HELP!! Crisis Today--Clueless About Chemistry!!

I went to my Principals of Chem 1 class last night and the prof gave us all sorts of materials, etc and then proceeded to lecture about how this will be the toughest class we have ever had etc etc. I am thinking that he was trying to weed out some of the clueless (me? lol) and the freshmen who wanted to be elsewhere.
I was told–as was everyone else–to take an on line diagnositic to make sure that we could hack the class. I panicked, but took it and got above the minimum score. After class he said that if anyone had not had chemistry in the last 5 years to consider stepping down into Gen Chem 140. It is still 4 credits and still has a lab…but pre-med folks usually take this harder Princ Chem 160.
I am not sure what to do. I have not had Chem since 1987. I picked up some refresher books and am a quick study…but do you think that can be enough? I approached it as if I put my nose to the grindstone that I could do this, but now I am wondering if I am handicapping myself.
As far as my pre-requ’s I need 2 bio, 2 chem, 2 organic and 2 physics–all with labs. I was going to do Princ Chem 1, Princ Bio 1 this fall, the 2nd halves in the spring, organic in the 1st two sumemr sessions, physics in the third summer session and Physics 2 next fall. I am also working 15 to 18 hrs per week.
Any thoughts? Should I take a stab at it? Or hop down into the Gen Chem and then pick up Principals 1 in the spring? He said that pre-meds usually take Princ Chem 1 and 2 but my advisor said to consider Gen Chem and then Principals…I am getting conflicting advice.
E Lynne

I’m not sure what to tell you. I took majors chemistry without having taken chemistry since 1987 as well. I ended up with the highest grade or one of the highest grades all three quarters of the series.
I will admit to struggling initially - they throw a lot of information at you early in gen chem. It had been awhile since I had to try and memorize/learn that amount of material. I spent a lot of time reading and rereading my notes and text and doing all of the assigned practice problems early in the quarter. However, by middle of the quarter, I was reading the chapter once, studying from my notes, and only doing homework problems if I was having trouble with a concept. Not everyone can do that. I have always been a good student with good reading comprehension.
In deciding whether to stick with the majors chem or drop down to the lower level, I would say consider your reading comprehension skills, memorization ability, and math skills. There are a LOT of calculations in first year chemistry. Although the math is nothing more complicated than basic algebra and some logarithms, many times people who understand the concepts do poorly because of all the calculations.
Yes, many universities use the bio and chem as “weed out” courses. However, most of the time they are not impossible. You will have the huge advantage of maturity and knowing from the start that you will need to work hard in order to do well. Many of your fellow students are recent HS grads who hardly ever had to study in HS - it is a huge adjustment for them when they realize that they have to study. Many of them don’t know HOW to study.
Good luck!

Hang in there!
My first night in Chemistry (also first class in my post-bacc study), I also got the same speech, followed by a fast and furious lecture that left me thinking that I’d grreatly overestimated my academic prowess.
The next week, we had our first in class quiz, and I got such major test anxiety that I thought I would pass out.
After a few weeks, however, I bonded with a couple of the other students, got into a good study routine, and everything worked out. I ended up with a 100 on the first exam, which I overstudied for.
Don’t sweat it, and don’t be intimidated, even if you get off to a rocky start. You will probably hear this a thousand times in the course of your pre-med classes, but work as many problems as you can. Working the problems is the best way to study. Also, be sure to keep up and stay a bit ahead of the game by reading the material closely before class.
I bought Schaum’s Outlines for Chemistry, but to be honest, I didn’t find them all that helpful, except for the extra practice on problem sets.
The hardest part of the exams in Chemistry for me was finishing the exams in the allotted time with as few “careless” errors as possible. More often than not, I saved myself a good 10-15 points by quickly verifying problem setup and the running through the calculations again after I’d finished the test. This “reworking” of the test is the best advice I can give you. So, it is important to practice as many problems as you can so you can work them fairly efficiently and have time left at the end for double-checking.
Good luck, and don’t give up! You will probably end up having the highest grade in the class!

I think you should choose based on how comfortable you feel with things at this point. Have you taken other classes recently? If you are feeling pretty savvy academically, then just take the pre-med class–every prof says their class is the hardest so you can take that statement with a grain of salt.
If you are nervous about things though, I’d maybe take the refresher course first. It really just depends on how you are feeling about school in general.

Get ahead in the reading, do MORE THAN the assigned problems, and start your heavy duty practicing about two weeks before every exam. YOU WILL BE FINE.
If it were I, (and that’s the only way someone can really give advice, right?) I would be insulted by the suggestion to “step down” into the chemistry-for-jocks class and resolve to work that much harder and show this rather arrogant professor what you’re made of.

Does Gen Chem 1 and 2 count toward the medical prerequisites? If so, then I wouldn’t take a harder chemistry just to prove something to the medical schools. They require 1 year of chemistry, period. However, if your school has different names for things, and gen. chem. is really considered an intro to chemistry which wouldn’t satisfy the prereq., I wouldn’t waste my time with it. I did not bother with the intro to chem. and I am glad I didn’t. Chemistry 1 and 2 were hard and I had to work a lot, but it was doable. I did it and many others have, too. So my advice is two-fold: I wouldn’t make things harder for myself and take higher level chemistry just to prove that I can, but 2) I also wouldn’t take Intro. to [whatever science] before every prerequisites just to be on the safe side. I’d take exactly what medical school recommend…not more, not less (maybe more if you find you really LOVE the subject, but not just to prove something and make things harder on myself in the process).

Thank you all so much for your responses…I went as far last night as to grab the last seat in the Gen Chem 140 class just in case. Mind you this was after 3 hrs of sleep the night before and taking an online diagnostic test to see if I would be allowed to stay in the class or if I would have to “step down”…and my brain was shot. I had a first hand taste of the paranoia and lack of rational thinking that comes with a lack of sleep. I was so keyed up and could not settle myself down.
The kids in my class are half my age and coming out of college prep chemistry…I was also intimidated being that I weigh twice as much as I did when I first went there and am no longer a thin, attractive gal. I do have the life experience and sheer determination on my side–like I never had while an ungrad!!!
I think that I will follow the posted advice and buckle down and make this work…I sat my self in the very front and answered the prof’s questions–the only person in a room of 50 to do so–most are either asleep or too timid. Soooo–not that I am into sucking up, but I am hoping that this prof will be willing to help me when and if I need a little extra time to “get it” (challenging course info).
This prof has been at it for 30 yrs, is recently divorced and has a rep for being an ass…lucky me, eh? Someone in my Bio class told me that I was lucky to have him–that he is tough and that everyone after him will seem like a walk in the park…
Has anyone reviewed their old chem knowledge by reading Chemistry for Dummies? Is it worth getting? I need to brush up in a big way…and fast. Crash course review here I come!
The chem lab makes me a bit nervous–with all the talk about fires and showers and fires…and fires!! lol Any advice on how to avoid catching myself on fire?
You guys are the greatest!! Thank you so much–I do not know when my anxiety will settle…but I am glad to know that I have this group as a support/resource–it is a definite life line!
E Lynne

When I went into my first Chemistry class in 1997 the last time I’d been in a chem class was 1974! I am glad you are sticking with the class that will actually ‘count’ toward your goal. You can definitely do it as long as you have the work ethic. Other people have said it but I’ll repeat it anyway: do the problems, do the problems, do the problems. Not really working through stuff until I “got it” was my downfall the FIRST time I took chemistry.

It sounds like you are going into this class with just the right attitude. I think to make these things work the main thing you need to do is believe in yourself, and take the position that you are going to prove anyone wrong who doubts you can sail through this class just fine. Like Mary says, if you do a million problems you’ll get it. I’ve found that profs who talk the way yours seems to be doing often assume the students aren’t going to do the work. But what they say on the first day of class implies they don’t think students are intelligent enough to do well. As if somehow their gen chem 1 class is unique from all the others on earth! Then when a few student really turn out to be on top of things, the prof ends up looking like the Wizard of Oz. Anyway, take that as the challenge here, and good luck.

Anastasiamom! - I was about to post exactly the same thing. I had my first classes on Statistics, Cell Biology, and Gen Chem…and everything what I heard in every single class was to rethink everything and maybe step down…It wasn’t encouraging at all.
I came back home and complain to my hubby, and had million of stupid thoughts…
But the truth is that in every single school I went before, they scared us at the very beginning.
The last time I took chemistry was in 1997 or 1998…who cares? I know what I can do. I know how much I can push myslelf to…and it doesn’t look too hard. If I work regularly, if I’m really commited (and I am!) I’ll do this.
I’m not going to feak out and drop the class the very first day, only because some guy out there thinks that his class is the hardest ever, and he tries to make people panic.
at least 80% of guyz at those classes were younger than me. they came straight from high school and I guess that this ‘scary speech’ was mainly directed to them…
So Anastasiamom…you’ll be really OK…
we’re on the same boat…so now I konw that if today I’ll hear something similar, I have someone to complain to


After class he said that if anyone had not had chemistry in the last 5 years to consider stepping down into Gen Chem 140. It is still 4 credits and still has a lab…but pre-med folks usually take this harder Princ Chem 160.

I’m sort of curious what class it is you’ve signed up for. The required prereqs for chemistry are 1 year of general chem + lab, 1 year of organic chem + lab, and - for some schools - 1 semester of biochem.
Knowing that, if your school offers an 8 credit Gen Chem class, I’d probably take that…unless you’re trying for a preprofessional degree at the school and completing that degree required taking the Principles of Chemistry course.
Reality is that Gen Chem is probably the easiest pre-med prerequisite course out there. Based on what you’ve said, I wouldn’t take it unless I had to.
He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.

I imagine that Lynne has to take the Princ of Chem. At my school there is “Intro to Chem”, which is the non-majors gen ed class, and then “Gen Chem”, which is the majors level class. In order to take organic, you have to take the harder “Gen Chem” series. I would be willing to bet that this is the case at many schools.

I got to class early and parked myself in the front row and center seat. I want this prof to know that I mean business. lol
I took notes like a fiend today and am finding that my nervousness is easing up a bit. I am asking a lot of questions–and getting used to the eye rolling from the other folks. I figure that I am paying dearly for this class–in terms of time, effort, money etc and I want to make this work. A friend (3rd yr med student) reminded me that I am not there to win a popularity contest–but I do not want to seem like I am brown nosing. For the first time in my academic career, I am passionate about the topics. I was luke warm about being a therapist…but medicine–I could live and breathe it…
The Gen Chem, from what I am told, is ok for nursing majors, for people with an interest in a science but are not necessarily focusing on science as a major etc. The Principals class is designed to move at a faster pace, cover more materials and challenge the person in a pre-professional program. Does it say this in the course catalogue? Nope. Did I finally extract this from a professor? Nope. I got this from the science majors that were milling in the hall way. I found the boldness to approach them and ask ask ask…it is a pity that my own advisor was that clueless. He told me that I could do the Gen Chem (level 140) and then go into Principals (160) but that I might have have all that I needed for the MCAT’s…

I also found a pre-med group on campus and am planning on hooking in with them…I hear that they have some good meetings on admissions, MCAT’s etc.
I do see that my university offers peer tutoring at no extra charge–and I plan on making pals with that set of tutors really fast.
As a gradute student 10 years ago I could see that how I felt about a test was directly related to how much time and effort that I put in (duh–lol) and sometimes I would do ok and sometimes I would not…but even when I did not do so well, I came out of there feeling like I had given it my best…I would rather fail giving it my best than fail because I did not.
I took the opportunity to hop onto this prof’s web page and learn a bit more about him…I want to know what makes this guy tick and adapt to avoid any undue stress or glitches in communication.
It struck me as I was driving home that the last time I felt this anxious was when we adopted our daughter and became parents…and the time before that was when I got married. I seem to freak out over launching into big changes, get it out of my system, and move on and do ok. I am exchanging a life of working part time and being comfortably lazy in my career for something much more exciting, dynamic and challenging. I suspect that I was grieving a little bit for the old life–even though the mundane drove me nuts. No more sleeping in, no more leisurely afternoons when clients do not show up, no more sitting in the back of a class and doodling…this is a really big change. I do not know why it did not strike me before–usually I think about every angle of a decision and try to anticipate how I will react…but this one caught me off balance.
I studied tonight at McDonald’s as my 3 yr old daughter played on the playground…I wondered how this will impact her. My advisor pointed out this summer that I will miss a lot of her life…perhaps I will…but I know that I will be a better person for following my dreams. I have not been a full time stay at home mom and I have come to the conclusion that working part time-or full time–and being a mom is not such a bad thing. Kids turn out ok. I so worry that she will not understand when I am so busy. My in-laws live 10 houses down the street and are super supportive, so I am lucky there. She stays there 2 nights a week.
My husband expressed to feel a bit threatened by my decision to pursue medicine. He is studying nursing and feels that I will “one up” him…I tried to get him to understand that is not my intent…this is my dream, my passion, my calling. he finally gave his blessing but I suspect he still has some issues there…I hope that we can continue to address these issues. We have different temperaments and personalities and I think that we are headed into appropriate areas given our preferences and interests.
Thanks for reading this far–if you made it all the way down.
E Lynne

Here are the course descriptions of the two classes in question:
CHEM160PRINCIPLES OF CHEMISTRY I4 sem. hrs.This course introduces students to the fundamentalprinciples of chemistry with special emphasis on thestructure of matter and reactions. The topics includethe nature of matter, fundamental and composite par-ticles, electronic structure of matter, the periodictable, molecules and chemical bonds, the three statesof matter, thermochemistry, stoichiometry, chemicalreactions, and nuclear chemistry. There is a three hourlab per week.

CHEM140GENERAL CHEMISTRY4 sem. hrs.This course is basic chemistry with special attentionto elements and reactions that occur in biological sys-tems. Topics include atomic structure, periodic table,octet rule, acids, bases, pH, gas laws, oxidation,reduction and cryoscopic properties, and nuclearchemistry. There are three hours of laboratory perweek.

I was not sure if there was a huge difference…other than the prof says this is not for Gen Ed and the catalogue says that it can be.
E Lynne

If anything, reading those course descriptions has made me even more confused. For instance, Gen Chem 140 indicates that it addresses redox reactions while Princp. Chem 160 doesn’t explicitly mention that (and the MCAT likes redox…).

RUN…to the study hall… Every instructor says the same crap about the impossibility of making an A and how this class will be the blah blah blah…Sometimes it’s true but in my experience it’s true with the brand new profs rather than the old tired ones. Regardless if they’re teaching and you’re learning then work smart and pass the class.
I’m going to be in your same boat this time next year and all I can say is don’t fret. The bit of advice I will give you is not to listen to anyone tell you how much your family is going to suffer because of this, that or the other thing. Your daughter will be fine. You are not going to miss out. This is one of the greatest journeys the two of you can take…only problem is she’ll be too young to remember. Enjoy your time in your studies and enjoy your time with her. Talk to her about your chemistry…who cares if she understands or not. I did this with my nephews and they remember me sitting down with them showing them problems and working them out for them. I was “teaching” them but more so I was teaching myself and keeping them out of trouble.
I dislike the “life is over…till…” approach that many give. It’s all about priority management. You will have time for the important things like school and your daughter. The other stuff doesn’t matter at this point. Good luck and keep asking questions. Remember many in that class may one day 10-15 years from now come on here because they realized they want to become physicians and they remember that annoying woman who seemed to ask all the questions in the class…and I wonder where Dr. Anastasismom is at today???

Re: eye rolling from fellow students–the heck with’em. Good for you for ignoring them. If anyone EVER gives you a hard time, let me know and I’ll personally go down there and ream them out.
We’re there to learn, not to please some immature classmates. I’ve also noticed in many courses that I’ve taken that people are afraid to ask questions because it will make them “look dumb”. NO SUCH THING. When I ask “dumb” questions (and I do so often), three other people lean forward to hear the answer. You’re paying them to teach you so get your money’s worth.

Geez–that worries me…
Can you give me a ballpark outline on the most important things to know for the MCAT? I will ask the prof about this as well. I want to make sure to cover all of my bases.
I was royally ticked last night when I discovered that he stuck an online quiz into our list of things to do–and never said a word. It goes into some system in LA. It was due by 11pm and I found it by accident, took it and submitted it 32 minutes past the deadline and will not get credit for it. So I am now seeing that he expects us to live on the internet and check the syllabus over and over again. Forwarning would have been nice–but he is playing hardball. I spoke with a classmate today that said that he does this–sneaks assignments in and sees if we are paying attention. That is just plain old mind games. Having worked in mental health for ten years–I am used to this crap. Just not from a professional–usually from borderline patients!
Thanks gang–
E Lynne

I also find the course descriptions confusing - from my perspective, the Gen Chem description covers more of the MCAT topics. However, just because they aren’t listed as topics for Principles doesn’t mean they won’t be taught. The biggest question for you is which series fulfills the prerequisites for Organic Chemistry? I don’t know what your time scale is on all this (if you are seeking a degree, etc), but if you drop down to the lower level but need the Prinicples before Organic, you are devoting three years to chemistry. (less if you do summers).
I would say that you are in the right class, though. Usually the class required for nursing majors (RN not BSN) is the lower level chem.

don’t bother asking the prof about topics for the MCAT. He won’t have a clue but that may not stop him from giving you (mis)information. Bottom line is that you want to take the class that is geared as the first course in the sequence for chemistry majors. If the 140 class is good enough for a major in chemistry, fine, but from what you’re saying, that’s not the case.
And from reading again what the prof said, it sounds like you would have to FIRST take the 140 level class and THEN take the 160 level class in order to get the chemistry you need for medical school. Unless you are very unsure of your ability to do chemistry (and it sounds like your confidence is growing), this is an unnecessary baby step. You can go right into the chemistry for grown-ups class; you don’t need the training wheels. jmho
Obviously if you were a person who’d really TRIED hard at chemistry before and had really not gotten it despite valiant effort, doing such a ramp-up class would probably be a good idea. It’s not my intention to put down anyone who needs to take a slower, more gradual approach to chemistry. But I haven’t heard you say anything, Lynne, that makes me think you need to worry about that.