Practical Study Suggestions

... and General Characteristics of Successful Students

Let's face it: for some of you, the most pressing question is, "How can I get an A in this course?"
Well, here are some practical study suggestions along with typical characteristics of students that achieve a certain grade. Where do you want to be?

A Students
Creighton defines the A grade as "outstanding." Students that earn an A in this course take responsibility for their own learning very seriously. They don't wait around for someone to spoon-feed them information; they realize they are paying a great deal for specialists in various fields to help them deepen their understanding of a particular discipline, and they take full advantage of the opportunity the college experience presents. They want to better themselves intellectually and morally, and they have a genuine desire to seek out and know the truth from many points of view: scientific, philosophical, theological, etc. In addition to the suggestions listed for the other grades below, 'A' students will also tend to put into practice the following suggestions:

  • Re-write your lecture notes in a composition book, using some of the problems you've done to supplement the examples given in lecture. Write it up the way you would give the lecture. How would you explain it to mom?
  • Discuss the ideas we've been covering with your colleagues. Do they understand things differently than you do? Are they correct? Are you correct? Why? Is there a better way to think about things?
  • Select a topic and give yourself (or others) a ten-minute mini lecture on that topic. For example, if you really know what stoichiometry means, you should easily be able to hold forth on that topic for at least ten minutes from memory. (I'll lecture on the topic for 50 minutes and feel rushed.) If you exhaust your knowledge in 30 seconds, something's wrong!
  • Feel a certain amount of pride and satisfaction knowing that you've mastered the material to the best of your ability. Pass on what you have learned. Help others to understand the ideas. You never really understand something until you teach it to someone else.

B Students
Creighton defines the B grade as "good." Students that earn a B generally have very similar attitudes to A students, but maybe don't have all the time they need to devote to the subject, or they may lack the natural abilities in memory or reasoning of an A student. In addition to the suggestions listed below for the other grades, 'B' students will also tend to put into practice the following suggestions:

  • Work through the lecture notes and test yourself with them: when you come to an example or derivation, put your notes away, get out a blank sheet of paper, and see if you can think through the example or derivation yourself. Don't just go from memory; make sure you truly understand each of the steps.
  • Work through all the suggested problems given in lecture. Try doing them in different ways. (For example, you might try to start with the answer and then calculate some of the given information.) Rejoice when you get one wrong, because that means you're going to learn something for sure as you figure out why you got it wrong. Come to my office hours if you have trouble.
  • Review what was covered in the lectures prior to today. How does it all fit together? What current ideas depend on previous ideas? How does thinking about current ideas help you develop a deeper understanding of previous ideas? Come to my office if things don't seem to be fitting together.
  • Once you feel confident with the material, start on the problem set, if there is one. Think through it. Make sure you understand it.
  • After a few days, go back to the all problems you've done and ask yourself, "Why was that particular question asked?" I assure you, it was not so that you could come up with that specific answer to that specific question. What was the point? What concept were they trying to get you to think about? If you're not sure, come to my office and we can chat about it.
  • Think through the textbook readings given on the syllabus; after reading the appropriate section, work out the text's example problems to make sure you understand the ideas.

C Students
A C is defined as "satisfactory." Students that earn a C have completed the basic expectations of the course, and generally speaking, they fall into two groups. The first come to lecture and take notes, but rarely think about the ideas presented outside of lecture. They are usually focused only on how to do problems, and are not interested in the underlying ideas the problems are really asking them to think about. They do not have a firm grasp of chemical terminology and definitions, which makes it all but impossible for them to think through problems. The other group of 'C' students may work hard and conscientiously, but lack the abstract reasoning skills necessary to succeed in a course like this. (We are not all given the same talents; I will never be a concert pianist.) Students from either group may or may not have sincere intentions, but they tend to slip into the following BAD study habits:

  • Tried to get through the suggested problems as quickly as possible without really thinking about what's going on. (It's hard to get anything out of the exercise when you do that.)
  • Read through the lecture notes without re-writing anything or thinking through the material. (Just reading through things is too passive. You need to do something, and then your brain will hit a higher gear.)
  • Read through the textbook without doing any of the associated problems. (You don't really understand a chemical idea unless you can solve problems dealing with the idea. Math is part of chemistry.)
  • Started on the problem set before working through the lecture notes, the textbook, and the suggested problems. (The problem sets are meant to build on those things. You have to walk before you can run.)
  • Started on the problem set 24 hours before it's due. (You haven't given yourself enough time to digest the question and think about how you're going to approach the problem. The problem sets are meant to be challenging exercises that you start one day and finish the next, after you've had time to ponder things a bit.)

D Students
Creighton defines the D (and C-) grade as "inferior, but passing." A typical D student will show up to lecture most of the time, and may even take notes once in a while, but will almost never think about the ideas presented outside of lecture. If they are working hard, they may seriously lack the abstract and mathematical resoning skills necessary to succeed in the hard sciences. Barring unusual circumstances, a grade of D in general chemistry should probably be taken as a strong indication that one needs to look outside the physical sciences to find one's vocational path. (God willing, we can all meet again in heaven someday, even if you don't know any chemistry.)

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