Introduction to Introductory Chemistry: The Do’s and Don’ts

By: Sarah Nanquilspectrum - article intro to chem


CHMA10, the first chemistry course you will take at UTSC. There must be tonnes of questions running through your head as you prepare for success; What should I bring to my lectures? Should I take hand-written notes, or type on my laptop? Should I do my readings before or after the lecture? Should I review my notes from Gr. 12? This article is written to alleviate your stress, and give you guidelines to help you succeed in this course. Please note these are my personal strategies that have resulted in a 4.0. Your experience will be completely different from mine, so do not hold back from trying new techniques!




  1. DO sit near the front of the class. This is where conversations, and therefore interactive learning, occur. When you sit near the front, you are also less likely to zone out.
  2. DO answer in-lecture questions, even if you think you’re wrong. Remember that this is where we learn, we are not expected to know the answers. Even if you are wrong, you initiate a conversation in the class that allows you to understand the question/topic better. More often than not, someone else was thinking the same thing, and you are simultaneously helping them out. Another positive about this is that your professor will familiarize themselves with you, out of 1000 other students.
  3. DO brush up on any chemistry you learned in high school that you struggled with, because this course is generally the same as what you were previously taught. If you did not understand it back then, you will find it hard to keep up since you do not have the opportunity in lectures to ask the professor to slow down or explain the specifics.
  4. DO summarize each lecture on a single sheet of paper, writing down the equations or main topics covered, as soon as you can. This Mind Map will be your 15-20 min review before you go to the next lecture. It is very easy to fall into the pattern of “I will teach it to myself later” because you are not sure what is happening. ALWAYS try to review the previous lecture before going to the next.
  5. DO go to the ChemAid center. They will have solutions.
  6. DO get an EPSA membership if you want to succeed in labs. EPSA provides practice pre-lab quizzes that will always have similar questions to your actual pre-lab quiz. Discuss these questions with a group of friends.
  7. DO take hand-written notes, for multiple reasons. It is extremely hard to type equations at a fast speed, especially when you are doing quick calculations. Also, chem slides are straight forward, there is usually nothing additional to what your professor is saying that is testable material. Use lecture time to absorb knowledge, and do not write down what your professor is saying word for word. There is always the textbook to refer to.
  8. DO test yourself. The best way to ace chemistry is by doing the practice questions your professor has assigned.






  1. DON’T prioritize your readings. My CHMA10 prof was clear to let us know that the textbook should only be used as a supplement when you don’t understand a topic.
  2. DON’T study for exams 2-3 nights before. We like to convince ourselves that because we don’t have to memorize chemistry, we only need 2-3 days to do review questions to feel ready.
  3. DON’T feel overwhelmed in the lab. Everyone is equally nervous and confused as you are. Your teaching assistants will clarify the procedure for you the day of. However, you should still fully understand the chemistry/calculations and purpose of your lab.
  4. DON’T do your pre-lab Q’s the night before. Again, you want to fully understand the chemistry and purpose.
  5. DON’T be afraid to go to office hours. You are not annoying your prof when you ask them questions, they want you to succeed. Just make sure you ask during office hours and not the middle of lectures.
  6. DON’T ask your friends for answers. Instead, ask them to talk you through their thought process.
  7. DON’T STRESS. Nothing is harder than an introductory course.


My last point is DO remember that a 4.0 is achievable, but doesn’t define you. Try your best, and see what strategies work for you. Good luck to all the eager first-years. Stay positive and excited to learn!

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