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Getting Help
CHEM 1810 (Lab)UVA Home

Chemical Principles Laboratory (CHEM 181L)

Getting Help


The rigor and pace of CHEM 1811 is possibly unlike anything you've experienced before. The content you'll encounter is challenging, the skills you'll develop are advanced, and to be successful you'll have to work hard every day...and possibly seek out extra help. Below you'll find the many resources available to you and answers to commonly asked questions. If you do not find the help you need or a sufficient answer to your question, feel free to visit us during office hours or send an email.

What every CHEM 1811er should know: We want you to succeed and so we offer you many opportunities to ask questions, grapple with ideas, and practice newly developing skills.


Other things worth knowing: Answers to many other frequently asked questions about the course are organized by topic. Simply click on the links below to jump to the section of interest.

  • Course Materials: textbook, Course Packet, Learning Catalytics, Spartan, ChemBioDraw, SciFinder
  • Lab Lecture/Laboratory: problems enrolling, day of the week, lab lecture conflict, missing a lab or lecture period, lecture topics, computational experiments
  • Writing: amount of writing, 2nd Writing Requirement
  • Grading: consistency, grade changes, "curves"
  • Individual Assignments: Participation Activities
  • Website: access errors
  • General: extended absences

What resources are available to help me learn the material in CHEM 1811?

  • Office Hours: Office hours are a great way to get all your questions answered, no matter how simple or complex. A short meeting with your TA or instructor can save you a lot of time and frustration. In addition, office hours offer you an excellent opportunity to get to know your instructors personally, which can have a significant, long-term impact on your entire academic career, e.g. recommendation letters. Click here to see a list of office hours.
  • Lab Review/Help Session: Whether you have questions about the background information on the lab experiment or the collection and analysis of your data, this semi-weekly review session is an excellent opportunity to get help before you complete your report. This is not a structured review so plan to come with specific questions. Offered during the semester in an ad hoc fashion, typically on Sunday afternoons from 3:00-4:00PM.

  • Writing Tutorial/Workshop: Need additional help writing up your results? This semi-structured writing workshop will give you practical tips and practice writing the different pieces of your research reports. You will benefit most from this session if you have a working draft of your write-up, but you're welcome to attend regardless of where in the writing process you are. Offered in an ad hoc fashion, typically on Sunday afternoons from 4:00-5:00PM.
  • Writing Resources: There are a number of resources on the website that are designed to help you develop your writing skills. Be sure to check out the following:
         • Writing like a scientist... videos
    Research Report Guidelines
         • Research Report Rubric
  • Past Finals: Get familiar with the types of questions asked on the lab exam and begin practicing answering these types of unstructured questions:
         • past finals

What is the best way to prepare for this class?
There is no right way to prepare of CHEM 1811, but the strategy proposed below will help you spread out the work and promote effective learning. (N.B. The shaded boxes are just a few opportunities for help along the way.)

Study Guide

If you're struggling to keep up or earn the grades you want, you might benefit from examining your study habits. Check out this video series from Dr. Chew from Samford University for suggestions on "How to Get the Most out of Studying."

There is a lot of background material for the labs on the website. Should I read it all, especially since some of it is hard to understand?
The more you read prior to lab, the better off you'll be. It's not expected that you'll understand everything, but you'll be surprised if you take a little time and think through the material. While you're doing the lab, keep that information in the back of your mind, asking questions like, "How does what I'm doing in lab relate to the main ideas of the reading material?" When you get to the point you're ready to write the research report, re-read the background material in more depth, again asking questions like, "How will this information help me understand the results of my lab experiments?" If at that point you still don't understand the main arguments of some reading assignment, visit us during office hours.

What is the best way to study for the lab exam?
The lab exam is not meant to test whether or not you've learned some arbitrary facts. Instead it is meant to assess whether you're able to solve authentic chemistry problems utilizing the information and skills you've learned throughout the semester. It gives you one last opportunity to show your instructors and yourself the ways in which you've begun to think like a scientist. If you've been working toward this goal all along, rather than memorizing information, then you're already prepared. Simply look over the lab experiments and your research reports. Make sure you understand the basic concepts explored each week as well as how you investigated those concepts, i.e. what tools did you use? Attempt solving the problems on past exams, first without looking at the solutions and then compare the solutions to your answers. Attend the review session and ask questions. You're set!

I really want to do well in this course. How do I earn an A?
If you're committed to the course and work hard to learn the material, an A in CHEM 1811 is possible. However, you will find out, if you haven't already, that learning is hard work and often frustrating. You'll need to dedicate yourself to struggling through some difficult concepts and new ways of thinking. If you do this, and your instructors keep up their end of the bargain — to create an interesting, engaging and challenging learning environment — then the work you put in will pay off and you will get your A. But don't take our word for it, read what past students have said about what it takes to get an A in CHEM 1811.

Course Materials

Why do we not have a lab text book?
There is no text book available which covers all the topics discussed in CHEM 1811. But, the course website serves as a "virtual" text book for the lab and the course packet contains handouts you'll need.

I see that the Course Packet is required; is the information also available online?
No. The Course packet is less than $10, well worth the price once you take into consideration the costs associated with printing and hole-punching the pages yourself and the time it will take you.

What is Learning Catalytics and how do I access it?
Learning Catalytics is a student response system, similar to other clicker systems. But, think of it as “clickers on steroids.” It has the following unique features which make it an ideal choice for CHEM 1811:

  • No need to buy a useless, single-function clicker; you can use any modern web-enabled device you already have — laptop, smartphone, or tablet.
  • In addition to plain ol' multiple-choice, we can ask you a range of questions types, such as questions requiring numerical, algebraic, textual, or graphical responses.
  • The system can create groups for peer instruction, a learning technique we'll use throughout the course.

You use Learning Catalytics, you'll need to complete these steps to create an account:

  • Use your laptop, smartphone, or tablet to navigate to learningcatalytics.com
  • Click "Create student account."
  • Click "I have a signup code," and then use the signup code your instructor provides you to create an account.

What is Spartan and how do I get a free copy?
Spartan is a powerful computation chemistry program that you can use to visualize molecules and calculate and predict a number of chemical properties and spectra. We will use Spartan for roughly half of the labs during the semester. Fortunately, the University of Virginia has a site license for Spartan. It is installed on many University computers and you can also install it on your personal computer/laptop.

To get started, simply click on the link that matches your operating system and follow the installation directions. Be patient, the files are large!

Windows: http://downloads.wavefun.com/SpartanStudentInstallerV501.exe Download the self-extracting installer, save it to your Desktop or Downloads folder, Double click on SpartanStudentInstallerV501.exe to begin installation. If you are running anti-virus software, it may take several minutes for the complete executable to be scanned and initiate the installation. When prompted for licensing type, choose the activation code option and use the code below to enable the software.

Macintosh: http://downloads.wavefun.com/Mac/SpartanStudentV501.dmg Clicking on the link will begin download of a .dmg file. A disk image for Spartan Student will appear on your desktop once the download has completed. Double click on this and drag the Spartan Student program to the provided Applications folder to install. The first time you open the program you will be prompted to license, choose the Activation Code option and use the code below to enable the software.

A serial number will be emailed to you by the instructor.

What is ChemBioDraw and how do I get a free copy?
Chemdraw is a drawing tool that you can use to quickly create profession-looking images of molecules, equations, and other chemical visuals. Fortunately, the University of Virginia has a site license for ChemBioDraw and it is installed on many University computers.

Click here to download and install a free copy of ChemBioDraw on your laptop or personal computer, enter your UVa email address, and follow the directions. Once you create a CambridgeSoft account, you will receive a serial number for the software. Check your spam box if you don't receive the email.

For download or access troubles or problems with your serial number and registration code, email support@scistore.com. Make sure to include your name, institution (e.g. UVa), and the name of the product (e.g. ChemBioDraw). For installation problems or problems with the functioning of the software itself, visit  http://www.cambridgesoft.com/support/mail/ or email support@cambridgesoft.com. Or, you can call 1-800-315-7300.

What is SciFinder and how do I access it?
SciFinder is a powerful chemical database that you can use to research the literature. You can register for SciFinder at https://www.library.virginia.edu/scifinder-online/. There are a limited number of licenses available so please limit the time you're logged in and access it only during non-peak hours.

Lab Lecture/Laboratory

The laboratory section I want to enroll in is full. What can I do?
The enrollment of each laboratory section is capped in order to keep the number of students in each section equivalent. Therefore, it is possible that the section you're interested in will appear full. Do not panic! Students' schedules change quite a bit in the first week of classes, and scheduling issues often resolve themselves. Keep in mind that all lab sections are capped at 24 students in order to provide the best learning environment.

Is there a better day of the week to have lab?
In short, no. All the lab sections cover the same material, meet for the same length of time, and have the same assignments. You will have the same amount of time to finish each assignment regardless of section, typically one week. With that said, there are two (very slight) advantages of having your lab later in the week: 1) the little quirks of each lab seem to get worked out by the end of the week and 2)
you will likely have covered more material in CHEM 1810 which initially may help you understand the lab better.

I can't attend lab lecture because I'm required to take another course which meets at the same time. Can I miss lecture but still attend the weekly lab sections?
Much of the course depends on the lab lecture; therefore, it is necessary (and required) to attend the lab lecture in order to be successful in the class.

What happens if I have to miss lab lecture for some reason?
Attendance during lecture is required. If you have a conflict, let the principal instructor know and arrange to have a fellow classmate turn in any assignments due and get any announcements, notes, etc. for that day's lecture.

What happens if I have to miss lab for some reason?
Attendance during lab is required. If you have a conflict, notify the principal instructor ahead of time and make arrangements to attend one of the other sections. You will not be allowed into lab if you fail to notify your instructor in advance. Under certain circumstances, allowances to make up labs at other times may be made.

Why don't we spend more time in lab lecture discussing how to do the weekly labs?
The lab lecture is designed to give you the "big picture" of the upcoming experiment and to allow you to practice and get feedback on some of the main concepts. The details of the labs are provided through a number of resources on the course website and more fully introduced and discussed in your laboratory section by your TA. Additional background information and help with analyzing results can be obtained in the weekly review sessions and/or office hours.

I like doing laboratory experiments/computational experiments, why can't we do more of them?
CHEM 1810 is designed in such a way that many traditional laboratory experiments are not possible. Therefore, computational chemistry is an invaluable component of the lab experience. On the other hand, it is important to be exposed to a "real" laboratory environment. Consequently, a 50-50 combination of the two types of experiments is the best compromise.


This is a chemistry laboratory, why is there so much writing?
Writing is an integral part of science, and a critical tool for doing good science. You'll find that it is the best way for you to gauge whether you've actually mastered the ideas. Luckily, it is a skill which can be learned and then practiced to get better.

Can CHEM 1811 count as my 2nd Writing Requirement?
Unfortunately, department policy does not allow CHEM 1811 to count as your 2nd Writing Requirement.


My TA grades assignments harder than the other TAs. How does this affect my final grade?
Every attempt is made to grade student work consistently across different sections. A number of things aid this endeavor, including:
• TAs and principal instructor attend a writing workshop prior to grading the first research
• TAs are provided a detailed grading rubric
• TAs and instructor discuss "things to look for" prior to grading each assignment
• some assignments are randomly redistributed between TAs

If significant differences exist in grades across sections at the semester's end, the grades are adjusted accordingly. Note: This has never been necessary!

What can I do if I think I earned a higher grade on an assignment than the instructor/TA awarded?
First, look closely at the instructor's comments. Then compare your work with the comments and the grading rubric. Can you understand why you received the grade you did? Next, make an appointment outside of class with the grader to discuss the work and its grading. Finally, if the grade is accurate, make sure you learn what you need to do to improve on future assignments. Note: There is some leeway in grading each assignment and the final grade is at the discretion of the the grader.

Will the final grades be curved?
No, the grading scale for CHEM 1811 is a fixed scale. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. The fixed scale allows you to know exactly where you are at all times. This method of grading also allows you to focus on earning the highest grade you can rather than just earning a higher grade than everyone else. As such, it affords you and every student the opportunity to earn an A in the course, not just the few with the highest grades.

Individual Assignments

Can I make up a Preparation & Participation Activity I miss?
No...but you can use the Scavenger Hunt to make-up for missing or low scores.


When I attempt to view some of the materials on the Schedule, I keep getting an "Authorization Required" error. What am I doing wrong?
Be sure you are using the course assigned username and password, not your UVa ID/password. You can find the correct username and password on the General Information page of your Course Packet.


What should I do if I'm absent for an extended period of time because of health problems, family matters, et cetera?
First, you should contact your Association Dean (AD) and make him/her aware of the problem. The AD can generally offer advice on what to do or point you to the various support services available on campus. Next, arrange a meeting with the principal instructor outside of class to discuss options for making up any missed work. Be sure to keep the instructor informed of your in-class and out-of-class situation until you are fully caught up. (Note: You do not need to provide the instructor with the private details of your situation. He/she can simply confirm the situation with your AD.)

© 2004-2013 Michael Palmer