OPINION: Is Chem Too Discouraging?

By Paresha Khan, Staff Writer

General Chemistry 211 is a class at Mason that is known to be very challenging and is always discussed among students. Because of the difficulty of this course, I strongly believe that it’s a weed-out class at Mason.

In general, a weed-out class is intended to weed out or eliminate students who do not do the work, are unable to keep up with the work, or do not have the ability to advance in the subject beyond the introductory level. As an introductory chemistry course, Chemistry 211 is designed for students majoring in science, engineering, or mathematics. It is also a prerequisite course for Chemistry 212. Many non-science majors are required to take at least one science course that corresponds to a lab class and Chemistry 211 is an option.

As a freshman biology major taking the honors section of this course right now,  the difficulty level can be overwhelming. Students are encouraged to apply the material into math-driven problems, and the exams can be very challenging. My class’ average grade for our first midterm was 75 percent. On top of being a full time student who’s taking 15 credits this semester, setting aside a few hours each night for chemistry can be hard. Along with the course, students must take a one credit laboratory course. Grades are received separately for chemistry and chemistry lab, unlike my Biology 103 class, which combines the lecture and lab grades together.

Chemistry lab at Mason can be very strict. Students will receive a 20 percent deduction on their lab report for not signing out of the classroom. Students cannot make up chemistry labs, and students that receive less than a 70 percent on three labs will automatically receive an unsatisfactory mark and will not pass the lab portion of the course.

Although Suzanne Slayden, the writer for the lab manual, states that “it is not purposefully ‘made’ difficult. It is a fairly standard first semester college-level laboratory,” I personally feel that taking both the course with lab can be very stressful. When studying for exams, understanding the concepts simply isn’t enough because there are many different problems that can be derived from a single concept. On the other hand, chemistry labs are graded quite harshly. For example, points are taken off if the data inside the lab notebook does not have lines running across.

With a few weeks remaining in the semester, I have finally adjusted to Chemistry 211 at Mason. To students who are required to take the course, I recommend attending the professor’s or learning assistant’s office hours, or going to the chemistry tutoring center. These are great resources for students who are intent on succeeding in the course. Extra practice opportunities are always given and concepts are clarified.

Because general chemistry is a course that many students are required to take, it is important to keep working hard and studying the material, even when it becomes challenging.

Illustration by Mary Jane DeCarlo