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CHEM 1810 (Lab)UVA Home

Chemical Principles Laboratory (CHEM 181L)

How to Get an A in CHEM 181L

CHEM 1811 is a course designed to challenge. It encourages you to explore, to investigate, and to arrive at your own conclusions. It will hone skills essential to your future academic careers – from analysis, critical thinking, and scientific writing to organization and teamwork.

If your goal is to get an A in the course, I could give you the classic suggestions such as perseverance, dedication, and hard work. And indeed, these are all of critical importance – you can’t expect to succeed in this course without putting in the effort. However, there are other suggestions that you may need to hear just as much.

First, don’t be intimidated. The material is difficult, and most of you have probably never encountered anything like it before. Don’t get discouraged. Answers won’t be handed to you, but by discovering them for yourself, you will ultimately understand them better.

But I think the most important piece of advice I could give for a course like this one is ask questions - ask yourself questions, ask your classmates questions, ask your TAs questions. Only by asking questions will you find answers. If you need help, ask for it. There are so many resources at your fingertips – from the course website to your TAs to your professor to your classmates – don’t be afraid to take advantage of them.

CHEM 1811 is hard work…and it is a challenge. But in the end, it is well worth the effort that you must invest.

— Student (Fall 2006)

My first recommendation for getting an “A” in this course would be to get all the “gimme” points that Dr. Palmer offers.  These are easy points that really only require that you pay attention or simply participate.  This includes keeping your notebook organized for random checks (I just filed things as soon as they were returned from my TAs, - before I forgot), completing the online surveys, etc.  It may not seem like it’s worth it since they are worth only a few points, but in my opinion, every easy point should be gained in order to cushion the points that will be lost for bigger assignments.  The same principle applies to the half-point assignments for lab reports.  Even if you will be regaining only ¾ of a point back, it is worth it.  In the end, all of these little points add up to have a significant effect on your final grade.

Another recommendation that I have is to put extra effort into the digital media project.  The project is worth two lab reports, so if you think about it, this is a hefty chunk of your grade.  I believe this is what really put me over the edge to get an A.  Plus, this was one of the more creative and enjoyable assignments, so the extra time spent is not unbearable.

As for lab reports, I just followed Dr. Palmer’s advice.  When writing each section of the lab report, I had the rubric right next to me.  When I was done, I made sure to address every point in the grading rubric for that section.  Also, if you write your report before the due date, you can ask someone to proofread your report (either your TA or a peer).  I didn’t have time to do this for every single lab, but I think it is very helpful, if not just reassuring. 

The final exam is hard to study for besides just going over the old exams and solutions.  I just read over them a several times, and then tested myself on the practice exam.  Core concepts started to emerge, and I feel like I really benefited from reading them over and over.  I strongly suggest attending the review session!!  This was by far the most helpful review session that I went to for any of my exams, and I felt a lot more prepared going into the final.

Other than that, I suggest bribery.

— Student (Fall 2006)

I believe the key to success in CHEM 181 Lab is a mixture of hard work, persistence, and the ability to utilize all the resources that are given to you.  I remember what it felt like at 6:00 a.m. on a Monday morning during my first lab.  I remember proofreading what looked like a foreign language, maybe Arabic or Sanskrit, and trying to pick fights with my Microsoft word editing tools.  From that point forward I promised myself to not only take full advantage of the 1 to 2 weeks given to complete lab write-ups, but to also utilize the office hours of Ta's and the Friday discussion classes.

Starting early while all of the information was fresh in my mind caused my reports to become more accurate and gave me the chance to make them more visually appealing later in the week.  It also gave me a chance to talk to the TA's about various points in my lab and help to deepen my understanding of the concepts.  The TAs were always extremely helpful, and I believe in the end many of the concepts I learned in the labs helped me understand what was going on in the CHEM 181 class and taught me to think critically like a scientist.

— Student (Fall 2006)

Getting an A in CHEM 1811 is no joke. It takes a lot of time and dedication.

So, of course, you have to be really wanting this A in order to get it, unless you have learned the material before, or you are naturally gifted in chemistry. For me, getting good grades was on my list of priorities for my first semester at UVa, but so was a lot of other things (such as getting socially involved): balancing these different "calls of duty" is tough, but I did not let them get in the way of each other. I was driven to do all that I could to do well in chemistry, and as one who chose not to take Chem 181 concurrently, (and I do not recommend this path), I had an enormous amount of motivation. Here is what I did to get an A.

First, I met with my TA (or any TA) to get as much help as possible on the assignments. They reinforced the important topics of each lab or assignment and thus, I understood the material. Attempting to understand the material by myself was futile and I was often wrong in my interpretations. Responding with the correct answers is necessary for getting a high grade on all assignments; the TAs, who usually grade the assignments, actually grade based on correctness! ... unless you do a superb job of explaining an incorrect response.
Second, I got help with each of my reports, after I blew my first report (Sunscreens). I sought help from the TAs (3 different TAs actually, the first time - they can give different perspectives) and from students who do well on reports and who understand the material because they either learned it before or are naturally gifted. These people can proofread your writing and tell you how to improve it, because they clearly know what they are looking for in a paper, they will give you fresh insight in order to enhance your paper, and they can catch silly mistakes (you may be so tired of the paper that you will be unable to catch mistakes or even revise the paper). You need peer support, too.

Third, if you gave the consistent effort to do well on each assignment, and you have done well enough to make getting an A a possibility (I record and calculate my grades), then you will have 2 big assignments left to do your utmost best on. For the DMP, make it interesting and make sure it thoroughly explains the chemistry; do not procrastinate either. For the Final exam, I do not really know why I did so well, but here are my suggestions based on what I did (I got a solid A on the exam). Study all your notes in an organized manner on each of the different topics, each of which should neatly fall under each assignment or report. Study all of the past and practice final exams: understand how questions are asked and how the answers are given; also these answers often give you helpful insight on how to solve a problem that may or may not appear on your final! Make sure you ask questions, and direct them to Dr. Palmer. On the final, explain your reasoning clearly and thoroughly. Give any relevant thoughts or other possible solutions as well - a thorough analysis that shows your understanding may boost your grade. Please make sure you answer the question. After the exam, relax - it's not in your hands anymore.

Summing up, always seek help from the TAs, Dr. Palmer, or peers, whatever fits best in your schedule. If you really are motivated to learn the material and you always show your best on the reports/assignments (get help, no slacking!), then chances are you will get an A in the class. Go get it!

However, if you tried your hardest, and you really did your best, you still have succeeded in the class. Getting an A is not "succeeding". On one hand, you will have learned a great deal by working hard in this class no matter what, your newfound skills will help you in any endeavour. On the other hand, if you believe your time was spent wisely by taking CHEM 1811 instead of doing something else (e.g. take a different course, sleep more, do extracurriculars), then you will have accomplished a great deal because this is a difficult course. Chem major or not (and I won't be), this course will help you better articulate yourself (SWR=lots of writing) and challenge your mind. You may learn to think in a new way.

Be aware though for those determined students out there, I am an A+ student from a top 20 high school in the nation, but I struggled to get an A and I always wanted to give up. I am not naturally gifted in chemistry, I had never written a chemistry report, I was not taking CHEM 181, and I knew I was not going to be a chem major (pre-med was a possibility). It was also my first semester at UVa. Try balancing that with the other goals I had (and you will have). But I am certainly not faint of heart. Some students who struggled are dropping into the 40 series. So, to you eager CHEM 1811ers, make sure you take this course for a very good reason and you are 100% motivated.

— Student (Fall 2006)

Everything around us is so obviously and intricately intertwined with what one learns in this course. I think anyone who recognizes how important these ideas are to understanding life and the universe would consider every second spent preparing for this course to be well-spent... I suggest reading all the supplemental information on the class website. I suggest going to Wikipedia to learn more background information on anything you find interesting. I suggest going through all of your notes from the lectures of Mr. Richardson and Mr. Palmer, paying special attention to the stuff that they say will not be on the test. Try to be able to think about things in different ways: mathematically, visually, and verbally. Enjoy learning about some of the most important concepts of modern science, and refuse to be intimidated by them. You will get your A in the process. But even if you don’t, it is well worth the effort if you even begin to understand and appreciate such remarkable and vital ideas.

— Student (Fall 2006)

© 2004-2013 Michael Palmer