How to sort of cram for my cumulative chemistry test
July 8, 2013 10:07 PM   Subscribe

I need to ace a cumulative general chemistry 1 test on Wednesday. It's worth a huge portion of my grade. Cramming (in the traditional sense of the word) is pretty much inevitable as it is a summer class so a shitload of information had to be covered in a few weeks. What should I do for the next 24-32 hours? How little sleep can I get away with the night before the exam? P.S. I have ADHD

It's the kind of exam where everything is on it, but the stuff that was learned most recently is going to be emphasized more, since we haven't had a separate test for just that stuff. My test average is a B/B- and I need to get 93ish on this to get a B+ in the class (or 98 for an A-, very wishful thinking). My teacher sucks and I've basically had to teach myself the material by reading the book and watching online videos.

I have ADHD so I've really struggled with developing good study skills. I had a pretty easy undergrad major that I was really interested in so I got away with cramming and a lot of the stuff was very intuitive. I also found that for a lot of classes, staying up late just to have more information on hand was more beneficial than getting a good night's sleep to retain what I already knew. I get the sense that this wouldn't work for chemistry.

I prepared for the test that I did best on by outlining the chapters (which literally takes me HOURS for each chapter), watching videos about every topic, and doing all of the HW problems. I don't have time to go back and do this for all of the material we've learned thus far. I also don't know if I maybe did well solely as a result of the HW or some other factor? I just don't feel like what I'm doing is efficient or realistic whatsoever.

So far, I've outlined about 9 out of 13 chapters (I still have 2 that I haven't even read!), and have done very few of the HW problems.

I really need advice on the best way to study for a science test of this nature. Should I outline the chapters? Should I just work on problems? Should I review old stuff or just focus on the newer things that carry more weight? How do I even "review" things that I've already been tested on?

Any suggestions for study materials are also welcome.

Thank you!!
posted by DayTripper to Education (12 answers total)
How little sleep can I get away with the night before the exam?

Get a full night's sleep before the exam. You'll have much better access to what you've learned if you're not sleep deprived going in.
posted by zippy at 10:19 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do the problems more. That's what's on the test.

Also, do what I did for the bar. 10 hours a day. Start at 8 AM. Set a timer for 55 minutes. Work during that time. Then 5 minutes of Age of Empires II*

Do that 8a-12p. An hour for lunch. At 1 PM, back to the 55 on 5 off, until 6 PM. An hour for dinner. 7-9 back to the 55 on, 5 off. I did it for 10 straight days at the end. Got the score I needed.

*this was 2004, you may substitute another game.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:27 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If I were in your position, I would first review my notes/outlines, and then mainly focus on the problem sets. Review the problems from previous chapters and make sure you can solve those comfortably, and do as many problems from the new material as possible. If you had all day tomorrow (9 AM - 10 PM, lets say), you should probably spend 40-50% of your time focusing on the new material, preferably early in the day, to go over the readings, your outline/notes, and do problems. Then for the bulk of the remaining time (40-50% of your time) focus on reviewing material/problems from previous exams. For the remaining 10% of your time (at most a couple of hours), at the end before you break for sleep, jog your brain and take a mental inventory of the problem solving techniques and topics to be tested.

I should add that this advice really depends on how your test is going to be structured--I'm assuming that it's going to be problem-solving focused and not a rote memory dump of random facts.

Being well rested is crucial so you don't make careless mistakes solving the problems.
posted by scalespace at 10:28 PM on July 8, 2013

Chemistry major here, I never sat down and read a single page of my textbook for general chemistry except for pages with problems on them. My teacher very graciously supplied us with a list of optional questions from each chapter to work on, but I don't see why you couldn't pick out a couple dozen from each chapter and work on those. Don't burn yourself out, take a lot of breaks and give yourself incremental little rewards. Most of general chemistry is just knowing what unit you need to end up with, what units you're given, and knowing which formula relates those units.
posted by ltisz at 10:30 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another chem major here, and I would say that the textbook isn't entirely useless in terms of reading, but it's very low down on the priority list. Problem sets, problem sets, problem sets is the name of the game. Yeah, you need to know the basics of a reaction (the mechanism, the name of a functional group, etc.) which you'd get from a textbook review, but after that, it's problem sets. I would argue that you could get from, say, a B+/A- to A or A+ if you did scour the textbook and really absorb the nuances, but if you're short on time hands-on practicing the problems is the way to go.

Only skip sections that your profs have said won't be on the final (you were there when they gave out hints for the final, right?)

Get a good night's sleep - well, as much as you can with impending test anxiety. Sleepy and stressed doesn't help your test scores.
posted by Zelos at 11:30 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please, please, please get proper sleep the night before. Your result will suffer if you don't.

It's science:
Although we expected that nights of extra studying might not be as effective as students suppose (Pilcher & Walters, 1997), it was somewhat surprising that nights of extra studying would be associated with worse academic functioning the following day. This surprising finding, however, made more sense once we examined extra studying in the context of adolescents’ sleep. As other studies have found, our results indicate that extra time spent studying cuts into adolescents’ sleep on a daily basis (Adam et al., 2007). This trade-off between studying and sleeping occurs in 9th grade and becomes more dramatic in the latter years of high school. Our mediation results suggest that the reduced sleep that tends to occur on nights of extra studying is what accounts for the increase in academic problems that occurs the next day. … Our study provides additional evidence that beyond average amounts of sleep, nightly variations in sleep are associated with school functioning on a daily basis. Specifically, students who sleep less than usual on a particular night are more likely to experience academic problems on the following day, especially in the latter years of high school. … Despite efforts to maintain a consistent study schedule, high school students may still occasionally face days on which they need to spend substantially more time than usual on their school work. On these nights, our research suggests that students should make every effort not to let this extra study time disrupt their normal sleep patterns.
And furthermore:
Finally, the time of day that students study also matters. College students are notorious night owls. Indeed, few students reported studying in the morning, or even in the afternoon. Most students study in the evening and late at night. One of the interesting results of this research, though, is that the students who study late at night tend to get worse grades than those who study in the evening.
Try to study earlier in the day and get proper sleep.
posted by robcorr at 1:18 AM on July 9, 2013

As someone who has previously nearly completely failed a chemistry final, I would say DO YOUR PROBLEM SETS!!!!!! Oh boy do I wish I had spent more time understanding the problems!!!
posted by astapasta24 at 1:45 AM on July 9, 2013

What have you been covering thus far? I'm like captain ADD and have spent a couple decades as a professional chemist so if you give me a list I can probably give you some workable strategies.

In the short term, yeah, problem sets.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:11 AM on July 9, 2013

It really depends what is on the test. I find that exams go better if you actually understand the material rather than just trying to cram it all in at the end. The best thing to do is to try and distill everything you need to know to the bare minimum and try and see the relations within the knowledge. I am guessing that because you say this is general chemistry than you really just need to study:
  • Periodic trends - you need to understand why the trends are the way they are and then things will fall into place. Don't just know that the size gets bigger when you go down for example.
  • Equilibria - Know the equations related to equilibria. Acid/Base and solubility and all of the various ones all use the same form and general equations so once you understand those you're set they are essentially all the same problem just asked in different ways.
  • Stiochometry - Be able to calculate the amount of products made or reactants required along with knowing about molar ratio's for determining empirical formulae
  • Solubility - unfortunately this one is just memorisation which ions would be soluble in water and which ones aren't (you can understand this once you've done it for a while and know more about the hardness and softness of various ions and the like but that is rather advanced.
  • Gas law - This is just one equation and once you understand it you're fine no need to worry about gas law. You do need to actually understand it especially in how it interfaces with equilibria.
  • Molecular structure - Can you count to 8 Understand valence and electron shell configurations, know which electrons are important and then it becomes just a game of making lines and dots until everything has 8
  • Kinetics - This is probably too advanced for general chem 1 but again it is just knowing the few equations and how they interrelate. It helps if you understand calculus and are able to run the integrals in your head.
The above is what I would always tell struggling students and the ones who went on to do well were able to see the inner-connectedness of things and actually understand the material. It is only really 7 topics and you probably won't have covered all of them yet anyways so be sure to get some sleep and relax and have fun during the exam. I know that everyone else is recommending problem sets, and they are good to allow you to be able to work through a problem that you recognise, but then you have to know how to do each problem. If you know the underlying zen of chemistry it doesn't matter if someone throws a problem at you in a unique way you can still grok it and figure out a way to an answer.
posted by koolkat at 2:15 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

Although my study skills improved after 6 chem courses, I did find myself in your position early on in gen chem!

Do you know anyone who can tutor you for a few hours? You really just need to know how to do one of each type of example problem. I would do the chapter example problems (Chemistry: The Central Science had great ones) and make sure you understand the ins and outs of those. Do you recognize where your Professor draws questions from? If he tends to focus on example problems from class, prioritize those. If he draws more test questions from your hw assignments, do those questions first. Don't spend so much time reviewing old stuff you already know that you don't have time to cover *every* new topic! That was my biggest issue as someone who has had issues with maintaining focus myself.

Finally, sleep your minimum required amount to retain info as opposed to pulling an all-nighter, if you're tempted to do so. With gen chem that was 4 hours for me. Any less then that and my brain would not consolidate the info properly for the next day. YMMV. It was worth sacrificing a little processing speed in order to cover the max amount of material. A good night's sleep doesn't magically put material into your head that isn't there to begin with.

The best gen chem youtube guy is Isaacteach. His videos are concise, clear, and best of all explain the underlying principles! His Acid Base videos finally helped me understand that topic. Wish I'd known about him during gen chem.

Also, Chad over at coursesaver could teach you a full lesson on any topic you're hazy about. Worth paying for his subscription if you need to know the fundamentals in a hurry. His enthalpy lesson cleared up that fuzzy topic for me. Best part is he works out representative examples with you.

Draw your periodic table trends (EN, Atomic Radius, Electron Affinity, Ionization Energy) at the edges of your table and glance at them constantly as you use your table for reference. Review your 7 SAs (I Bring Clam Soup Not Clam Chowder!) and 8 SBs (use a marker to color in those alkali metal and alkali earth metal elements that make up the SBs as a visual aid). Know your polyatomic ions cold (flashcards). Feel free to memail me if you're totally lost about something. Will be reviewing gen chem the next couple of days anyway. Good luck!
posted by sunnychef88 at 2:16 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone!

Kid Charlemagne-- so far we've covered:

1) sig figs/dimensional analysis/density/etc
- I'm mostly fine on these basic topics, but I sometimes get confused about moles versus molecules versus atoms. i.e., find the mass of one molecule of H2O

3) periodic trends/combustion/finishing equations
** I really struggle with finishing equations and writing net ionic equations. How do you know what will form from a given set of reactants?

4) electrolytes/precipitates/acids & bases/neutralization reactions/redox rxns/activity series
- I need to go back over this stuff-- is there a unifying theme among these different types of reactions?

6) electronic structure of atoms
- a question I don't get that is definitely on my test: "An electron in a certain molecule has an energy of 2.0 X 10^-18 J. If this e- absorbs a photon of frequency 8.0 X 10^14 s^-1 find the final energy of the e-." (she'll change it somehow but that's the gist of it)

8) Lewis structures!!! Is there a fool-proof way to do this? If there are extra electrons why do you add them to the central atom instead of getting rid of them and making the molecule a cation? How do you know when to use double/triple bonds and can the e- used to form these only come from ones that aren't paired?

9) molecular geometry
- electron domain versus molecular domain?? and WTF does this have to do with polarity?

11) forces (dipole-dipole, dispersion, H bonding)/vapor pressure

I left out some of the easy stuff. The numbers are messed up b/c I did it based on chapter. My book is Chemistry: The Central Science.

If anyone can provide answers to any of these (sorry for the length) I would REALLY appreciate it.
Thank you!
posted by DayTripper at 8:49 AM on July 9, 2013

I've always said that if I were teaching a general chemistry class on day one I'd tell the students the following essay question was going to be on the final. "Explain the development and structure of the periodic table and some of its uses. Give specific examples." and encourage them to start researching it early on. Truth is, I could care less how they are at periodic table trivia, but knowing all the little tricks that are built into it is amazingly useful. Just something to consider.

1) You know how there are 25.4 mm in an inch? Well, there are 6.02e23 atomic mass units in one grams. That's really all there is to it. By working in moles the conversion factor from a stochiometric equation to making one mole of stuff in the real world is 1.

3) If you mix two salts together and they're both soluble, when the sun sets you'll have four salts. If one permutiation is insoluble (e.g. silver chloride) then you're going to get that under a solution of sodium nitrate if you mix silver nitrate and sodium chloride.

4) It's all about finding the place the electrons most want to be in a given condition. Once you have a feel for that most of chemistry is like knowing that water flows downhill.

6) It's a matter of calculating the energy of the photon and adding it to what is already there. E=hc/l or E=hf (where h is planks constant, c is the speed of light, l is wavelength and f is frequency).

8) This is that like water flowing downhill thing. Oxygen is electronegative and is very greedy with electrons, which is why the anion part of so many acids are oxygen rich (nitric, phosphoric, sulfuric, even acetic acid). Similarly, the halogens want 8 electrons AND THEY WANT THEM RIGHT NOW DAMNIT! Metals are more willing to give up electrons to various extents.

9) In order to be non-polar a molecule has to be symmetrical in terms of charge. If you see an electron pair hanging off the side, or something that is going to pull electron density to one end of things (e.g. hydrogen bonding in water) it's going to be polar.

11) Hydrogen bonding builds on the idea of polarity. If a molecule has a positive end and a negative end it's going to form structures out in nature a la the hooks and loops in velcro. And in fact, it does. (BE FOREWARNED: There have been people who have used structure in bulk water to explain all kinds of woo in the same way that people use magnetism and frequency to explain all kinds of woo. Just walk away.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:36 PM on July 9, 2013

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