From calculus to organic chemistry to physics, the list of difficult college courses goes on and on for many science majors. As they spend all of the “free time” hiding away in library study rooms and all of their normal sleeping hours memorizing long lists of crucial equations, the average science major could easily tell you that his quest for a degree is anything but easy. Although the basic classes of such majors are certainly difficult, the pathway does not seem to truly get any easier further on into the degree. In fact, courses often only get harder. For example, anyone who has trekked through the joys of general chemistry and made it all the way to a study of physical chemistry will attest to the fact that the latter class is much more difficult than the first. For anyone is suffering through the terrors of an extremely difficult physical chemistry lecture this semester, here is a bit of advice on how to make the work load and class content more manageable.
First of all, realize that the principles taught in physical chemistry are largely based on the basic mathematics of calculus. Going into the class with a strong foundation of knowledge in both the world of derivatives and integrals will give you a head start for this class. Even if you were fairly adept at solving such differential equations, it will be helpful if you review a few of the commonly employed “tricks” of integrals, such as reviewing the integral of 1/x. Additionally, review the simple parts of taking partial differentials of equations (as opposed to taking total differentials or derivatives); you will use all of these concepts repeatedly in physical chemistry.
Another way to ease the pain of physical chemistry is to review some of the basic equations used in general chemistry (both first and second semesters). Important equations to focus on include Van der Waals equation and the ideal gas law equation. It is also a good plan to review some of the basic concepts introduced in those first semesters of general chemistry, such as the properties and behaviors of gasses, liquids, and solids.
Finally, constantly remind yourself that nothing that you are learning in physical chemistry is really a new topic. Instead, all of the material is merely a more in depth explanation of concepts that you have had previously introduced to you during your academic career. Although the material is far more difficult to grasp, the basis for understanding each principle should already be within your memory. Physical chemistry is the union of all that you have learned in physics, general chemistry, and calculus. Recognizing it as such will help you in facing each day of problems with more confidence in your ability to understand the difficult material.