Why are there no answer keys posted for Dr. Starkey's sample exams?!
The key to success in organic chemistry is to practice what you've learned in class by working problems outside of class. The three most important things to do to prepare for an exam (and the best use of your time) are:
- textbook problems
- textbook problems
- textbook problems
Luckily, there are literally hundreds of problems for you to work through in preparation for each exam AND you have a Solutions Manual so you can check your work. The only reason you should be attempting the problems on the sample exams is because you've already done EVERY problem in the textbook TWICE and you're so bored that you're looking for something new to do. In that case, working on the sample exam and comparing answers with the rest of your study group might be a nice way to pass the time. If you go ahead and work on the exams anyway and bring them to office hours, I will NOT "grade" them for you or tell you if you got the problem right (your study group might be more helpful in that regard). Instead, what I will do is open up your textbook to either the exact same problem or an incredibly similar problem and we can work on that together instead. There is no magic to the questions on the sample exams (or the exams you'll be taking in my class). Almost every problem is derived from our notes or from the textbook, so I promise that if you can do the textbook problems with confidence, then you will have no problem with the exam.
So why do I have sample exams posted if I'm not expecting you to work on them? The sample exams are meant to give you a feeling for the length of a typical exam (will always be 50 minutes) and the types of questions you can expect to encounter (nomenclature, short answer, explain, transforms, predict-the-product, etc.).
I studied SO much for this organic chemistry exam - how did I bomb it?!
This is not an uncommon discovery after that first midterm - so what might have happened? Here are a few things to consider:
- How much time did you spend "studying"? Studying isn't something done just a day or two before an exam - studying should be an ongoing, daily process. A few hours each day is the best way to slowly consume and digest the volumes of o-chem knowledge coming your way.
- What do you mean by "study"? Studying doesn't mean simply reading and highlighting the textbook, or reading through your notes, or rewriting your notes...it means WORKING on textbook problems! Write down an answer - commit to a solution - and then look it up in the Solutions Manual to see if it is right. Just looking through problems and then looking at the answers does nothing to help prepare you for an exam. Did you work through EVERY recommended textbook problem? Did you practice writing out mechanisms? If we do a mechanism in class, then you should get out a blank piece of paper after class and try it on your own, again and again, until you can do it independently without referring to your notes!
- How much time was spent per problem? At first, it may take a long time to work through a given textbook problem. However, as you gain experience you should be able to work much more efficiently. The more familiar you are with each problem, the less time you will waste on figuring out how to do the problem - you can jump right in and get it done! If it takes you 10 minutes to do each predict-the-product problem, then you're not ready for the test since you probably only have ~2 minutes to work on such a problem. Most o-chem exams don't allow for much time to sit and ponder.
- Are you working independently? Working with a study group is great, but not if that means you have someone coaching you through each problem. That help won't be there on the exam! The same is true for your textbook and notes. At the beginning, it is likely that you will need to rely on such resources to solve a given problem, but you need to continue practicing until you can wean yourself off these crutches and can work independently with confidence.
- Are you working on end-of-chapter problems? The in-chapter problems are a good place to start because they give immediate feedback on each section - you just learned about topic A, can you do a problem related to topic A? However, a cumulative exam has many chapters and a wide variety of material on it so you need to be able to evaluate a given problem without having the cue of the problem being in context. The end-of-chapter problems are a step in the right direction. Better yet, open the book to a random page and start working on a problem, or copy down some random problems from various chapters and then exchange the problem set with a study partner. This is a good way to have a mock exam experience. (The key here is to use problems from the textbook so you can look up the solutions!)
- Did you run out of time? If you've worked enough practice problems, then you should be able to work efficiently on the exam and you should be able to finish it. Still, inexperienced test takers can get themselves in trouble with poor habits. Be sure to look over the exam before starting and dig in to the problems you have confidence in. If you run into a difficult problem or get bogged down, skip it and come back to it if time allows. Double-check your work only if time allows - make sure you finish the exam first. Read the directions carefully so you are not wasting time providing information that has not been asked for. If you are asked for an explanation, keep it brief and move on. If time allows you can go back and add more detail but getting to every problem is more important than writing and editing a beautiful prose.
- Do you have test anxiety? This is a real disability for some students and you should seek help if you think your anxiety is truly debilitating (please visit the Disability Resource Center or DRC). However, the vast majority of humans have test-day jitters that are normal and healthy. The key is to find ways to reduce your anxiety. Give yourself plenty of time to study (days and weeks ahead of time - you know what to do during "the weekend before the weekend before the exam," right?!) and be sure to get a good night's sleep the night before a test. Look for sample exams so you know what to expect. Try timing yourself while working on homework to give yourself the feeling of working against the clock and being under pressure. Preparation = peace of mind = success!