Why I Barely Passed Chemistry

When I took Chemistry 101 in college my Freshman year I was confused over my grades in the class–and so was my professor. I had an “A” average on the homework, a “B” average in the lab and a “D” average on the lecture tests.

The professor was confused because he claimed that all of the material was the same, and that the lab work was supposedly harder than the lecture. It wasn’t for another two years of this struggle that I learned about my issue. Because the homework was done in a computer lab I felt comfortable taking my time working out each problem and looking up online advice–so making an “A” was easy to me. Doing the lab work was fun because it was hands-on and I could see my results. Lecture made no sense to me, because I could not visualize what he was saying and he was cramming in a chapter and a half of material into 50 minutes–a chapter and a half of material that I did not understand reading earlier anyway.

So I had to improvise: take what was written and turn it into something visual. If I used note cards, I almost always drew something on them. And if I didn’t draw, I simply Googled the image, printed it out, cut it out, and taped it to the back of  the card. I also wrote two different definitions on my note cards: one was the textbook definition and the other was one that I made up–something that only I was going to remember. It wasn’t anything worthy of a Nobel, but it started bumping up my grades quite a bit.

Get Me In The Mood

I had the entire night planned–flowers, gifts, card, and a top-dollar restaurant. Trust me when I say this: I had thought of everything. It was our wedding anniversary and I was about to leave my wife speechless. Everything was as smooth as a Kem concert until we arrived at the restaurant. Now you’ve got to understand that this was the kind of place that required a reservation weeks in advance, or you were going to be waiting in line until next week. Also, you made sure to save a paycheck for this place because you were going to leave several dead presidents before you left. Once we were seated we started some small talk, and just as I reached out to her hand she leaned towards me to say…”Baby, I can’t see you.”

At first, I thought that it was a romantic metaphor but she repeated it again–this time frustrated. “No, baby, I really can’t see you. Why is it so dark in here?” As I began to look around I noticed that even I couldn’t see beyond the tables immediately around us. I began to hear others complain about the lighting as well. All night, we couldn’t see our menu, we couldn’t see our food, people were tripping over things to get to the bathroom. Someone even fell into a table. So much for the mood. bad date

Your environment sets the mood for everything that you do. Your locale has a direct effect on your productivity. Here are a few places that you should never study, do homework, or attempt academic success. AVOID DOING ACADEMIC WORK AT THESE PLACES AT ALL COST:

(a) Anywhere That You Pay Your Bills: Bills suck and you know it. I don’t know anyone who likes to pay bills. Anything involving the loss of money can become quite frustrating–so why study where you lose money?

(b) Anywhere That You Have Negative Conversations: Don’t study where you fight with significant others. Your strongest memories are those which are tied to memories–good and bad. So your stronger memories of breaking up with your boyfriend can also override the memories that you are attempting to establish for your math test.

(c) Anywhere That Is Fun: Just see the previous reason. It’s the exact same thing.

(d) Anywhere That You Typically Have A Physical Activity: Studying usually involves being still, or, being quite focused. Physical activity will certainly require more movement, focus and mental capacity–so it will gather more attention from you. And if your body really likes this physical activity, then it will surely desire that attention more than focusing on academic boredom.

Bovine Feces and Other Lies

Usually when someone learns that I was one of the few and proud to have survived being on academic probation, they want to know my story. The problem is that one of the chapters in this story involves one key element: I stopped lying to myself.

It sounds pretty simple, and people usually agree with me on this with smiles and head-nods. However, the smiles quickly turn to frowns when I make it quite clear as to what the lies actually were.

Lie #1=”No One Wants To Help Me”

That wasn’t true at all. Now, I will admit that my academic program was pretty competitive, so people were not too anxious to share what they knew. But then again, I did not carry myself as a friendly person at first. I kept to myself in class and did not communicate (through body language, words or action) that I wanted to be a part of the group.

Lie#2=”They Are Too Smart For Me To Work With”

Nope, not true either. Sure, there were some really, really smart people in my classes, but I noticed something interesting when I did study with them. They didn’t just sound smart, they actually sounded prepared. They studied before they came to study with the group. They had their notes organized, they had already visited the instructor to ask questions, and they had caught up on any material that they may have missed. That was me AFTER academic probation, and definitely not before.

Lie#3=”They Don’t Like Me Because I Am A Minority”

The fact that some people in my classes were still living in 1954 was quite unsettling. I even had a girl stop dating me because her parents had a problem with my “house paint” being different. But that had nothing to do with my lack of study habits and research capabilities. I began to create my own study habits, revamped my study patterns, opened dialogue between me and my instructors, learned to build my personal vocabulary, and figured out the tricks to test taking. Once I did that, I actually had people making requests to study with them…and regardless of their “house paint” as well…

If you are not careful, you can find yourself more caught up with the excuses and lies than you are with the facts and solutions. Never be afraid to take a look at your situation from a different perspective. Visit a counselor or success center staff member to get their opinion. Speak with other students in the class to get an idea of how they are able to be successful. And above all, don’t allow excuses to take the place of hard-to-find answers.

If I Had A Nickel For Every Time: 3 Things About Studying That Will Never Change

We are living in the day that we microwave Minute Rice–and complain that it should have happened sooner. Because of this, we think that studying should work like a Google search. The longer that I teach, the greater the divide that grows between my students who accept their fate of studying versus those who fight the need to be academically assimilated.

The truth is simply this: regardless of how advanced our technology may become, studying will always be there–and there are very few things about studying that will change.Here are three things about studying that have been around for centuries, and will continue to be around for centuries to come.

Fact #1:”When you study, you are learning

Everyone has to learn SOMETHING. And when you are learning something new, outside of the classroom or guide of instruction, then you are studying.We study dances to make sure that we will do them correctly at the next party. We listen to songs so that we don’t sound stupid as we sing them out loud. We look up multiple recipes for our favorites foods. We study all of the time because we do not know and understand everything. “Studying” is not a dirty word…dirty words are what you say out loud when you find out that you have to actually study…

Fact #2: “You can’t study for every subject the same way”

I refused to believe this when I was in school, and I have the poor GPA to show for it. Someone lied to you. They told you that if you worked hard, that you would go to college and succeed. That’s bovine feces and you know it.  Every subject has a group of fundamental basics that make its world spin on an academic axis. Physics always has formulas that utilize stated variables. English is always about being grammatically correct while utilizing numerous methods to convey a complete thought. You get the idea, right? You can’t possibly study for English and Physics the same way unless the teacher teaches it the same way. And even then, you may find yourself never acquiring the grade that you desire.

Fact #3: “Studying is work”

I have never been one to find the most difficult method to do anything.If there is an easier way, then I will do what must be done to find one. I pride myself in using maps, pinching pennies, doing budgets, researching deals and always having a back up plan for my back up plans. You want to know my secret to this diligence? Because I hate work–especially work that interrupts my fun. So I work hard so that I can play hard. If you work hard, but remember to play hard, then you will feel rewarded after studying hard. But you must (a) study smarter than you study hard and (b) study when you can focus. If not, then you will hardly study rather than study hard every single time.



Allow me to be straight to the point: I HATE studying, but I am PASSIONATE about learning. There is a HUGE difference, and it’s what got me through school. Heck, it’s what makes me passionate about teaching!!! It is the reason why I can find such an interest in the most boring things at times.

I quickly learned in college that there were things that I simply did not like to learn. For example: I hated (and still hate) statistics. Allow me to be slightly partial: Clemson University has some of the best experiemental statistics instructors in this universe–because they helped me to see why in the world I needed the stuff. And when all else failed, they showed me that some of it was simply necessary to graduate…shucks, that’s a good enough reason for me! But then they showed me how CNN uses it, and how NASA uses it, and how political parties use it, and how the developers for games on the the XBOX 360 use it and I wanted to actually learn about it and not just study it.

You see, I have a personal belief. I believe that we study what we don’t want to know and learn what we like. I studied economics but I learned about reproductive physiology (don’t think too hard on that one). I studied calculus but learned about microbiology (especially about food microbiology). I studied for my first physics course, but I learned about animal behavior (I owned at least 2-4 animals almost every year of my entire life and I owned my own farm on 32 acres when I was just 14).

I learned about what I liked, but I simply studied what I didn’t. Is that a bad thing? Nope. But sometimes learning tends to be a bit easier than studying because we tend to learn what we take a natural interest in  OR we have natural talents in one of those areas. If you challenge me in sports and give me a choice between tennis and basketball, then I’ll choose basketball–I suck in tennis and I do not know enough about it to formulate a good strategy. I learned alot about basketball because I was good at it and I liked it. Stop. Read the previous sentecne again. No, wait. I’ll just repeat it for you. I learned alot about basketball because I was good at it and I liked it. With things that I like, I treat them like a adventure–with things that I do not like, I treat them like a task or a chore. Is either way worse than the other? Nope, not at all. But when I am HONEST with myeself about which one I am   dealing with, it makes it quite clear to me as to what method I will have to employ in order to successfully excel in that class. I am asking to fail if I attempt to “learn” in a class that I should “study” for. In other words, if you hate Chemistry, you will not be able to learn it as relaxed as you would in the World History and Anthropology classes that you show up 10 minutes early for. Your brain simply doesn’t work that way. Become honest with the way that you must approach a class and you may find a greater reward for all of that hard work that you are putting in.

Sometimes I Just don’t Feel Like It

I’m sorry, but sometimes schoolwork feels like a bunch of worthless, busy work. I would call it a few other things but they could be received as quite offensive. Sometimes you really do not feel like being diligent. I mean, I feel that way right now. I have been trying to get myself to do something constructive for an hour but I simply cannnot get motivated. I can’t even get motivated to do NOTHING 🙂

Why not? Because my brain is TIRED. I was thinking and doing ALL week long, whether I was in a 4 hour meeting or teaching nearly seven and a half hours straight or advising students or settling disputes. I have not given my brain one time this week to really just relax. Even when I SAID that I was relaxing my brain, I really did not. Have you ever reached this point? The point where your brain wishes that it could quit, but it just keeps going without your consent? I attempted to sleep, but I woke up twice because I had not finished a previous thought.

Once I am done sending this post, I will be following my own advice so pay close attention because I have been in this situation more times than I care to admit:

  • #1. I’m Going To Change The Sound In My Home: All I am hearing right now is my next door neighbor who is having choir practice (don’t ask) and the humming of my computer. I’m going to listen to something that I WANT to hear–something that will allow my mind to rest but be entertained. Nothing that will add to the noise but instead will add to my relaxation.
  • 2#. Get Away From Work: I have so much work laid out in front of me it’s a shame. I’m going to put it all out of sight to start with on Monday. As long as I see it, I’ll want to do it. The longer it takes for me to complete the more frustrated I will become. The more frustrated I become the more distracted I am and the more distracted I am the less I accomplish.
  • 3#. Change My Current Environment: Could it be that I have turned my place of relaxation into my place of work and frustration? if the first 2 don’t work, then I’m out of here…

“Why Didn’t You Tell Me That?!?”

When I arrived at college, I had a few upper classmen who attempted to teach me how to study. I think that they made a great gesture of servitude towards me. However, it didn’t work. It wasn’t their faults at all, it was just that I never made the steps to learn how I studied best.

For example, I hate memorization. Yes, it is true that there are somethings that you must simply memorize and I teach this to my own students. Yet, there are many things that would stick if it were simply relevant. Take the code for 30 extra men on the 1987 8-bit Nintendo smash hit Contra. I couldn’t beat that game with the measly 3 men–oh, for those of you who do not understand, a “man” is a turn or chance that you have in order to beat the game. Three men means three turns before the game is over and you are left to start all over again. So, when I learned of this code for 30 extra men–er, I mean–30 extra turns, I couldn’t forget it. It was relevant to me as a child and I could do the code with my eyes closed. As a matter of fact, I have done the code so many times that I STILL remember the code! The point of this story is actually two-fold:

One of the most difficult yet enjoyable games to date of old school gaming

One of the most difficult yet enjoyable games to date of old school gaming. It's difficulty sparked my desire to remember valuable information to make my experience more enjoyable. What are you doing to make your classroom experience more enjoyable?

(a) Find the study method that makes information relevant to you. If it isn’t relevant, then it will not be on a level of information that demands focus and attention. You will not remember otherwise.

(b) Give yourself time with the information. Some things require a few minutes of your time while others require hours. How do you know the difference? Simple…which one will you use often, which one will you be using soon, and which one will you use only for that particular class? In otherwords, if you are in a Biology class, then the concepts of cells should be concepts that you spend adequate time on due to the fact that it is a building block of information for understanding Biology. The same would go for viruses and bacteria in Microbiology, or a synthesis reaction in Organic Chemistry. However, if the information is not something that builds understanding for information of tomorrow and information yet to come, then be careful as to how much of your time that it begins to eat away. And always ask your instructor about the concpets relevancy and have them clarify why it is important to know.