rough start

Hello. I’ve been largely absent from OPM lately and I feel bad about that. Sorry for my lack of participation on the forums but it’s been because of my own issues. See below.
This past summer I quit my full-time job at ACS to enroll in school full-time at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) to officially begin my prereqs. This semster I am taking Biology 111 (lecture & lab), Chemistry 111 (lecture & lab), PreCalculus I, and Fitness Swim (a 1-credit sport class) which equals 12 credits total, enough for FT status.
I’ve been here about 6 weeks. I recently received my first round of tests back and although I’ve been studying my ass off in all of my classes, my grades suck. In biology, I got a 66. In chemistry, I got a 60. In math, I got a 79 (with the curve)—all on my first tests. Class averages were 69 in biology and 61 in chemistry, and I don’t know about math but I suspect I’m somewhere near the average–either below it or possibly above it b/c a lot of people don’t do well in math. First lab quizzes were 70 in chemistry and 30 (out of a possible 40) in biology.
I knew my classes would be hard but I never expected to feel so frustrated and depressed. I feel like I gave up so much to come here (friends, boyfriend, job/income, etc.) and I’m not seeing any results. Mostly I just feel stupid and that I’m not smart enough to be here.
The biology test covered 5 chapters and we didn’t do a review in class so I didn’t really know what to study; I tried to cover all 5 chapters and spent a lot of time going back to earlier chapters but most of the questions seemed to focus on Chapter 5, which of course, was the chapter I studied the least. Also, the test was a mix of multiple choice (which I did well on), short answer (also well), matching (terrible) and fill in the blank (terrible). The matching totally threw me off; without context clues, I was lost and none of the connections were obvious to me. The chemistry test was harder than I expected. For chemistry, it was “all or nothing” with the points but he gave us all an extra 10 points free so my 60 ended up being a middle C. At the rate I am currently going, I’m thinking my future career will be as a janitor b/c I’m clearly not qualified to be a doctor. I’m probably not even qualified to call myself a pre-med student.
I am going for help in everything so I’m not just whining. I have been going to the math lab for help all along and I signed up for peer tutoring in biology and chemistry for the lecture classes. I had my first chemistry tutoring session last week and my first biology tutoring session is this Weds. I’ve also gone to see my chemistry prof several times (before the test) and finally broke down and saw my biology prof (after the test) last week who told me not to worry and that I was doing fine. For biology, we do little games in class and that helps us earn extra points, which in my case are badly needed!!
I have another math test this Fri. (already!) and I’m trying to prepare myself for it by making up practice tests. Math is hardcore; in order to finish Test #1, I had to spend 3 minutes per problem. There wasn’t a lot of room for error. Most of the class didn’t finish Test #1. My math teacher may make some adjustments for Test #2 but not too much. I do feel better about this test b/c the material was stuff I did last year when I took the same class at NVCC. For some reason, math is really different at UNCG and I thought I would do much better since I just had it.
So sorry for the long post, but I’ve felt pretty low about my poor grades, especially since I’m working so hard. It would be one thing if I blew off my classes, never went, and didn’t study, but when I’m doing the opposite, it’s very frustrating and depressing.
Did anyone else who made the transition from FT work to FT student have an equally hard time? I’m only 29 and I’ve been out of school FT for only 6 years so I feel like I should be doing much better.

Hang in there, Stacy. The good news is that it is still very early in the semester and you have plenty of time to make up lost ground. It sounds as if you are taking all the right steps in terms of getting back on track so I imagine you’ll be seeing improvements in no time.
A couple of quick tips that I found helpful in General Chemistry:
1. Work as many problems as you can find. Schaum’s has a supplement that provides additional problems and explanations, but honestly, your best bet is to try Google. Many professors provide study supplements to Gen Chem on their web sites, and you have quick and easy access via Google.
2. If you have time on your tests, retake them. I saved at least 10 points per exam in Gen Chem by going back and reworking problems after I’d finished the entire test. It’s best to rework a problem after you’ve left it and gone on to other things as you can come back to it with a fresh perspective. Since your professor is an “all or nothing” grader, this is even more critical. It’s so easy to make small calculation or rounding errors when working problems.
3. Try to understand the material AND attempt several problems before you actually attend a lecture on the material. I found that studying the material prior to lecture made the lecture more valuable and allowed me to ask questions that were more relevant to the things I didn’t really understand.
4. See if you can’t find a cheap and used second textbook. Sometimes seeing the material from a different perspective helps you understand it. Also, an added benefit is that there are more problems to work! Be careful about getting one too old, however, as some of the subject matter may have changed.
5. Work problems, problems, and more problems. There is really no better way to study Chemistry.
Good luck, and don’t get discouraged. You’re bound to meet a few stumbling blocks in the beginning as you make the transition from employee to student. Just stay focused. I have found that the one asset of being an older student that has proven invaluable in this process is my tenacity.

Hang in there. I know how you feel. You are doing all the right things, but here are some thoughts:
1. I learned from my ochem prof that highlighting is a waste of time: too passive. Nothing goes into the brain that way. Instead, write in your textbook (gasp!) in the margin a quick summary of the point in question. You have to formulate it, wrap words around the idea, picture it. Whammo, into the brain it goes.
2. Are you studying hard but not smart? Are there more effective ways to approach the material? Go over your study approach with each instructor.
3. Assuming you preview the material before lecture, do you understand it in lecture but not when it comes to doing problems? If so, the answer could be that you (a) have catch up or review to do from old (possibly previous course) material or (b) need to do problems before class as someone already suggested or © are missing clues the professor is giving out.
4. Many med schools & some universities have a student center. They may have tips on effective studying.
5. Use a study group, and make a date set in concrete for the group to get together prior to the exam. Each participant is responsible for say, 5 questions that they would ask on the exam if they were prof. Must have answers, verified if necessary. Leave enough room prior to exam so you can learn from the experience.
5. Old exams from that prof are worth gold. Since you may be out of the student loop, ask around. Pay for them if you have to.
6. Finally – here’s a problem I exerienced: check your meds. I was feeling really rusty and a bit slow, but I thought it would wear off. I had trouble keeping up with the class lecture, something that has never been a problem. Turns out it was a side-effect of a med I was taking for headaches. IT WAS NOT LISTED ON INSERT as a side effect; I had to call my doc in desperation, after great damage had been done.
Best of luck.

Hang in there Stacy! I had an equally rough transition to full time school after being out in the workforce full time for 4 years. For me I had never really learned how to study in the first place but it was also simply the transition of going from mind-numbing retail to mind-encompassing school. My first semester back I was also still working 24 hours per week retail (or more) which didn’t help and taking 16 credits. It sounds like you are doing all of the right things so don’t worry about it too much.
I almost always do the worst on my first exam in a class simply because I’m not familiar with how the professor tests or grades. Once those first exams are over I can adjust how I study for things and that improves my grades quite a bit.
I have a feeling that your second exams will be a vast improvement over your first ones since you’ve seen how they test and grade and you are getting the help you need.
As for not being happy with how you did on the first exams you have to remember that not only have you made a huge transition in life going from work to school but your first semester is full of “weed out” classes or potential weed out classes so you may find that the second exams are slightly easier than the first (some of my weed out classes made the first exam extraordinarily difficult just to get as many people as possible to drop before drop dates and then eased up a bit on us). You scored right around the mean on your first exams so you really aren’t doing “bad” - between the adjustments you’re making, the adjustments the profs will be making, and just having some idea of how and what to study now you should find your grades improving a lot.
Hang in there!
–Jessica, UCCS

First thing first. Calm down. By getting worked up you will get yourself into more problems. You are at the curve for your sciences so do not even worry about it. You still have the rest of the semester to bring your average up.
Try to practice your problems, get involved in study groups, go to office hours, etc.
A few years ago, I took enzymology and failed the first exam. However, I worked very hard and was able to get a B in the class.
There is still plenty of time. Just keep calm.

Thanks for your replies everyone! I just took my 2nd math test this AM and I feel much better about it than my last test. I did two practice tests (tests I created for myself at home) so I could get used to the pressure of so many problems per hour. Of course, it helps that this test covered stuff I am more familiar with (quadratic formula, complex numbers, etc.) If I didn’t make any careless mistakes, I should have about an 85 on this test, which is great!
I have struggled hard in chemistry this week (with net ionic equations - get the concept, have a hard time actually doing them) but I’ve had help through my friends in class (people that “get” chemistry), my professor, my lab TA, and my tutor, and I think I finally now get it! But, of course, I have two chem quizzes next week on two different subjects–one on grams to moles, moles to grams, and percent/theoretical yield (lab quiz) and one on molarity (lecture quiz).
I need to try to read chemistry before lecture so I can be more prepared in lecture (which I do for biology) but it takes me so long to understand chemistry that I’m perpetually behind. I hate moving on to other things when I don’t understand something…and everything builds on the foundation in science…so if I don’t get initially, I’m screwed.
I also have my 2nd test in biology on Thurs. and I hope to do much better although it’s still hard. I’ve tried doing study groups but people flake out. In chemistry (lecture), I think I’ve finally found a permanent study buddy but this hasn’t happened in bio. One woman is in both my bio lecture and math class, which means I see her every single day, but she’s got a busy work schedule so I don’t think she can meet most days although I’m meeting with her and some other people on both Mon. night and Tues. night to study for our test on Thurs.
For study strategies, I’ll try what you all recommended: I have done lots of the problems in chemistry (our assigned “homework” although he doesn’t collect it and I’ll try to squeeze in more but usually I barely finish the homework), writing in margins, etc. I have been doing note cards and I bought a white board that I use for chem at home b/c I make so many mistakes.
So that’s the scoop. Wish me luck on my chem quizzes and bio test next week. I’m so looking forward to fall break!!
I need it.

I’m not sure which text you use for chemistry, but the one I used for my class has practice exercises throughout the chapter. They were much more basic than excercises you would have to do for homework, but they helped to reinforce the concepts presented in the reading. There was usually one problem worked out and then 1-3 practice exercises (with solutions) following the example that used the same basic method to solve them. I found that doing these out as I read really helped me to focus on what they were saying (admittedly chemistry texts are not the most enthralling reading material). Even if I didn’t totally understand what they were asking me to do, when I saw it again in lecture I usually had that “aha” moment. I hope maybe this helps. Good luck with your upcoming tests!

Doing at least some of the problems a second time helps a LOT. It makes you faster (and it goes much faster the second time). The same applies to the sample problems in the chapter as you’re reading for lecture. Write it down, line by line. Then try to understand it, and write it down again. It will help, even if you don’t quite get it at the time.
Also, when you’re reading ahead and working the practice problems along with the book (even if all you do is write down each line as you go), IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, WRITE DOWN THE UNITS. If you don’t do this, grams to moles and back will never work for you, and if you do, it will eventually be very easy. Do it on tests. Do it on homework. Do it CONSTANTLY. Writing down the units is one of the best ways to keep something from getting upside down by the time you’re done with the problem.
There are all these funny little tricks you learn as you go. Hang in there and knock 'em dead!

Hey Stacey,
Good luck on the upcoming tests!
By they way, that advice about units is REALLY IMPORTANT. We are using allcaps a lot when discussing this subject because it does matter, a lot. The units are actually more important than the numbers very often.
Also, can you try to compare chemistry to cooking or something else you know how to do? A mole is similar to a dozen–it’s a counting unit. So if you have a dozen eggs in a box and you want to know how many pounds it weighs, you’d multiply 12 by the weight of one egg. Ok, you already know all this but I just think it helps to make real world analogies. This will come in handy over and over throughout chemistry.
The other thing I did in gen chem was to draw pictures of everything. I drew little beakers, filled with water (yes, with waves), and little circles or pictures to show the molecules floating around. I illustrated almost every concept by drawing something, even the really complicated later stuff, and it helped!

I am currently taking Chem I this semester also, and I purchased “The complete Idiots Guide to Chemistry”. I have found this to be a good reference book in conjunction with my Chemistry Text to explain concepts in layman’s terms. It may be worth checking out.

Boy, does your post bring back memories! My first sem at UTD, I jumped right into Calc 1 & damned near drowned! Failed the first test, barely passed the 2nd & so on. However, as soon as the 1st test fiasco, I went to my professor - who initially did not appear to be one of those who would be willing to help - & laid out the situation: old fart, working toward med school, sucking in Calc & I need help! I asked if we could make an appointment to review my exam, question by question, so that he could help me recognize what I had gotten right & what I had gotten wrong. He was more than happy to accomodate.

From that point on, we had a regular review after every exam - we had many of them. Toward the end, I confided that I could not afford to have anything less than a B on my transcript & I was coming up short. So, we struck a deal, if I promised to finish the course & cont working as hard as I had been, he would guarantee me a W-passing instead of a W-failing & that when I retook Calc 1, we’d cont working together.

Long story made short, I did not make the B, got the W-passing & took pre-calc. Then, as promised, I retook Calc 1 & eventually Calc 2 - he & I worked together throughout.

3 morals to my story:

1 - Don’t feel like Quasimodo, you are not the first nor will you the last nontrad to return to find yourself feeling as though you jumped into the deep end of the pool w/o your water-willies

2 - By displaying honesty & maturity & seeking help from your professor - NOT by whining for points - you may find a significant advocate who can help immensely & could be an eventual source for a superb letter of reference.

3 - You will have to learn to work smarter & not just harder. Sometimes the leanring/study system that has worked for us previously begins to break down under duress. So, that system must evolve to become more efficient & effective…sometimes the whole thing will have to be trashed & a new tactic developed. But, the important thing is to recognize what is/is not working & work to make it better & not to simply invest more resources, time & energy into something that isproving inadequate.

Best of luck to you. Take the bull by the horns & force him to submit to your will!

Not to beat a dead horse, but working with units can often help you figure out a problem that you can not figure out right away. I used this skill on the MCAT and Step I when I knew the unit of the answer and could figure out what information they gave me (with units) that could help me get to the end-point.
Also, doing practice problems is key to understanding the patterns and rhythm of the problems. You will see how all of the pieces fit together and fall into place.
Good luck,

Tec’s advice is really good. I would just add to that, maybe make up some of your own problems where you use round numbers. It’s hard to be dealing with unfamiliar units AND math AND significant figures all at once. If you simplify the problems, you can start to see the concepts more clearly.

Hi there,
Dave and Tara have really posted some good advice. I would add that since you are making a transition, try to cut back on one of your classes to allow you a bit more time to make that transition. You may want to consider dropping Chemistry until you get your math under more control. General Chem during a summer session is very doable. You can always ramp up at the end when you are in better control of your study habits and schedule. If it takes a year or so longer but you get better grades, you still win in the long run.

I just wanted to expand on the "…key to understanding the pattern and rhythm of the problems."
1. Take any equality (The atomic mass of Carbon is 12 g/mol says: 12 g of C = 1 mol of C).
2. Make TWO conversion factors from this equality (12 g of C/ 1 mol of C; 1 mol of C/ 12 g of C).
3. Choose one of these conversion factors to get the answer you need.
Let’s say you want to convert 24 g of C to moles. Then you take the equality as stated in #1. Make your TWO conversion factors as stated in #2. Then choose one of these conversion factors to get the answer you need (In this case the correct conversion factor is: 1 mol of C/ 12 g of C.
Suppose you chose the other conversion factor. Then if you wrote the units in your problem then you would find that the chosen conversion factor did not cancel properly.
I tell my students that when you choose a conversion factor, you cannot get the wrong answer because you either learn from your mistake immediately or get it right immediately!
You will be able to combine or eliminate some of the steps mentioned with practice.

For me the first test in a new class is always the hardest. Not only do I need to learn the material but I also need to learn the teachers style.

You’re not alone! Last fall I started taking full time classes and got straight A’s, so I decided that I could really do this. In November I handed in my resignation (which they didn’t accept until this August). So here I am, finally a FT student with no other responsibilities to keep a 4.0. So what’s my problem? Now that I’m a FT student, I find that I’m also getting my butt kicked academically. I’m taking Intro to Cell/Molecular bio (and I’ll see next week how the first exam went), Histology which I thought I’d be really good at since I’m a visual learner, but I’m only averaging 50% due to the lab exams, and Calculus, which will be the death of my GPA yet.
My personal theory- working full time and going to school is hard, but when you’ve spent a lifetime so to speak working, leaving that world behind to become “just a student” takes some major adjustment. Certainly more than I thought before this fall. So the short of this long response… don’t beat yourself up and just take one day at a time.

I guess I’m having a rough start in chemistry, too. 3 days ago I was so sad when I saw that I got 65 % on my first Gen Chem test (and I was really confident with this material, and I really understand everything). I felt better however yesterday, when I went to class and saw tat I was above average, which btw was 50% I’m not getting discouraged - now I know how the tests look in this guy’s class and I’m determined to do better on the next one!
You’re not alone!

I just wanted to check back with everyone and give an update. The drop period just passed and I decided to stick with my classes. I get what I get. I just need to stop stressing over the end goal (getting into med school) and start thinking about the hear & now (i.e. the next test in my current classes). One small victory: a 72 in my last bio test, which was slightly higher than my first test (66) and slightly higher than the class average (64). I need to do a lot better in bio, chem, and math but my goal at this point is to get an 80 or higher on my next round of tests in all classes. Baby steps, right? Oddly enough, my highest grades are in math (my worst subject) but that’s b/c I took the same class at a community college last year so most of it’s review although it’s still hard. So I’m going to keep plugging away and hopefully I’ll get better grades. Otherwise, I guess I just won’t be a doctor which I suppose isn’t the end of the world–just feels like it.
I’m still going for help with my tutors and even did a little studying over my break but not much b/c I’m exhausted and needed to rest. I got to see my friend and BF over the break so that was great! Wish I saw them more often but I can’t with my class schedule (tests).