Courses for First-Year Students

First-Year Students Taking Chemistry

Many Northwestern undergraduate students will be required to take chemistry courses due to pre-medical or specific major program requirements.  It is therefore common for a large fraction of the first-year class to enroll in a chemistry course. Incoming first-year students at Northwestern University who want to take chemistry have several options.

Most students will take the standard general chemistry sequence (CHEM 101, 102, 103 with associated lab courses 121, 122 and 123).

Students with a high enough score on the Chemistry Advanced Placement (AP) exam may be eligible to take either the two-quarter accelerated general chemistry sequence (CHEM 171 and 172 with associated lab courses 181 and 182) or go directly to the organic chemistry sequence (CHEM 210-1, 2, 3 or CHEM 212-1,2,3 if you are considering being a chemistry major student).

There are two very important things to remember:

1) No student may begin any of the 3 chemistry course sequences except with the first course in the sequence!

2) All chemistry course sequences begin in the fall. Therefore if you want to take a chemistry course during your first year, you must take chemistry during fall quarter!

As long as you remember these things, choosing which chemistry course sequence to begin is easy:

1. If you took the AP chemistry exam or the IB exam in high school, choose your classes based on the following:

Students who  scored a 5 on the AP chemistry exam or a 7 on the IB chemistry exam may place into organic chemistry (CHEM 210-1) and will receive credits for CHEM 101, 102, 103 lab courses Chem 121, 122 and 123  upon successful completion of the first organic chemistry course. If you think you want to major in chemistry or are a student in the Integrated Science Program (ISP), you should register for CHEM 212-1 (and associated lab course 232-1) instead of CHEM 210-1. The Chem 212-1, 2, 3 sequence covers the same course topics as the Chem 210-1, 2, 3 sequence but it has a much smaller enrollment and is taken by students who are interested in chemistry for something other than a medical career.

Students who have scored a 3 or 4 on the AP chemistry exam, or a 5 or 6 on the IB chemistry exam, may place into the accelerated general chemistry sequence CHEM 171/172 and therefore may begin with CHEM 171 (and lab course Chem 181) in fall quarter. You will receive credit for CHEM 101 (and lab course Chem 121) upon successful completion of CHEM 171. You will need to take the ALEKS math exam to take Chem 171.

Students who have scored a 1 or 2 on the AP chemistry exam or did not take the AP chemistry exam should register for CHEM 101 (and lab course Chem 121). You will need to take the ALEKS math exam to take Chem 101.

2. If you did not take the AP Chemistry exam or the IB chemistry exam, but think you have a very good high school chemistry background and therefore would succeed in a higher level chemistry course than CHEM 101, you may take Northwestern University’s online chemistry placement exam. This exam must be completed by July 15.

Chemistry Placement Exam

The chemistry placement exam is an on-line, timed exam covering the course material from CHEM 101, 102 and 103. There are 60 questions, split roughly evenly between the material in the 3 courses, and you will have 75 minutes to complete the exam. The exam is administered through a course blackboard site. When the exam is made available on June 1, this blackboard site will appear under your courses when you log in to the course management system (CMS/blackboard), for which the link can be found at the top of the Northwestern University home webpage. Your first-year advisor will be notified about your chemistry course placement based on your score on this exam and you can check your placement in the grade book of the blackboard site after the exam closes. This exam is not required unless you are a student without AP placement who would like to try to place into a higher level chemistry course than Chem 101. This exam must be completed by July 15.

ALEKS Math Exam

Basic math skills in algebra, trigonometry, and geometry are essential for success in a general chemistry course. Therefore, all first-year students wanting to take either Chem 101 or Chem 171 must take the ALEKS math assessment exam by July 15. This is an exam that tests your basic pre-calculus math skills so you must take this exam regardless of your math AP score. Information about how to access the NU account for this exam can be found here.

First-Year Students Considering the Chemistry Major

First-year students who may be considering the chemistry major start with the same chemistry courses as first-year students who are taking a pre-medical program. In addition, the chemistry major program requires a full-year of calculus-based physics (Phys 135-1,2,3) and 4 quarters of calculus (Math 220, 224, 230, 234). A typical first 2 years of the chemistry major program are:

  • Year 1: CHEM 101, 102, 103 (with lab courses 121, 122, and 123) or CHEM 171, 172 (with lab courses 181 and 182); MATH 220, 224, 230; possibly CHEM 220
  • Year 2: CHEM 212-1,2,3; MATH 234; PHYS 135-1,2,3; CHEM 220 

AP placement may have a significant effect on your chemistry course choices. Students wanting more information about the chemistry major program should contact Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Tips for Success in a University Chemistry Course

Students often ask how a general chemistry course at the university level is different from the general chemistry course they took in high school. While it is certainly likely that the course material is covered in greater depth than in high school, the primary difference is in the way knowledge of the material is tested. Typical test questions usually require application of more than one chemistry concept to solve an integrated problem. Therefore you should brush up on your problem solving skills and especially on properly reading a “word problem” to understand what is being asked and to determine the chemistry concepts you must use to address it. You should begin all such problems by asking yourself:

  • what information you know
  • what information you are being asked to find
  • what chemistry concept(s) are necessary to link what you know to what you are being asked to find

Don’t forget, we are here to help you succeed in your chemistry courses. You should take full advantage of all opportunities available to you including seeking help from the course instructor, the graduate student teaching assistants who will hold regular tutor sessions (you may attend the tutor sessions of any TA, not just the person who supervises you in the lab), and peer tutors who will hold regular sessions at a time and campus location to be announced once classes begin. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if a concept is unclear. If you wish to hire a private tutor for chemistry, contact the main chemistry office (Tech K148, 847-491-5371) for a list of graduate student tutors.

If you have any questions about the chemistry course for which you should register, the on-line placement exam, or the ALEKS assessment exams, contact Dr. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies.