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STEM Advice: How to Survive Gen Chem

Marlo Armstrong | February 9, 2023

Tips on how to make it through the infamous Vandy weed-out course

General Chemistry, otherwise known as “Gen Chem,” is notable for putting hundreds of Vanderbilt Pre-Med and Engineering students through the wringer each year. The class requires two and a half hours of lecture, three hours of lab, and one hour of discussion each week. There is no doubt that the course consists of a hefty workload. However, there are ways to get around the workload and make your time in Gen Chem go by much smoother. As a double major in Civil Engineering and Communication of Science & Technology (CSET) who has survived Gen Chem, here are my top tips for pushing through CHEM 1601… 

Tip #1: Go to Class and Make Connections

There is a lot of overlap between lectures, lab, and discussion. Make sure to attend each session and find connections between each; something you learn in lecture may come up in lab and vice versa. 

When you’re in class, actually pay attention. This is probably the most basic tip you’ll hear, but it’s important. Don’t mindlessly write down notes or spend the whole class playing 2048; be an “active listener” and write down what the professor is saying, ask questions, and try to understand bits and pieces of the concepts. 

Tip #2: Make Gen Chem a Part of Your Daily Routine

Set aside about 30 minutes each day to do Gen Chem work. This can include reviewing the lecture notes, working on assigned homework, doing the book problems, or even creating summary sheets for each unit. Doing a little bit of chemistry every day or at least a couple of times a week outside of class will make you feel way more prepared when exam week comes. The repetitive daily effort of working on chemistry will become a habit and help solidify your knowledge of each chapter.

Tip #3: Build a Relationship with Your Professor

Vandy’s chemistry professors really care about their students and want to see each one succeed. You can attend office hours, set up a one-on-one appointment with your professor, or just talk to them after class if you’re confused about (literally) anything. They are primarily there to help you, so use their expertise to your advantage. 

Tip #4: Try Your Best!

At the end of the day, CHEM 1601 is just one class. It’s not going to make or break your GPA. You’re only a first-year (probably), and have so many more classes to take. Focus on putting in the effort that you can without overworking yourself. Since chemistry is required for most Pre-Med and Engineering majors, realize that this course is part of your journey to whatever goal you desire to reach at the end of your Vanderbilt career. Whether that is getting accepted into medical school or simply walking across the graduation stage, keep that in mind while you power through calorimetry problems. 

One Reply to “STEM Advice: How to Survive Gen Chem”

  1. Laura Armstrong says:

    Great article with practical advice—thanks for offering up your wise words, Marlo!!

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