School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

First year chemistry study tips – Tahmina Ali

In this blog, Chemistry student Tahmina Ali offers her advice for studying Chemistry at Queen Mary University of London’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

2 September 2019

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As a student who has just completed my first year of chemistry at Queen Mary, I can understand the stress and concerns surrounding university level study, especially when it comes to chemistry. ‘How do you know which mechanisms to learn?’, ‘Which textbooks do I need?’, ‘Shall I revise just using the lectures?’ There are many more questions I had in my mind when I first started university and I am sure you all will to. And the main point to remember is, we are not all born chemists. But we can learn to be.

Go to your lectures

This is a point I cannot stress enough. The content you will be tested on will definitely be taught during your lectures. Lecturers often emphasise information that may or may not be tested during your exam. This is crucial to note, as you may be wasting a lot of time studying a topic the night before your exam that will not even come up. 

Take lecture notes

Following from the previous point, your lecturers will spend a lot of time creating power points and hand-outs that will include crucial information. It is important that you solidify the basic chemistry knowledge, before studying more complicated topics. By writing notes, you are forcing yourself to learn the content without realising, and this will help you when you start to revise for your exams.

Attend all workshops and lab sessions

Workshops are purposely put in place to allow you to answer questions similar to those given to you in your exams. Lecturers often answer more questions during workshops, and can give you more tailored support. Interactivity is key for studying chemistry. Become an active learner in order to understand chemistry and not memorise facts.

Tips for studying chemistry at university

Organic chemistry is a fundamental aspect of chemistry. Think of it as the heart of chemistry. The bulk of organic chemistry is learning about mechanisms. My top tip will be to invest in a whiteboard and draw mechanisms continuously, as well as listing the reagents and conditions. This repetitive process will help you to understand how reactions work as well as saving you time during your exams.

Do not spend hours reading and highlighting your text book. Chemistry is a practical subject and you will learn more by visualising tough concepts rather than reading about them. The way I learnt about tough concepts was by skim-reading the main ideas, then watching videos online to gain a wider insight into the concept. That way you can learn through a different source and learn about the concept through a different lens.

Lastly, create a mistakes book. Now this may sound a little random, but this is a tip I have tried and tested. Now how this works is, you may be studying a topic, and there’s just something in the topic you don’t seem to understand. What will help is instead of writing the right answer again and again, you could write down the mistake you often make which leads to the wrong answer. That way, you will know what your common errors are and therefore avoid making those mistakes.

You will learn throughout your studies that chemistry is about minimising errors which lead to an unwanted result. Implement this idea into your studies, and study smart to get the result you’re after.