Not long ago I heard a student say she wasn’t going to declare the biochemistry major because she was “afraid” of pchem. Afraid of pchem? What? Get it together.
I know some students are scared because of the word “physics.” Lets face it; many of us are not excellent physicists, but the truth is that how well you did in physics is not a predictor of how well you will do in pchem. Pchem is not physics. It’s general chemistry on steroids,, we aren’t even required to perform calculus! I say perform because, though you will be expected to know how to integrate by parts, you will never have to do it on an exam. That’s pretty amazing.
Doing well in pchem does not require unconceivable levels of intelligence. It’s all about repetition.
First, attend every lecture, because reading the book chapter is not enough. The book will never tell you what the professor really cares about, because the book cares about every topic from “the chemical potential of the solute in terms of the mole fraction” to………….
Second, you must make it a point to write down every bit of seemingly trivial information that the professor throws, quickly and surreptitiously, your way. Pages one to three of the midterm are inevitably constructed around true-false, multiple-choice, theoretical armchair physicist questions. Words can hardly express the kind of anxiety questions like “which best describes the second law of thermodynamics” can cause the unsuspecting soul.
It is such an elementary question, yet during my studying I’d never bothered to remember what law was the first, the third, or the zillionth. It seemed completely unimportant and incidental, and I had decided very early on that I’d focus on knowing how to apply the laws rather than knowing the order in which they came. Prodigious mistake, so be sure to memorize any and all definitions as well as key concepts.
Third, do not believe any professor who tells you not to memorize the things he says. Also, do not believe a professor who tells you that if you just focus on the underlying ideas, you will have the ultimate key to understanding physical chemistry. LIES. Blatant lies. Sometimes understanding doesn’t come until years later!
Which brings up to tip number four. If, like me, you’re good with numbers and if, like me, you wonder where theory fits in, then treat calculations and concepts separately. I know it sounds infinitely foolish, but I’ve done it very successfully. Good old rote memorization and perfect lecture attendance go a long way.
If you’d like to work on mastering the numbers, this next short paragraph is for you. While homework problems are largely inadequate for conceptual thinking, doing them two to three times over will ensure you are ready to tackle the fun part of the midterm: calculations. I am really good with numbers and I can choose, rearrange and apply formulas (which are provided to you on the midterm, by the way) without a problem. This kind of proficiency comes easily if you do the homework over, and over, and over again. Eventually you start figuring out what formulas can do for you, and then you become free to solve problems any way you choose. This kind of skill will be tremendously helpful because many problems can be solved at least two different ways. That’s literally all there is to it.
Physical chemistry is every bit as interesting as it sounds, it is not fundamentally difficult, and you can do great. Identify your weakness ahead of time, and be prepared to fix it. Nobody need be afraid of physical chem