Background information: I did CHM1311 with Dr. Kathy Focsaneanu (aka: Dr. Fox) in 2016/2017.
This course is a first year chemistry course. It’s mostly high school materials that are packaged in a “fyi” format where it’s mostly revision that is actually learning new materials. I took the course with Dr. Fox which proved to be a positive experience overall (you can check out her ratemyprof profile here.
Dr. Fox is a very kind and positive lady. She actually cared about her students and I remember our first midterm was split into two ‘sections’. The first part of the exam was meant to be an individual assessment. We had 1.5hrs to finish the exam and hand it in. The second part of the exam was meant to be a group-work assessment where we grouped into teams of 5 people and worked on the exam together. She did this to help us get used to working together and see how other people approach questions on the exams. It was great!
Dr. Fox’s teaching skills remind me of those similar to my highschool teachers. She really slows down for her students and actually takes the time to teach relevant materials and exercises that you find in the exams. Many students might think this is normal but in my years of being a university student I can assure you that many other professors won’t do this. They’ll give you the tools and teach you the concepts but most of them won’t go over exams and exercises since you’re expected to do that in your own time. Dr. Fox’s skills are very much high school student friendly.
The CHM1311: Principles of Chemistry course is a pretty straight forward chemistry course. It reminded me of the highschool materials we had already taken just a little more fast paced. Some of the general topics that are covered include (stoichiometry, atom, molecule & bonding, gases, equilibrium, kinetics, energy, acid & bases, and buffers & titrations). The materials themselves are heavily focused on calculations and solving mathematical problems so make sure to have a reliable calculator and be sure to revise basic algebra before the course starts. Here’s a cheat sheet that I found to be useful. I remember many students made simple mathematical errors that cost them grades which is pretty sad. There are also equations to memorize so be sure to know those off by heart so you don’t risk mixing up something so simple (some professors provided the quotations though).
Be sure to understand the materials. It’s easy to focus on the equations and the math aspect of CHM1311, however you’ll still be required to explain certain concepts to show that you’ve understood the materials rather than just memorizing. The concept of justifying your answer is an art. Master it as soon as possible. In first year I lost precious marks for not being able to explain my answers properly or missing certain keywords in my answer. Be sure to be neat and accurate with your answers and avoid rambling.
Tips to master CHM1311 materials:
- Be sure to read ahead. Professors often assume that you’ve already studied the materials at home and so they approach the concepts, vocabulary and the course itself as if they’re just guiding you on what you’re supposed to focus on. Be sure to research some of the topics online and even watch youtube videos about the different topics. You don’t have to necessarily understand the chapters in depth but having a vague, general understanding of the material will be sure to give you at least the skills you need to keep up with the professor when they’re throwing random vocabulary at you. Some YouTube channels that saved me back in first year include: The Organic Chemistry Tutor, Crashcourse, Leah4Sci. and ofcourse Khan Academy. If you don’t think Youtube is enough and want a step-by-step solution to your questions I recommend websites like , there are websites that really helped me Chemistry LibreTexts, unf.edu, and Professor Sanrdo Gambarotta’s website who is teaching CHM1311 at uOttawa.
- Do NOT plagiarize! In my first year, I once needed to use my friend’s raw data since my own results were null. I remember I used her results and wrote my lab report as I would any other report then submitted it. 5 minutes after submitting, I realized that I made the mistake of not citing the raw data as my friends and quickly scrambled to email the lab coordinator to explain my situation. She basically told me I’m screwed :). I quickly called my friend, explained the situation and she told me to resubmit my lab report as a late report using the exemption they gave us. Long story short, she saved me from getting a big fat 0 on my lab report which would indicate plagiarism. In BCH 2333, over 50% of lab reports submitted are caught for plagiarism. It’s not worth it. Do your work, spend the time, energy, and effort solving the problems and learn from your mistakes. Cheating is never ok.
- Keep up with your homework. I aced my CHM1321: Organic Chemistry 1 by literally keeping up with each and every lecture I had. After every lecture I would go sit at Morisset library and make sure to understand what the hell the professor just went through. I would go through the lecture slides and write down the stuff that needed to be memorized and create a mini cheatsheet. Next, I would google the topics, theories, concepts, experises and any examples that we went through. Finally, I would spend the rest of my time practicing the material and solving the assigned practice questions.
- Don’t be afraid to use outside resources. I don’t know why in first year it never occurred to me to simply google topics. It took me having to sit with a friend and observe how she studies for me to understand that google is an incredible tool that I can use for my advantage. Use the links I’ve provided above to search for different topics and even practice examples. Chemistry isn’t like English, there is a correct answer to your exercises and you can find those answers online. Additionally, outside resources like CrashCourse on YouTube have an incredible ability to help make a boring subject fun! It can help make studying bearable.
Exams and practicals:
The CHM1311 course is structured to provide students as many opportunities to gain marks as possible. Your grade is made up of: participation, homeworks and assignments (using the Wiley+ software), 2 midterms, labs reports, and a final exam. Clearly, they’re helping you.
Make sure to ace the homeworks and assignments, 15% might not sound like alot but once it adds up it can really make a difference and change a B+ to an A- and that makes a HUGE difference on your transcript. I’ve personally never opted out of assignments because of their usefulness. Participation in university often means signing up to a program, sending a code using your phone or signing a sheet in class so be sure to go to your lectures since it’s an easy 5% that again can really help you when you need it.
The midterms and final exam are meant to be applications of the materials you already learned in class. Be sure to go over the concepts in the book and solve the actual questions that professors assign to you. Those very questions are what will come in the exam. A neat trick I used to do was do the assignments with friends and make sure to ace the homework portion of the course. Then I take notes of the kind of questions that are given to us in the assignments and look for them in the assigned questions to solve them and understand them better on a deeper level. Practice makes perfect!
Some tips to help you prepare for CHM1311 exams:
- Go the extra mile. I think something that university has taught me was that understanding the material is far more important than simply memorizing how to solve something. In 2nd and 3rd year, professors will start expecting you to be able to justify your answer and explain concepts to them. Additionally, you’ll have to know the materials for the sake of the exam. Many of the questions that professors use during the exam are a little more advanced than the ones given in class or during practice exercises so if you understand the concepts and how to solve the examples then they could throw at you the toughest, most complicated questions and you’d still be able to solve it since the concept is the same.
- Past exams are your best friend. In science, professors often provide past exams that you can use to practice your knowledge. Dr. Gambarotta provides past exams on his website for example. You can also find resources online from exams as old as 2016 to use for practice. Sometimes professors even recycle the same questions from their old exams. Past exams are also a great way to measure your ability. I used to go through past exams 3 days before the midterm, solve it, correct it, then go back and focus on the questions that I hesitated on or straight up got wrong. I went through my mistakes, focused on any misinformation I had or missed concepts and made sure to be 100% of my knowledge in that area. Warning: past exams are SAMPLES of what MIGHT come in the exam. Don’t just practice using those exams. It’s just a guide.
- Practice, practice, practice. The beauty of being in science if you can practice until your fingers bleed. In courses like English, Psychology, Management, etc. you can’t really practice answering questions. In science, there are actually right and wrong answers. If you calculate the mass of a compound then there is only one possible answer so you can check whether you got it or not. Simple as that!
For many Canadians students, doing labs is a fairly routine practice, however for international students like myself, having a lab was a whole rollercoaster. Labs were a pretty important aspect of the course. They are meant to make you have a deeper understanding of the materials and be able to connect what you learn in class to real life applications.
Some tips to help you get the most out of the labs:
- Lab manual is your lifeline. I remember after receiving back my first lab report grade, I wondered how anyone was supposed to get a decent grade. I had almost failed. I asked my friend and she told me that she just understood the materials from the lecture, so I suggested we work on our lab reports together and she agreed to which I was happy. Later I saw her using the lab manual and summarizing what was said on it onto her lab report. I started doing just that and it really boosted my grade to As! The lab manual is your lifeline during lab reports. The introduction, discussion, and conclusion are all meant to be summarizations of the materials in the lab manual. Make sure to read it and understand what’s going on. Also go over the procedure and have a general idea of the steps and materials you’re going to need in the lab.
- All the materials are from your lectures. Guess what? Whatever you’re doing in the lab is directly connected to the materials in your lectures. They’re not throwing in random topics and just torturing you for no reason. This is why I said that you need to Keep up with your homework in the materials section!
- Try finding a good lab partner, but it’s not the end of the world. Having a solid lab partner will make your life so much easier, I know. There are groups on facebook for finding your lab partner and often first year professors will push students to get into groups hoping they’ll make friends and potentially find good lab partners. Here’s the thing though, having a good lab partner isn’t the end all be all. I’ve have great lab partners but I’ve also had some pretty sh*tty lab partners and one thing I have learnt is no matter how useful or useless your lab partner is, always be sure to be independent. Get all the materials you need, understand the procedure and understand the materials, be sure to be fairly confident of your skills. You’ll be more than ok! Even if you’re not sure, your TA is there to help so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
CHM1311 is alot of fun, to be honest. It’s a great course and I hope you’ve found some interesting and useful things in this article to help you out in your course!