Don’t fear your chemistry instructor

I am a 1st year university chemistry instructor, and I find it not uncommon to be approached for the first time by a student only after a test has gone poorly. In our introductory chemistry course the first test is scheduled to occur within the first 4 to 5 weeks of the term. This means that the student may have been struggling with course material for quite some time before coming to see me.

When I meet with a student under such a circumstance, I always ask the student why he or she did not come to see me before the test. Some common responses are:

1. “I studied for a long time and I really thought that
I knew what I was doing.”

2. “I did really well on all of my assignments, so
I thought that I knew what I was doing.”

3. “I was nervous to come and talk with you because
I was afraid that my questions were stupid.”

It is fair to say that it can be difficult for a student to interpret why studying for a long time or doing really well on assignments may not have led to performing well on a test. Sometimes it takes a poor performance on a test to identify those issues. I enjoy working on strategies with a student, such as finding ways to study more efficiently and/or how to use assignments as an effective form of training for a test or exam. Of course, this can only happen if we meet one-on-one.

The third response is the one that always troubles me and I have only one response: “Your questions are never stupid!” If you had all of the answers to the questions, “easy” or “difficult”, then I would serve you no purpose.
I do not form an opinion about what concepts a student should find easy or difficult. I am happy to answer any level of question.

Please tell your students not to be afraid to contact your instructor early in a term; we are happy to help you. Not only is it our job to help you, but it is a job that we take pride in trying to do well. Come on by!