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Oh, the lovely as ever CHEM 1A. If you ask any psych, chemistry, physics, biology or science major at UCSB about this class, they can tell you all about it. Required by most science majors as a prerequisite for upper divisions, the  daunting course is often identified as a primary “weeder” course – many students go into this class as STEM majors, but few STEM students actually return. And although that sounds mildly terrifying, there are several easy things you can do to make sure you not only survive, but succeed in CHEM 1A.

1. Don’t wait until welcome week to finish your summer ALEKS work.

Yes, the fact that there is homework the summer after high school graduation does suck. No one wants to spend a summer afternoon locked inside balancing chemical equations, but it’s definitely a mistake to wait until right before the quarter starts to complete your ALEKS work. And no matter how much you don’t want to spend a handful of summer afternoons working on chemistry, you definitely will be happy when you can come to UCSB and actually enjoy welcome week, while the other chem kids on your floor have to stay inside and pray that they finish their work on time. Working on chem doesn’t have to be terrible-bring your laptop outside and work on your tan at the same time!

2. Keep up with your weekly ALEKS assignments.

So…bad news. Once you have finally finished learning the 140 ALEKS topics in preparation for gen chem, and show up to lecture on the first day of school feeling like an all-knowing chemistry god, you will soon discover that you aren’t quite done with ALEKS yet. Each chemistry teacher assigns 10-20 topics every week that correspond to their lecture topics, and every week, you will receive a knowledge check that will have you redo any old topics you have forgotten. It sucks – but it’s also a significant portion of your grade, not to mention a good way to practice the material. Any points you can gather will provide a much needed cushion for your midterms and final.

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3. Actually go to lecture.

This one may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how tempting it is to skip a 500 person lecture that starts at 9am. It is so important to go to lecture because teachers give valuable test tips and hints during their lectures that you can’t get from a textbook. Oh and don’t forget about the iClickers – those little remotes are how professors take attendance, for which you get points (and you want all the points you can get). Some teachers will even replace the lowest of your two quiz grades with iClicker points! Did you hear that? If you go to every lecture, you are guaranteed a 100% on one of your quizzes. This could be the difference between passing and failing the class.

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4. Go to your professor’s office hours.

Professors can seem scary, especially when you feel no personal connection to them. But you should definitely try to develop some sort of relationship with your professor, or even just make sure they can recognize your face! Professors know their material and what is going to be on their tests better than anyone, so they’re probably the best people to go to for questions about content you’re learning. Also, in the event that something personal happens and you need an extension or maybe a grade rounded, professors are far more likely to help out a student that they see often, with a face they recognize, rather than a faceless random email. So do yourself a favor and make a note on your phone during the first lecture with all your teacher’s office hours – you’ll thank yourself for it later.

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5. Sign up for CLAS.

CLAS sessions are offered for most STEM lower division classes, and are tailored to your specific professor and lecture time. Taught by upperclassmen or graduate students who have taken the class before, it’s part of their job to sit in on your chem lecture and tailor specific lessons to whatever you and the other students are learning in class. They typically meet one hour a day twice a week, and your CLAS instructor will go over the material lectured on and do practice problems with the group. These sessions are so helpful – just going and listening is an hour of studying you might not have done at home. The practice problems are usually from past tests, and the CLAS instructors are so familiar with the professors that they can predict what kinds of problems you are going to see on your quizzes, midterms, and final. Attending CLAS is a great way to position yourself to be ahead of the curve.

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6. Join an ACE team.

The ACE program started in the last two years, so it’s not very well known. It is very similar to CLAS, but while CLAS is structured like a small lecture, ACE groups have a max of seven people and really focus on the methods of problem solving and analysis used during Chem. ACE teams meet once a week for 1 1/2 hours, where they will only work on one to three problems, focusing on each problem solving step. The group does a great job of building a strong foundation that you will need to succeed in any subject, not just chem. Pro tip – doing ACE as well as CLAS gives you a very well-rounded knowledge of chemistry, and will set you on the path for success!

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7. Make a study group with people on your floor.

As was stated in the introduction, CHEM 1A is one of the most popular freshman classes, because so many majors require it. That pretty much guarantees that there will be multiple people on your floor enrolled in the class. There is always someone in the lobby working on chem when you get out of the elevator. Forming a study group with your classmates is great. Suffering through chem is a little bit easier when you have a whole group of people who are all up at 1 am, studying for the quiz the next day. As an added bonus, you will forge strong bonds of friendship after going through CHEM 1A together, and those friendships have the potential to last a long time.

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8. Don’t take it too easy the first half of the quarter.

On your first day of class, depending on who your teacher is, your professor might go to the front of the room and draw a graph of the difficulty of the class throughout the quarter. And as the graph shows, the first couple chapters of chem are actually pretty easy, because its pretty much just a review of high school chemistry. However, if you don’t put in the effort and really use this opportunity to master the basics, you’re going to run into trouble later on. The material in chem builds on itself. By the time your second midterm rolls around, and your working on equilibrium and gas laws – which means balancing an equation is going to be an assumed skill. So if you can’t do that, you won’t be able to solve the problem. It’s not that hard – put a little work in at the beginning and save yourself from a ton of pain later.

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CHEM 1A is a class that every STEM major is likely going to encounter at some point in their college career. But if you do any of these things (or all of them) and put in some hard work, you can definitely succeed in the course!


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Jenae Vancura

Freshman pre-biology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara


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