Chemistry math is killing me!

Fact: I’ve always struggled with math.

Fact: I continue to strugle with math.

I just started Chem I and got an 82 on the first test which I can live with. I don’t generally like getting B’s but I’m starting to think that a B in this class would be an accomplishment.

I got a solid B in College Algebra but math related info tends not to stick with me for any length of time. I even had trouble recalling early lessons for the final. And I work hard!

The chem conversions aren’t so bad but when it comes to things like wavelength, frequency, Rydberg formula, and Plancks constant, I’m in deep water.

I don’t imagine the math will get any better as the semester moves on, but I can’t help thinking about Chem II and, God help me, Physics.

I knew that these would be the classes that determine if I actually have the aptitude for this journey, but i’ve got a serious case of FUD kicking in.

Any ideas would be helpful.

Not advise as much as sympathy.

I have to redo a lot of my prereqs including my upper level math and sciences.

The thought scares the crud out of me to be frank. I got my first degree in Business and later in law largely to avoid math when I was younger. It was never my strong point.

But its what we have to do be able to be who and what we want to be.

I wish you the best with it now, my time at bat is soon enough…


Honestly, and without trying to be judgmental, I believe that you have a psychological issue, not a math issue. I teach Chem I & II and I can tell you that the math is very simple. In fact, most students, even the ones who screw up in Chem are up to par on math. The math level necessary for these classes is probably limited to pre-algebra. If you can square an number, work with logs and solve a simple 1 variable equation, then you do not have a math issue (assuming you know how to use a calculator, and my experience is that 50% of students think they do when they actually don’t).

In gen chem 2, when you will see equilibriums, it can get as hard as solving quadratic equation (which most calculator will do for you now).

I would also like to stress that this stuff is on MCAT, and without a calculator. Therefore the focus is far from being the math. Since you must carry operations in your head, the “counting” has to be simple. The techniques and mastery of the concepts have to be very deep on the other hand, mainly because of the time constrain on the test.

82 is not bad, and you are still in good shape to ace the class at this point. But you should start by convincing yourself that this is simple, and instead of fearing the work, try harder. My advice to all my students is to do all the exercises at the end of the chapters that have a solution. Especially if you see an exercise that you cannot do, then you should not move on until you crack it. Any students that has done this in my class got an A and some score a little over 100. If I can be of any help, be let me know.

Good luck.

I partially agree with Redo. I say partially because while the general chem math isn’t anywhere near as complicated as what I did in Diff EQ/P. Chem, if you’re struggling with it as I first did as an undergrad, then it’s “hard”. I do agree that a LOT of learning ANY science is getting over the mental roadblocks that hinder success.

The resource I recommend to my students AND myself (for MCAT review) is a very small, easy to carry, inexpensive book called Cliff’s Quick review of Basic Math and Pre-Algebra. I’d also recommend a book by the same author called Trigonometry for concepts used in Physics. All of the basic math concepts germane to both Chemistry and Physics are covered in these books.

Good luck!

Another resource can be found in the back of the first chapter in the TBR Chemistry book. There’s a 2 page summary of mathematical tips useful for doing chemistry problems.

I am with you. Calculus is kicking my behind right now. If anyone wants to lend me a hand on the d/dx, I’d greatly appreciate it!


Thank you for all of your responses.

Redo - What? you think this is the first time I’ve been told I have psychological issues? My wife uses that line on me all the time. In all seriousness though, what you are saying all makes perfect sense. I am working on refreshing some of the areas you mentioned, especially logs. And believe me, this is not due to a lack of trying. I do - and always have tried hard. I am, however, working on reorganizing my study techniques and focusing on the math skills with my tutors. I am also concentrating more on the chapter questions. They do seem to be helpful. I find that Mastering Chemistry takes the problems to the next level which is a nice confidence builder when I get them right. thanks for your advice.

Pathdr - I would expect that chem math wouldn’t even be in the same universe as Diff Eq. That is a level of math that this old pre-med will never experience. There is definitely something to be said for knowing one’s limits. Thanks for the book recommendations. they have been ordered. (Not TBR! $$$)

Terevet - I feel your pain but I got nuthin’ for ya. Good luck!

I’m going the full 15 rounds with Chemistry. I might look a little rough when it’s over, but I will go the distance. (I suppose I should have used a football analogy considering, but…)

Good thread, just ordered the quick review books of all the premed courses I took in college. Thanks for the tips.

Now I have to admit that Chemistry is my nemesis and I’m not a doctor now because I couldn’t control my FUD on the subject. Give me Orgo (which I’ve taken) or anything in Bio and I’m golden but pull out Chem and it was like kryptonite. I’m doing better now and it has less to do with resolve and more to do with figuring what works and what doesn’t.

Sitting in the science learning center all day studying does not work for me. It does work if you consider spending 5-6 hours to figure out a concept…and just barely at that. So the next day I went back but put in earplugs to help me concentrate. A little better but still not quite there. Finally I started to read the book out loud, but only so loud, and realized that things stuck a little better. I spent the day Saturday and got mad because the first order integrated reaction law required the use of the natural log. I was like !!! I could plug it into the calculator and get the answer but had no clue what is was nor why I was using it. I figured that wasn’t good enough.

I went and found a website that explained e and ln very well and posted it above. I bought his book and he talks about learning math intuitively vs plug&chug. Where the latter is getting the formula, substituting the numbers, and getting the answer. That led me to remember that I had Dr. John Pelley’s book SuccessTypes in Medical Education: A Program for Improving Academic Performance. (It’s free online!) In it he talks about using your personality type and working with it. I’m an ISTJ, that’ll be confirmed after I take the MBTI later today. However with that it is clear that my learning style is quiet in the classroom. Yet outside to learn the material a better approach is to teach it to myself outloud. So on Sunday I did just that. It took no time for the material to sink in. I did in 45 minutes what would have taken 4-5 hours before with just a passing glimmer of understanding the material.

My advice is to:

    Use a free online MBTI predictor. Go to

    Once you know your type do a search of its learning style. I just opted for the book There are others but this one was available via Kindle. Read it for your type and see for yourself. Google also works, just type in your type and learning style. For me it was ISTJ learning style and a ton of sites show up. You can piece together the advise from them.

    Finally...put it to work immediately to see if it's correct for you.

I read through all this Saturday afternoon and night. Sunday morning I couldn't wait to get started but service is for Sunday. I got home and actually tried to study. That is amazing on it's own because if I don't start the day studying it's as if I missed some magic window and I don't bother with it for the rest of the day. I set up my white board and began "teaching" myself. I basically read outloud and when the formula was presented I talked out the formula. So the natural log or the time needed to reach a certain level of growth, in this case concentration is equal to the negative rate constant multiplied by time added to the time needed to reach the initial concentration... So what that means....So if I wanted to know how long it took for the concentration to reach a certain Molarity I would have to know the rate.... Then I would read some more outloud from the book and note that the formula is also equivalent to the slope of y=mx+b.... After an hour (45study+15break) I learned the integrated rate laws for zero, first, & second order and what half life meant. Yesterday in class I was hanging with the "smart kids" those few who just seem to "get it" right away. Well I was right along with them, although quietly in my seat. Those around me were just plugging and chugging and so focused on the formulas that they were missing the forest for the trees. They actually did not understand why the units for half-life were seconds, the assumed it would be M/s....makes sense when you just take a step back and realize that all half-life is is time. How long it takes a concentration to be half it's original value.

After class I went back to the science learning center yesterday and wasted two hours. I packed up my stuff realized that home is where the learning is for me. I ordered the complete solutions manual for the text and am now a "talking to myself" fool...who is beating up on my nemesis.

To answer your questions, YES my wife came by on Sunday and thought I was did our little dog. I explained it to her and showed her in the Learning Styles book, and she smiled and said You do whatever you gotta do to get us to and through med school. I ain't mad at cha. Just give me a heads-up so I can put on some headphones. I loves her!

So there is more than you ever wanted to know but I figured I'd help you. Like I said Chem1 took me out. It filled me with SOOOO much FUD that I have 4 W's in it and finally a B. I haven't taken Chem1 in 7 years and here I am in Chem2 and I'm so far doing okay. By the end of this week I will be doing much better.

Give it a try....or don't....

Oh....I almost forgot. The professor was walking around while my classmates were struggling she came to me since she knows my struggles with Chem. She looked at my paper over my shoulder and said "Oh! You got it! I see Chem is coming back!" A classmate after class wondered if my sudden "a ha" moment in rate laws came from the Science Learning Centers tutelage.... So minuscule victory but it's all I needed to defeat FUD and get going with confidence. Learning does not happen under a mindset of FUD.

I know how you feel. I would suggest getting an MCAT book with which to study ahead of time for the lower division courses, including chemistry and organic chemistry. They simplify the concepts and help make digesting them easier.

Regarding the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) types, they can be a good adjunct to helping one learn better. I would suggest also exploring your auditory/kinesthetic/visu al preferences.

A good book on how to succeed in medical school is the book Study Skills and Test-Taking Strategies for Medical Students, part of the Oklahoma Notes series. It goes into determining ones psychological Type, learning style, and couples it with how to learn and remember in medical school. However, one can easily use these same strategies in premed courses.

I have taken the MBTI twice, and returned as an INFP each time, but borderline on the P/J. So I could have easily come out as a INFJ by changing just one answer. Between INFPs and INFJs, doctors are more likely to be INFJs as they are more judging (J)and decision-making than the perceiving § INFPs. Also, INFPs hate repetition and routine – which is so characteristic of modern day medical practices which see patient after patient rapidly. On the other hand, INFPs make good psychiatrists as they spend more time with their patients.