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First-year chemistry (CHEM 1012) at Dalhousie can be described using a lot of words: fascinating, frustrating, interesting, and intimidating. It is extremely different from high school chemistry and something to be taken seriously. However, if chemistry is a true passion of yours, you’re in for a fascinating semester!

1. It will be significantly harder than high school – even if you took AP Chem!

This point is by no means meant to scare you – there is absolutely no reason why, if you put in the appropriate amount of effort, you cannot succeed in this course. However, it is also important that all the students who got A+s in grade 12 or AP chemistry while putting in the minimal amount of effort take note: that won’t be the case in this class! So do yourself a favour and don’t walk into the class thinking that it will be remotely close to a breeze!

2. If it is remotely possible, do not miss a lab!

Labs are an extremely important (not to mention fun and interesting!) part of the course – if you don’t pass the lab portion of the class, you don’t pass the course at all (even if you get insanely amazing grades on midterms and finals – you still need to get a lab mark of at least 50%!). As such, the lab schedule is very carefully put together and missing a lab is not a good idea! Of course, if you’re actually sick, then missing the lab would be appropriate but skipping because you want to sleep in or because you didn’t prepare for the lab in time is not something you want to do – getting yourself into another lab section can be a tricky business!

3. Be very careful depending on the class recordings!

A very useful aspect of first-year chem is that the professors record their lectures and post them online. However, this can very quickly become dangerous for students who rely too heavily on them! Yes, watching the recording so that you don’t have to go to class when you’re sick is definitely a good idea, but if you’re perfectly capable of going to class, that’s absolutely the way to go! Otherwise, you’ll find yourself sitting at your desk, less than a week before the first midterm, with four hour-long lecture recordings you haven’t even begun to watch! Not a good situation to be in.

4. Take advantage of the Concept Room

The coordinators and professors of first-year chem are by no means unaware of the difficulties it often poses to students. As such, they have a schedule that provides first-year students with drop-in periods during which higher level chem students are able to help you with any questions you may have. In addition to getting help from students who took the course not too long ago, the service is completely free!

5. DO NOT leave lab reports until the last minute!

There is no way around it – first-year chem exams are hard. Why is this the first sentence of a paragraph about lab reports? Because labs are a great way to make up for marks you may lose on exams. However, please do not assume that lab reports are in any way something to be taken lightly; some of them are easy but some of them are difficult and don’t reveal the extensive amount of time required to complete them until you’ve actually started them. So do yourself a favour – get started on them early! (And by early, I mean a week before they’re due!)

So what’s the takeaway? First-year chemistry is an incredibly cool class but not one that should be considered a bird class. It requires dedication, organization, and initiative. If this class is mandatory for you and not something you’re looking forward to, the intent of this article was not to scare you – instead, it was to highlight the difficulties of the course so you are well prepared. Regardless of whether you are taking the class by choice or because it is mandatory, good luck and enjoy – after you’ve finished the course, you’ll be proud of yourself for making it through and may just even catch yourself missing it.


Lia Reed

Lia hopes to get her PhD in Clinical Psychology, so she'll be in school for a long time! Aside from that, she loves playing with her cat and tutoring (so she gets at least some human interaction!).

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