*Note: This article contains generic information – not legal advice. If you find yourself in a questionable or problematic situation, seek professional counsel.

With final exams only a few weeks away, here is a timely Q & A interview with general chemistry student/supplemental instructor and premed tutor, Cassidy Hart. Ms. Hart is a junior at American University in Washington, DC majoring in biochemistry with a math minor. She is also the President of American University’s chapter of Phi Delta Epsilon (International Medical Fraternity).

Ms. Hart is currently a student/supplemental instructor for general chemistry II and a premed tutor. While some of Ms. Hart’s below responses reference general chemistry coursework, the following advice is applicable to any science course:

When should a student seek a tutor?

“The sooner the better! As soon as you think you might need some extra help, look for a tutor. If it turns out not to be useful you can always stop but it’s hard to catch up on a whole semester worth of knowledge right before the final!”

What is a main reason premed students struggle?

“I would say a [main] thing is memorization vs. understanding. A lot of students will memorize how to solve a problem but not understand how or why they can solve the problem. This often creates an issue on tests when professors throw problems in that are tricky or complicated. If you understand why and how things work in chemistry, then you are more likely to be able to solve ‘trick’ problems.”

How should students study to master new material?

“For chemistry, I think practice problems are the way to go; lots and lots of practice problems! Of course make sure you also understand the concepts behind the practice problems. Often, you will use the same concepts throughout the rest of your undergrad science coursework.”

Any study hacks or tips when learning difficult concepts?

“Try explaining it to someone else. Find a friend or your tutor and explain the concept to them. If you can explain the concept to someone else, that means you have a good grasp on it. Also, make sure you do lots of practice problems!”

Do you recommend reading the textbook or simply studying a professor’s PowerPoint slides?

“This really depends on the class. I have had classes where the professor doesn’t use PowerPoint slides and in these classes, reading the book is super important. [However], I’ve also had classes where the professor had PowerPoint slides that covered everything in the book, so in [such] cases there wasn’t really a reason to read the textbook. In general, I would say go over the PowerPoint slides first and then if you have time read the textbook. It’s never going to hurt to read your textbook!”

What are some things you wish you could tell premed students at the start of each semester?

“Do your homework and don’t simply look up the answers online. If you want to check your final answer online, then go ahead but make sure you solve the problem yourself. Homework, as tedious as it can be, will help you understand the concepts in chemistry [and other science courses] and [better prepare you for] exams.”

Should students prepare differently for final exams versus regular exams?

“If the final is cumulative make sure you study all the information from the semester. More importantly, look at how all the different semester concepts could be used together. However, if your final is not cumulative and is weighted the same as other tests, prepare for it just as you would another exam. Of course, if you want the final to pull your grade up, you should probably study more than you have on previous exams.”

Any additional resources premeds can utilize?

“The library course reserves! You can borrow a chemistry book and the solutions manual. The solutions manual is [a] useful resource because it allows you to check not only your answers when you are doing practice problems but also to see how the book solves the problem.

[Also], if you’re having difficulty understanding something [in the material] read about it on ChemWiki (link: http://chemwiki.ucdavis.edu/) or another free online resource.”

Hope these study tips from general chemistry student/supplemental instructor and premed tutor Cassidy Hart prove helpful as final exam period approaches. Remember, it’s never too late to develop better study habits and improve your exam prep.

Stay tuned for my next article – a conversation with a third year medical student!