General Chemistry (CHEM 1A) is a class at UCSB that the majority of STEM majors are required to take during their first quarter at school. Because it’s what many people call a “weeder” class, many freshman go into the quarter anxious and unsure about how well they expect to do in such a course. If you are a freshman that has to take this course, then hopefully after reading this article, which outlines some the topics you will encounter in Gen Chem, some of your nerves may be eased.

1. Chemical Nomenclature

During CHEM 1A, you are going to do lots of fun things like calculating equilibrium and determining molarity of compounds. But how can you do any of this without knowing what elements you are using in the first place? In this section you will learn how to identify acids and bases, polyatomic ions, ionic compounds, and molecular compounds. Some teachers will have you memorize these, but either way by the end of the quarter you will be able to identify the difference between hypochlorite and perchlorate ion like a pro.
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2. All Sorts of Stoichiometry

Ever heard of a mole? And no, it’s not the hairless rat-like animal from Kim Possible, it’s actually a HUGE part of chemistry and you’re going to use it all of the time. You’re going to learn how to convert from grams of a substance to moles of it, or from the number atoms in a molecule to its molar mass. It is so important to master this topic because later on when you’re doing more complex work, being able to convert between values is an expected skill.
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3. Gas Laws

What a lot of people don’t know is that gas is a very unique and cool state of matter, and under certain conditions it will behave in very specific ways. During this section you will learn about the Ideal Gas law, seen as the equation PV=nRT, and how a gas’s pressure is related to its volume, moles, and temperature. This formula will be used all of the time on tests and quizzes, and you will learn how to solve for each of those values, so make sure to pay special attention the topic during lecture.
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4. Acids and Bases

It’s during this topic that you’ll see the difficulty of CHEM 1A really start to amp up. Until this point, most of the information given will be familiar to you if you took any sort of high school chemistry. Usually introduced after the first midterm, this topic includes things that you may not have learned in high school like balancing half-reactions, determining molarity, and titrations. It’s actually pretty interesting to analyze the reactions between the two, and you even get to get your hands on some acids and bases if you are enrolled in the lab (CHEM 1AL)! 

5. Equilibriums

This is also one of the most complex topics that you will encounter during the CHEM 1A course at UCSB, and primarily addresses the idea that very few chemical reactions actually go in just one direction. In equilibrium, the forward and reverse reaction are the same rate. For example: the rate at which carbon dioxide is made equals the rate at which carbon dioxide is turned back into carbon monoxide and oxygen. You will also learn to anticipate how a change in something like temperature can cause a shift in the equilibrium. If you have no idea what any of that means, don’t worry, you’ll be an expert soon enough.
Despite the complex sounding topics and terrifying reputation, General Chemistry at UCSB is actually a very interesting and manageable course. Hopefully after reading this article you’ll have a better idea of what it is you will face during this course, but if you’re still worried, checkout this article for tips on How to Survive CHEM 1A at UCSB. With a lot of hard work and focus, you will get to the end of the quarter wondering why you were ever even worried in the first place!

Jenae Vancura

Sophomore Cell and Developmental Biology major at the University of California, Santa Barbara

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