yikes! I blew it.

I just completed my first college class in 15 years: summer chemistry. It represents a complete school year of chemistry plus lab, compressed into 7 weeks. I guess that’s an accomplishment, but I think I blew it on the final exam and probably got a C for the class. That means, I am going to have to spend an extra year taking a couple more science classes to make up for this, and a huge blow to my self-confidence.
I think I know what went wrong. I’m terrible at memorization. I tend to learn by osmosis and by repeated use and by filling in little gaps here and there as I strive for the “big picture”, whereas this course required us to ingest a full body of knowledge and techniques and apply them on demand. My brain doesn’t seem to work that way.
In computer work, I’m accustomed to knowing where to look things up when I need them. In chemistry, I was asked to memorize lots of things and hold them in my head long enough to spit them out again on an exam. I’m not criticizing the course organizers because they were up front about everything and in fact it was a really well run and enjoyable course.
Probably I should have taken this course during the regular school year to give myself a chance to get reacclimated. I sort of jumped in the deep end and now I feel stupid, and a little ashamed of myself. I just hope I can dredge up the courage to take organic chem and biology in the fall.
Oh, well; Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I really enjoyed chemistry, though.
Sorry for the rambling post; I just had to vent a little.

Hi Terry,
I took GenChemI during a normal semester and II during the summer - and received the same grade in each.
I too am in computers, but prior to that I was a physics guy. Both taught not to memorize stuff if you can look it up, so I was also caught in chemistry just like you.
Keep your head high and keep going. Get ready for OChem, which is another subject they say not to memorize - but that is a pile of crap. You need to memorize and understand the material or processes - if I had known that I’m sure I would have done better in that class.
Biology should be fun, and organic is also fun, but hard and labor intensive. Good luck and keep us informed.

Hey Terry,
It’s “in the can” at this point. You gave it your best shot and maybe you came up short of your expectations. Always remember that your final grade in Chemistry may not be much of an indicator of how much you actually learned. Take some time and develop a strategy for Organic Chemistry. There is some memorization but working lots of problems will help you understand the synthetic schemes and will help you with some of the memorization stuff.
I was a Chemistry major with a minor in Math. I resisted memorization but found that systematic regular review could make understanding and memorization much easier. I found that I could always pull out an answer as I analyzed each problem. Again, this came from working lots of problems and getting the “hang” of problem-solving.
Have fun with your O-Chem and keep plugging away! Soon your dream will come true!

You’ll find your way. You got bruised, but you learned something about school and your learning style and now you can address it. How do you memorize things as a musician? (Or, if you don’t, how did you when you were taking lessons as a kid and had to memorize?)
I do recommend flash cards for common reagents and reactions in organic chemistry, as well as repeated writing of reaction mechanisms, AND doing lots of synthesis problems to get used to the thought process. If you combine those three things, you’ll do well. And don’t let anybody tell you not to use flash cards. If your memory is not your best features, you need the cards. I needed them, and I thought that after four years of Scottish Country Dance, my memory had gotten pretty good.
Make sure you understand equilibrium and Bronsted and Lowrey acids and bases before starting organic chemistry. Then you’ll be ready to kick chemistry’s annoying organic behind.

I second what everybody else said.
I want to add that I’m not great at memorizing either… or at least I didn’t think so… until I took Biochem this summer… like you, I jumped in the deep end with tough courses this summer… but or Biochem prof was more than willing to tell us what needed to be done.
The first day of class he told everybody to go out and buy a wipe board. He also suggested that we make cards. I chose to make the cards and several times a day (if I could) spend time writing out reactions and structures by flipping through the cards and using the wipe board. It worked…
I went through about 7 wipe board markers…but it worked…
the point is… sometimes we need to deviate from what we usually do in order to make something happen. Had this particular professor not been very insistent about doing this, I probably would have failed his class…I don’t know that I had memorized much of anything since I was in sunday school as a little kid… I’d recommend this method to anybody in the future… it really helps those of us who need the repetition in order to remember.
good luck!

May I suggest a learning aide for Orgo. I was in the mall a couple of years back and while at the “World of Science” store I saw a set of videos. One set was organic chemistry.
Now that I am studying for the MCAT, I bought the videos. I started looking at them a few months ago and will begin again. I think that they are a great study tool in conjunction with your classroom. The company that makes them is called “The Standard Deviants”
Look them up.
good luck in O-chem.

You hadnt taken a college in class in 15 yrs then enrolled in Chemistry (the whole year) compressed in 7 weeks? That took a lot of courage but I dont think it is something I would have done. Maybe it was this fact that you may have not done so well, so dont be too upset. Had it been taken over 2 semesters or whatever you may not have had the same outcome. I guess what I am trying to say is, sometimes, on this road we are soo anxious to start it all and get it over with, but sometimes doing that defeats our purpose. You need to do well in your prereqs, dont do anything to jeopardize that and keep your eye on the prize. Good luck.

What worked for me in Ochem was a program called OrganicChem online. It allows you to visualize each atom and then build the reaction. So when it does that it shows you the orientation and the electronic field distributions. I am an engineer so this helped me to visualize. And then the memorization of common oxidizing agents and reducing agents helped.
My problem was I took Ochem 1 and 2 together in the same semester!! Somebody should have pulled my head out of my tutu!!!
In the can as Natalie said!!

Thanks to everyone for your wonderfully wise and supportive words. I wish I could take you all home with me!
There’s a happy ending to the story. The final exam was so difficult that the mean score was 60%!!! I think they made some adjustments as a result. Anyway, I scraped through with a B for the course and I am so fortunate: B is the minimum grade that the Harvard post-bacc program will accept.
I’ve already purchased my Biology and Organic Chem textbooks for the fall–together with study guides etc. comes to about $300!!! I’m already excited about these courses. Am I a masochist or what?
And Denise–I learn my music through sheer repetition and “wood shedding”–lock myself in the shed and practice them over and over and over. I guess I have to learn to wood shed my science stuff too.

Great news about pulling a B! Now onto next semester.

Fantastic news about your B! I know you can do well during the regular semester. Two pieces of advise about Biology at HES. Get into a study group and do all the review questions he gives you ( you can even spit up the work… believe me there is more than enough to keep a group busy…) and give yourself the “previous year’s exam” like a week before each midterm/final. This will get you used to producing answers in a timely manner… there is a lot of material, and a ton to produce at exams, you have to really know it cold. I made myself a “packet” with all the review questions/definitions and carried it around with me so I could review on the T or wherever. From what I have heard, the fall semester is heavy on genetics (Dr. Fixsen teaches Genetics as well, even written a text I think…) so get that downpat. I think a group with your organic would be a good idea also.
good luck

Great news about your B! What a wonderful acheivement for jumping in the fire your first semester back in school.
I admire your ability to woodshed yourself about your music. I never quite the developed that discipline as a child and as a result I’m a home-alone quality musician today. (But I still love sitting down to the piano to butcher a nice bittersweet Rogers and Hart tune).
Good luck this fall! I found study groups helpful for bio. I probably would have found them helpful for O-chem if I could have gotten anyone to show up consisently. Being excited about the courses is, I think, one of the key indicators that you’re doing the right thing.

Hi Terry!
This is Jane from Florida, one of your new friends from the Denver conference. I’ve been following your story about your summer chemistry class, and I wanted to say congrats on getting a B! I knew you would do better than you thought. I, too, took chemistry over the summer, but it was an introductory course just to get my feet wet. Well, I thought the course was so hard that I would have been happy with a D. Turns out the final exam was worth 25% of the grade, and I must have done well on it, because I ended up with a B for the class. Boy, was I relieved! The instructor was very capable, but she never smiled and never said hello. There was always a tense atmosphere in the class as a result. I dreaded going to it every week.
Now, this coming Monday (August 23), I start taking General Chemistry I, Biology I, and A&P I. I keep going back and forth between doctor and PA. My husband thinks I should just go all the way and become a doctor. “You won’t regret it,” he says. I think he just wants to have a doctor in the family.
Best of luck to you, Terry! I know you’ll do great.