. So I made my own using the book problems and the discussion problems as you see below

As for the grade breakdown, here is how it went:

Grade breakdown:

Exam 1: 41/50 - avg: 29

Exam 2: 44/50 - avg 41

Final: 92/100 - avg 79

Overal score- 91%, curved to an A!

Again, as you move up in the classes that curve gets smaller and smaller!! Also be sure to watch my Youtube video fr a little story time about how exam 1 in this class was the more traumatic exam experience I've ever had!!


Biochemistry 1

I honestly find that biochemistry was easier than the other chemistry courses, while the material might be getting more complex I find that my study habits are really tailored. Also this class felt a bit more like studying for a biology course in that it was less problem based and more so talking and explaining topics. I looooove biochemistry.

I would say my number 1 tip for biochemistry is LEARN YOUR AMINO ACIDS early and know them well. My professor would say like every other class "be sure you all know those amino acids and those pKas." I started leaning them with a week and 1/2 of the course. This helped me out so much for the 1st exam!

I studied for this course very similarly to general chemistry 1 in the sense that I did in class notes, read the whole chapters of the textbook and did out of class notes as well. As you see below, I kept everything organized in my google drive folder.

Biochemistry is an interesting course in that it feels like a biology course with some chemistry mixed in there. While I did do a good bit of practice, I found myself doing more reading, memorization, and trying to understand concepts as you would in a biology course.

If you have been on my blog then you know I swear by the tip of making your own practice exams. I did this by using the chapter problems and practice that I found online!

This was just a really great way to help me make sure that I was actually learning the material! Biochemistry problems really make you think, as you see some of the questions would have you explain your reasoning and so these were really great practice questions to go over.

Grade breakdown for this course:

Exam 1: 82/100 - avg 67

Exam 2: 95/100 - avg 76

Exam 3: 50/50 - avg 47

Final: 127/150 - avg 114

Final score: 89% - normalized to an A

Fun fact, I was ONE POINT below the cut off for an A+

For this course, there were no GSS sessions or discussion so it was a major change than my other chemistry courses. I tried to form my own study groups with friends but especially once we moved online I was really studying on my own.

A resource that helped me so so much is AK Lectures! He covered honestly everything that I learned in class and with such great details. I highly highly recommend.

If you are someone who loves biology and learning about how the human body works and about medicine, then biochemistry is a course to look forward too! It is one of my absolute favorites and it was just so interesting and mind-blowing!


Overall tips for studying for chemistry:

It will likely be the class that takes up the most of your class, schedule accordingly!

Tasks such as memorization are the easy points: know your pKa, your amino acids, your formulas, I would make flashcards and just keep reviewing them.

With general chemistry I lot of times the question gives you hints on how to solve it. Look at what is given, what you want to know and this will lead you to the equation. It's often plug and chug from there with sometimes some more steps in between.

Practice is key. Practice every week. For orgo 1, I did blocks of studying at least 3x a week and on the weekend.

Studying with others and use all the resources available to you!

Don't be afraid to ask for help!

Study your mistakes to avoid them in the future. (such as stereochemistry for me)

Prepare for your finals. - a trend you will see in my grades is I score really really well on final exams. Why? Because I try to really go over and understand past concepts as we move forward in class. For final exams, I study by reviewing the past exams. My orgo 1 teacher literally told us, take exam 1, 2, 3 staple them together and practice it. Every professor I have had always retest concepts on the final exam in a very similar if not exact way they did on the previous exams. I personally have found finals exams to be easier than my midterms because its mostly material I have seen before. So although the thought of your chemistry final may be super overwhelming, think of it in this way!


I really hope these tips were helpful! Chemistry classes are hard, but we got this! As I said, I was really nervous to take college chemistry and I've struggled, I've cried, I've been shaking walking into that chemistry hall for those exams and I am glad to be at the end of the road taking my final chemistry course of my undergraduate career.

But I don't want my journey to just be my own which is why I wanted to share these stories, study tips, advice and resources today! If you ever have any questions, feel free to email me or DM me on my instagram @stylebykye_

Be sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel and subscribe to the blog and thank you so much for reading!



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