Chemystery (Study Mystery?)

I wrote my second term chemistry exam today, or as I used to call it, che-mystery exam. For the first time, I realized that my hard work was paying off. For the first time, I was able to take a step back and realize that I was experiencing self-growth. For the first time in a very long time, I was somewhat proud of myself.

Chemistry has never been a very enjoyable and easy subject for me, ever since childhood. I had learned to hate the subject throughout my years of schooling. In high school I had been able to slip by with a low ninety average, mysteriously, even though I had never actually completely understood the topic and what was actually going on in class. I consistently questioned the subject, questioned my teachers, questioned why we had to learn such abstract concepts. What is an atom? Why do we have orbitals? Why do things bond? What exactly is a bond? How do we know for sure that we have molecular bonds? Che-mystery…I’ll get through it – was always my mentality. Come university, it wasn’t as easy to purely ‘slip by’ and achieve a good mark. I told myself that if I pretended to like chem, I would be OK because I would have the ‘right mentality’ when studying the subject…

Jokes on me! I did fairly poorly in the course, first term, while my peers seemed to excel. After tests and exams, they all boasted about how they took a “W” on the subject (a ‘win’ for those that are unaware of the slang). My friends complained about answering one or two questions incorrectly, and I forcibly laughed along, hiding the fact that I had received a much lower grade. Everyone seemed to be cruising through the course without much effort. I didn’t want to stand out.

I’ve learned this already! This is just high school review! Who knew university chemistry would be so easy! And the worst ones – Why are you even studying for chemistry, Casey? It’s such an easy 12. Why are you spending so much time on chemistry? What is even so difficult to understand? Why do modules take you so long to complete? I finish them in less than 40 minutes each!

My self-esteem in the subject fell so hard because of this. I hated doing practice problems in the subject. I hated how much effort I had to spend attempting to figure out something that seemed so easy to everyone else. I hated myself for being so dumb. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just learn the concepts quickly. I didn’t understand why it seemed like all my friends and peers were excelling in the subject and what I was doing wrong.

And for all you curious individuals, I ended up getting a 10 in the CHEM 1A03 course. And yes, I guess that defeats the health sic myth – it means that health scis do get 10s in courses (Re: me!)!!

After first term, I told myself I only had one more term of chemistry to endure. But it was this term that I fully learned to appreciate not only the subject, but also the process and how to really study for a subject. I actually performed (again) really poorly on the first midterm (70%) and definitely did not attempt to change anything. In all honestly, I thought that there was nothing to change and that I was just dumb and that there was nothing I could do about it.

Second midterm, I was doing practice exams in the health sci lounge with a good friend, Ann Mary. Shoutout to this girl because she really did help me wonders. She patiently sat with me through my very stupid questions and answered them as best as she could. She offered support, not just criticism. She didn’t only provide encouraging words, but she offered to teach me concepts that I didn’t understand. She never once made me feel like I was dumb for not understanding something, and never seemed to judge that I didn’t understand the units we had done at the beginning of the term. She really did have my best interests in mind and tried to help me succeed. She is probably the reason that I did reasonably well on the second midterm, and I truly do appreciate this girl so so much. It was then that I realized that I could reach out to the right people. So shoutout also to Allen for answering my last minute questions on the day of the test, and not feeling the need to judge me when I was struggling so hard with the subject. The right people might not be your closest friends. Your close friends might be great people to hangout with, but they might not be the best people to study with.

Group studying works wonders. This is constantly enforced in our program, but I had never really understood how to reap the benefits of it, until I started doing it right during this exam season. What I’ve found to allow for group studying to be beneficial:

  • Find people who care about your learning and those who truly want you to succeed and have your best interests in mind (re: reach out to the right people).
  • Study all the content before you do it in groups.
  • Do practice problems/exams before working at the problems as a group.
  • Flowcharts, flowcharts, flowcharts (particularly on blackboards/whiteboards) really help solidify concepts for everyone.
  • Everyone should participate and try out the problem.

A special shoutout to Heather for making me realize that group studying works. What I expected to be a three hour group study session turned into a six hour group study session with this girl. We went through concepts we did not understand, initially, and then proceeded to do practice exams that we both had previously done, to solidify concepts. Group studying truly encourages a symbiotic relationship, when done right. When every individual goes into the session having understood what they thought was ‘enough content’, coming together allows you to strengthen the concepts. We all have gaps in our understanding and also strengths, which is what allowed Heather and I to flourish together. The gaps in her understanding were things that I understood fairly well, and the gaps in mind were things that she patiently taught me. We went through each exam practice question carefully, making sure that we understood each multiple choice statement – why things were false and why all the other options were true. At the end of the session, we both agreed that whatever happened in the six hours was very beneficial. We both went into the exam a lot more confident. And when I say find the right people to study in groups, I meant find those individuals who will not judge you for not understanding something, those who will explain concepts again and again until you understand it (using whatever analogies they have ***@ Heather: DR CO***), those who don’t care how long the process is taking, those who have prepared before coming to the group session.

So I guess the point of this blog post was that after whatever happened between yesterday and today, I really started appreciating chemystery. I came into the course with a hateful mentality for the subject. I am now coming out of the exam, and first year mandatory course, considering registering for organic chemistry, just to challenge myself. Perhaps it is the experience that you have within the course that changes how much you like a subject, not what is actually taught in the course.

So yes, I walked out of today’s exam more confident than I’ve ever been after a chemistry exam. I came out of the exam feeling proud of myself and feeling proud of how much my mentality has changed since the beginning of the term. I may or may not end up 12ing the course, but whatever happens, I will still be proud of how my chemistry process (reaction???) played out.

So perhaps this is why chemistry is a required course in our program?

(Shoutouts to Ann Mary, Heather, Allen, Alex, and Dalton for everything)
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