Courses for First-Year Students

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Overview for First-Year Students Taking Chemistry
Determining Your Placement
Chemistry Assessment and Placement Exams
First-Year Students Considering the Chemistry Major
Tips for Success in a University Chemistry Course

Overview for 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 in Fall Quarter of the first year. Incoming first-year students at Northwestern University who want to take chemistry have several options.

Most first-year students will start in one of three standard general chemistry sequences:

General Chemistry
Fall CHEM 110; Winter CHEM 131/141; Spring CHEM 132/142

The CHEM 110, 131, and 132 course sequence with associated lab courses 141 (Winter) and 142 (Spring) replaces the previous course sequence (CHEM 101, 102, 103 with associated lab courses 121, 122 and 123). 

Accelerated General Chemistry
Fall CHEM 151/161; Winter CHEM 152/162

Many students may place out of CHEM 110 to qualify for the 2 quarter general chemistry course sequence CHEM 151 and 152 with associated lab courses 161 and 162. The CHEM 110 course emphasizes problem solving skills and foundational chemistry topics. Many students will have a good background in these areas from a high school chemistry course. Whether a student is required to take the CHEM 110 course will be determined by the online Initial Chemistry Assessment. All Class of 2021 students intending to take a chemistry course are required to complete this Assessment by July 31.

Advanced General Chemistry
Fall CHEM 171/181; Winter CHEM 172/182

Students with a qualifying score on the Chemistry Advanced Placement (AP) exam or on the International Baccalaureate (IB) exam may be eligible to take the two-quarter advanced general chemistry sequence—CHEM 171 and 172 with associated lab courses 181 and 182. Such students may even qualify to skip general chemistry completely and go directly to the organic chemistry sequence (CHEM 210-1, 2, 3 or if you are considering being a chemistry major student CHEM 212-1, 2, 3).

Details regarding AP/IB Exam-based placement are provided in the “Determining Your Placement” section below. Please note that students with qualifying AP/IB scores *MUST* still take the online initial chemistry assessment to determine their problem solving and chemistry foundation knowledge.

Determining Your Placement

There are three very important ground rules to remember:

  1. No student may begin any of the general chemistry or organic chemistry course sequences except with the first course in the sequence.
  2. All chemistry course sequences begin only in the Fall Quarter. Therefore if you want to take a chemistry course at any time during your first year, you must take chemistry during Fall Quarter.
  3. *ALL* incoming first-year students intending to take any chemistry course are required to take the online initial chemistry assessment by July 31.

With those rules in mind, let’s take a look at the various scenarios:

You took the AP chemistry exam or the IB chemistry exam and scored an AP 5 or IB 7.

You have the option to start in organic chemistry (CHEM 210-1 or 212-1) and will receive credits for CHEM 1x0, 1x1, 1x2 and 0.34 credit lab courses 11x and 12x upon successful completion of the first organic chemistry course. If you think that you may 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.

You took the AP chemistry exam or the IB chemistry exam and scored an AP 3/4 or IB 5/6.

You have the option to start in the Advanced 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 1x0 upon successful completion of CHEM 171.

You took the AP chemistry exam or the IB chemistry exam and scored below AP 3 or IB 5.

*or*

You did not take AP or IB chemistry.

You should register for either CHEM 110 or Chem 151 (and lab course Chem 161) depending on your performance on the online initial chemistry assessment. Placement decisions will be shared on Canvas in the second half of August.

Advanced Placement via the Northwestern Chemistry Placement Exam

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 151, you may receive higher placement when you take Northwestern University’s optional online chemistry placement exam. This exam must be completed by July 31.

Chemistry Assessment and Placement Exams

There are two online chemistry assessment or placement exams; the first is mandatory and the second is optional.

Both exams will open on June 1 and must be completed by the end of the day on July 31.

Initial Chemistry Assessment (MANDATORY). All incoming first year students intending to take a chemistry course are required to take the online initial chemistry assessment by the end of the day on July 31. This assessment tests basic problem solving and quantitative aspects of foundational chemistry material typically covered well in many high school chemistry courses. It is a timed exam that will determine whether a student will be required to complete the Chem 110 course or may begin with Chem 151. The exam is administered through a Canvas course site. When the exam course site is made available on June 1, you will be invited to join. This Canvas course site will then appear under your courses when you log in to Canvas. The Canvas link can be also found in the top menu bar on the Northwestern University home webpage.

Your first-year advisor will be notified about your chemistry course placement based on your score on this assessment. You will be able to view your score as soon as you complete the assessment. Placement information will be shared on Canvas in the second half of August.

Chemistry Placement Exam (OPTIONAL). The chemistry placement exam is an online, timed exam covering the course material from CHEM 110, 131, and 132. The exam is optional and only necessary for students trying to improve their current placement. Exam questions are split roughly evenly between the chemistry material in the 3 courses. The exam is administered through a Canvas course site. When the exam course site is made available on June 1, you will be invited to join. This Canvas course site will then appear under your courses when you log in to Canvas. The Canvas link can also be found in the top menu on the Northwestern University home webpage.

Your first-year advisor will be notified about your chemistry course placement based on your score on this exam. You will be able to view your score as soon as you complete the exam. Placement information will be posted on the Canvas course site in late August.

Please note that, no matter the outcome of the optional placement exam, you will not lose your existing AP-based placement.

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 pursuing a pre-health 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). Courses taken during the typical first 2 years of the chemistry major program are:

  • Year 1: CHEM 110, 131,132 (with lab courses 141, 142) or CHEM 151, 152 (with lab courses 161, 162) or CHEM 171, 172 (with lab courses 181, 182); MATH 220, 224, 230; possibly CHEM 220
  • Year 2: CHEM 212-1, 2, 3; MATH 234; PHYS 135-1, 2, 3; CHEM 220AP placement may have a significant effect on your chemistry course choices. Students seeking more information about the chemistry major program should contact Prof. Fred Northrup, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Chemistry.

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(s) 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, quantitative 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 that we are here to help you succeed in your chemistry courses and we provide many resources to accomplish this. 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 in the chemistry resource center (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 Canvas-based online assessment or placement exam, or the chemistry major program, please contact Prof. Fred Northrup (f-northrup@northwestern.edu), Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Chemistry.