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From Not Knowing Long Division To A 760: A 3 and a Half Year Journey Part 1
I became aware of the GMAT when, in 2017, I saw a Kaplan 2014 textbook in my sister’s bedroom titled with the four capital letters that would run through my mind across 3 years: GMAT. I asked her what it was and she told me it was basically the LSAT for business school. She apparently had studied for barely a week and gave up (understandably so) but that textbook sat in her room for months. After attending another family function where relatives and family friends asked me what I was doing for work (I was selling suits) and what I would do with my degree (Philosophy), I left with a feeling of inadequacy. I know that’s never a good place to come from before deciding to do something but I knew I wanted to upgrade my life and not knowing what my next life move would be, I decided that business school could be the stepping stone to take me to that next level. So I asked to borrow the Kaplan book and I started flipping through the pages across the quantitative section. This is no exaggeration when I say that I might has well have been reading ancient hieroglyphics. I had never excelled in math growing up, but that was probably my fault since being proficient in math requires doing ones homework, which I rarely, if ever, did. I also didn’t study for exams or tests and got by by just having a decent memory and semi-listening in class. Looking at the quant section, I couldn’t decipher a single question no matter how simple it may be to me now. For example, I wouldn’t have been able to solve for X when given 1) Y+X=7 & 2) Y=3. I didn’t even know long division or larger multiplication. I definitely didn’t know how to work with fractions or set up a basic equation and how to manipulate said equation. I also couldn’t believe that these questions had to be solved within 2 minutes each—that part especially blew my mind. I didn’t really look at the verbal section because I was so overwhelmed with the quant side, but I knew I wanted to take on this challenge.
Learning The Math Basics
After a long day of work in sales, being on my feet for 8 hours, I would come home and go on Youtube and search up videos on all the math basics. The channel I really found a lot of value in is called The Organic Chemistry Tutor. I had to learn all the foundations to even begin to understand what the GMAT questions were talking about. I would smile when I saw comments on the video that would read: “I’m in Grade 5 and this will really help me on my test!”. There I was at 23 learning 5th grade math—but there was no way around it. I did this for weeks and could only do about 1 hour a day before I was completely exhausted. I started to understand math again and I owe a lot to that Youtube channel for getting me solid. It should be said that virtually no GMAT specific course that I know of starts from the absolute basics, so Youtube will be a great free resource for you.
Now with what I believed to be a foundational knowledge in math, I began to work through the Kaplan book my sister lent me. My study schedule was not as sharp as it would eventually become but I would study for maybe 30-45 mins on a weekday, but then devour the book for 6 hours on a Sunday. I thought I was making loads of headway, but then I would go on gmatclub for example or some other gmat related site and see a question and not know how to approach it at all. I did not understand why this was happening. I was working through the book, but I was still lost. If I was being honest with myself, I would have realized that I had no conceptual understanding of what I was learning. The process for most questions in the book went like this: 1) I would have no idea what it was asking for 2) I would try to think and conceptualize what was going one 3) I would not know what was going on 4) I would look at the answer and read the explanation 5) I would tell myself that next time I would know what to do for this specific question. Horrible learning strategy for many obvious reasons, one being that of course I would not remember exactly how to proceed with that specific question the next time I went over it and another being that I might never see that exact question again. Furthermore, the book teaches a concept in two pages and then gives about 10 practice questions and moves on. For me, this was not in-depth enough to solidify my knowledge. This continued on for weeks, pumping myself full of confidence as I worked through the whole quant section. Until I took the diagnostic at the front of the book untimed and completely tanked it. Not to mention that I was so cocky that I thought I would be fine in verbal and then tanked that too. Needless to say, I was absolutely demoralized. So, I stopped studying.
Return To Kaplan Textbook
In 2017, a few months passed without studying. I also made the mistake of mentioning to people that I was studying for the test, leading people to ask me regularly about how studying was going—I would lie and say it was going well but that it’s a process. In the middle of summer I began to feel that emptiness inside me again and knew I had to get back to studying if I wanted to change my life. Evidently, a few months is a long time to take off from studying for this test because I had forgotten a lot. Once again, I worked on the quantitative side of things. I would come home after another long day at work and study for 45-60 minutes, which for me at the time was plenty. I couldn’t imagine studying for 2-3 hours a day like many people I saw online claimed to have studied. I would also always take Saturdays off as a treat for myself. But something was just not clicking for me. I would spend all this time working on a question, but if any variation on the question was introduced, I was stumped. Now, I don’t want to make it seem like I learned nothing from the Kaplan book, because I did learn some things, but being that I was aiming for a high score, I didn’t think that this book or strategy of learning would take me there. I also started to study on my lunch breaks at work and read articles on Magoosh or watch GMAT related Youtube content.
In December of 2017, I purchased the OG. I figured if I was going to do well on this test, I would need to purchase this book. So, I started from the beginning and worked through the questions untimed starting from the beginning. Though it was definitely taking me more than 2 minutes per question, I was kind of impressed with the fact that I was understanding the questions at all. Perhaps all the practice on my math foundations and the Kaplan book was paying off. Though, after I got past the first few pages of the OG the difficulty shoots up and I was once again struggling. I then turned to the verbal portion of the book and thought I would be doing great at CR, considering my entire undergraduate degree in philosophy was spent analyzing arguments, but I was once again shown that I was dealing with a different animal in the GMAT. Checking out a few SC questions, I got them almost all wrong—after all they seemed like they could all be right. Once again though, I put verbal on the back burner because I knew I still had this quant beast in front of me. I kept this strategy up of trying to learn through doing questions, as is often preached on online forums, but this just didn’t cut the mustard for me. I was having flashbacks of my time spent of the Kaplan book and I was “learning” on a very superficial level. At this point in mid 2018, I started a new job and in the excitement of earning a promotion, I lost the hunger for studying for this test.
The Mental Click To Studying Seriously
In April 2019, the desire to study for this test resurfaced—but this time I made it clear in my mind. I was going to complete this test. At this point I was keen on only using free resources. Other than the OG, I did not want to spend a dime on any other study materials and figured that there was plenty of information out there and all I had to do was piece it together myself. Lurking through Reddit, someone posted a link of an entire web series of videos on the GMAT subject by subject. I was extremely excited because I learn great from videos. I won’t mention the name of this site for two reasons: 1) I don’t remember 2) It looked like someone ripped all the videos from some other possibly legitimate source and compiled them together (but I am not sure about this). I also decided that I would take proper notes. When I was doing the Kaplan and OG, I was not taking any of my own notes—I was just doing the practice problems. So, I would watch each video which had a lesson, for example coordinate geometry, which had a 10-15 minute video, sprinkled with a few practice questions. I would pause the video, take notes, do the practice problems and then move on to the next video. And let me clarify that the videos were all along the same length—so Overlapping Sets would have a 10 minute video and then a few questions and that’s it. In my naïveté, I believed that this was sufficient learning. I was actually pleased, because I was able to link some things backs to the Kaplan book, and I zoomed through some videos. I also took pages and pages of notes. These two months, though extremely organized in my note taking and disciplined in my study schedule, were in essence a waste of time. I should not have expected that doing 4 practice questions per topic would suffice to get me a score of anything past a 500. This was obvious when I lurked on gmatclub at questions and almost all the questions were well out of my league. I did gain something out of these two months: consistency. All my studying before this was more spastic and I would skip a couple days in a row, but now I had settled in and committed to studying 6 days a week, no matter what. So now with my rigid study schedule and my determination to get things done, I became open to the idea of paying for a proper GMAT course and investing in my future.
Target Test Prep
Lurking on GMAT, I saw many many people recommending Target Test Prep (TTP). I looked it up on gmatclub to see the reviews and they were overwhelmingly positive. I was hesitant about the price because I hadn’t spent more than $100 so far, but I was locked in to getting this done and if doing this course would finally put this test behind me then it was worth it. So in July 2019, I bought the free trial and then the four month deal (little did I know at the time that I would be subscribed to them for over a year). I took the course as seriously as I could and took my own handwritten notes, with different coloured highlighters and also made flashcards. I attempted all the practice problems. This course was different than the Kaplan and OG because it would have a lesson and then immediately have a practice problem after it. I learn best through examples and so this was perfect for me. My schedule at this point in my life was as intense as it’s ever been. I would work long 9 hour days, mostly moving around, come home and go to the gym 4 times a week and on top of that I was studying for about 45-60 mins every day after work and a couple hours each weekend day. I know this might not sound intense, but working in my field, there are not many people who have energy leftover for the day—but I was locked in to my goal. I would also use my lunches to watch videos by GMATNinja, Manhattan Prep, Veritas and any other reputable source. My life surrounded the GMAT.
Completing the course did not take the four months I was expecting it would. I’m sure if one was able to invest 3 hours a day and 10 hours across a weekend, then for sure this may be possible, but I just didn’t have it in me to invest that kind of time. TTP is absolutely a huge investment in time as the quant course is massive, but it was exactly what I needed to take me from the superficial knowledge that I had to a real understanding of all the variations of questions. There were also practice tests after each chapter from Easy to Medium to Hard. These were amazing. Until now, after 2 years, I never learned this test in such a structured and detailed way. Now, they won’t teach you the very basics of math like how to do algebra, so take care of that before you start paying for the course. I completed the quant section chapters and all of its tests at the end of February, which means it took me 8 months to complete. I then went back and reread all of the chapter lessons and made a 31 question custom test of varying difficulty for each chapter. I should mention that it was around the time that I started the Work/Rate/Time modules that I began an error log. I know, I know, I should’ve started one from the get-go but I felt like it was already taking me twice the time to do the course and having an error log would slow me down even more, but it’s indeed a good tool. My error log was so-so at first, but I emailed VivianGMATRockstar, a GMAT tutor who was a past frequenter of GMAT, as she was offering a free template. This one was much better and had a different log for quant and verbal and had the brilliant column where I could put a url—this url allowed me to put the link of the question if it was from gmatclub, or the link to the TTP test. However, I didn’t use this error log until after I completed my first mock.
Verbal Self-Study/Manhattan Prep Sentence Correction Guide
Around the fall of 2019, I knew that I would have to start learning about verbal as well, but TTP had not released their verbal curriculum yet. Many people on online forums like gmatclub and reddit spoke of how the MGMAT SC book was all they needed. But before I bought this book, VivianGMATRockstar posted on reddit that knowing how to breakdown a sentence to its component parts, ie, subject, verb, object, preposition, conjunction, etc. was crucial to getting SC questions right and this proved to be absolutely true. I don’t believe I ever learned grammar in school and if I did, I probably never did the homework so this was once again a brand new topic for me to learn. I looked up some free, basic little course on google for learning sentence structure and it would have little lessons and practice problems. It taught me a ton on identifying parts of a sentence and this is crucial if you want to disect an SC question. Once again, much like with quant, I’m not sure how many courses out there go over the very basics, so I would suggest getting this done before you buy a subscription to any course. I then cracked the MGMAT book every other day for about half an hour, but ill be honest, I wasn’t taking much in. They used a lot of grammar terminology in the book that was going over my head and so I stopped about halfway and maybe absorbed 10% of it—I was pretty disappointed. The best investment in my time to get me from beginner to intermediate was to watch GMATNinja videos. His videos have helped so many people, he needs to be inducted into the GMAT Hall of Fame. I practiced CR a bit and I did not study RC at all because I figured well, its just reading. Little did I know I was leaving a lot of extra points on the table.
GMATPrep Mock 1: 710 (Q49 V38 IR8)
At the end of March 2020, I took my first mock and I couldn’t believe when I saw this score. I was so helpless at the beginning of my journey and I actually cracked 700! I literally got up and shook my fist. I felt so elated and finally felt like I deserved this. At the same time, I knew I had to put in more work and more mocks. Around this time, TTP released their beta verbal program and I was very excited. I watched an interview that GMATNinja did with dcummins on the gmatclub YouTube channel and dcummins cited that TTP’s verbal materials were game changing. I saw what TTP did with my quant and I was looking forward to a structured course to learn verbal as I saw that with my “baseline” of 38 and assuming my quant stayed the same, that my overall score would skyrocket. Also, I had never studied for IR or did a single practice question, so I was quite pleased with an 8.
TTP Verbal Beta
I began TTP Verbal and began with the CR modules. It was the first time learning about the different question types and what they meant. Before this, I thought assumption and inference basically meant the same thing and I had no real clue how to attack boldface questions, etc.. So, this was pretty nice to actually learn in a systematic way the different Q-Types and the common traps. I haven’t taken another CR course so I can’t compare this to a Powerscore, let’s say, but I know this definitely took my CR skills to the next level. It made me think logically in terms of the test and shaped how I approach the question. I then started their SC modules and I learned quite a bit, but I was getting so bored because of how long the chapters were. There are tons of practice questions which works to my learning style, but I was still a little overwhelmed. SC is no joke and there are lots of caveats to know, but the course covers most of them. They did not have an RC module yet, but that was fine for me because I honestly didn’t even want to learn anything more for this demanding test—I figured that I just need to read the passage and ill be fine.
GMATPrep Mock 2: 690 (Q47 V38 IR8)
I was annoyed with this. I had done all this work on verbal only to get the exact same verbal score—I did not know why this happened. Also, my Q score went down slightly, but since I had gotten a 49 prior I knew that I had it in me to score higher. At this point of my studying I was studying two hours daily with no days off and spending most of it on verbal, so I decided that every other day I would do a random custom test on TTP to keep my quant skills sharp. I studied for another two weeks and took another mock.
GMATPrep Mock 3: 690 (Q45 V39 IR 4)
Now I was getting pissed, upset and insecure about everything. I had spent two and a half months between my first mock and this one and went down 20 points. Two months is all some people need to study for this whole test and I had spent years. I felt horrible the rest of the day. I know 690 was a very good score, but I was aiming for much higher—at least a 720. My quant actually went all the way down to 45 and my verbal only increased by a single point. I think I blindly skipped ahead on most of IR. I was looking up on google to see if it was normal to plateau on mocks, just to get some validation that I wasn’t just stupid. I even messaged the guys at TTP and Marty Murray, the creator of the verbal curriculum offered to chat on the phone. We had a fun chat and I asked about mindfulness techniques as I read a couple articles where he cited mindfulness and meditation for taking him to his perfect 800 score. I continued to work my tail off on quant as I was very frustrated with this score. I couldn’t believe after all the tireless nights and hard work I put in that i would have a Q45. I decided to alternate my days of studying: one day would be quant, the next verbal and so on. I was studying about 3 hours a day now because I had watched on a Manhattan Prep Youtube video that 3 hours maximum is ideal because anything past that would be counterproductive, but as I later realized this was a complete myth—I was able to study much longer, but that comes later in my journey. I would spend two hours in the morning working on problems and reviewing lessons and then watch an hour long video from GMATNinja, Manhattan Prep or Veritas Prep in the evening.
One thing I noted was that I was definitely fatigued during this mock. I would take the mock identically to how the Online GMAT was structured, which meant no break between Quant and Verbal and then 5 mins before IR. So, I knew I needed to do more mocks to get used to solving 67 questions in a row and maintain sharpness throughout. However, I had already used 3 of the official mocks and I was scared of doing more too soon and seeing the same old 690ish score, so I researched non-official mocks and saw that Manhattan Prep, Veritas Prep and Kaplan all had options. I did not want to pay anymore for study materials however, since I had already been paying for TTP for about a year at this point and I had bought the 4 GMATPrep tests that aren’t free. So, I decided that I would take each of these test prep companies’ free mocks.
Manhattan Prep Mock 1: 720 (Q45 V42 IR4)
I often heard online that one shouldn’t be too concerned with the scores of non-official mocks as the scoring algorithm can never be sufficiently replicated, but I’d be lying if I said seeing this score didn’t make me feel good. The quant was lower than I was aiming for, but I often read that MGMAT mocks have notoriously difficult quant sections—so I was pretty happy with the 45. I was also happy with the verbal, but the algorithm is definitely off with this mock because I got 12 verbal questions wrong and still had a 42. I’m sure this could never be the case with official tests, but I was still happy about it.
My quant work continued every other day and I continued to do custom tests on random subjects on TTP and reviewed them. I also continued watching videos on Youtube. I comprehend subjects best when I can learn from many different sources, so combining TTP with videos from test prep companies and also with videos from just random math channels helped to synthesize a concept for me. I feel like it created different neural pathways for me and multiple reference points to draw from. I also continued to error log after each mock and on TTP questions that I felt were medium level difficulty—after all, the key to this test is to master the easy and medium concepts.
My verbal work continued as well and I knew that to earn an elite score, I would need to master SC. I heard that SC was the most learnable and so I figured that if I invested the time into this subsection that my verbal score would shoot up. I returned to the Manhattan Prep SC Guide and was pleasantly surprised. I was retaining more information from it than I had before. This must’ve been a combination of learning SC from TTP and having another reference point to draw from. Also, I was doing more practice questions from watching videos and doing mocks so, I could relate what I was reading to a question I had encountered.
GMATPrep Mock 4: 680 (Q49 V32 IR7)
This rollercoaster had taken a nosedive once again. I was very happy with my Q49 and I knew that I could attribute this to my constant custom tests. Quant is really a skill that needs to be sharpened, like an NBA player that shoots 1000 shots before the game. It really helped me to reduce fatigue, which is critical on this test. After all, it doesn’t matter what you have in your brain if you’re too tired to pull it out. Doing timed sets of 20 questions (I didn’t do 31 questions that often) helped in a big way. My verbal score was very frustrating, on the other hand. I had put in almost four months of hard verbal work and I dropped lower than I had on my first test without any verbal study. There was clearly a disconnect here, so I reviewed my mock and learned from my mistakes. It was at this point I was determined to perfect SC. I wanted to get every single SC question right on the exam. I also wanted to do really well on CR and the combination of the two would have to result in me getting an outstanding verbal score.
I started a pre-mock ritual where I would listen to music and dial in. I would repeat to myself my strategy for quant which was to “read every single word” and “take note of every restriction”. I think this was the key to getting me a Q49 because I minimized my mistakes caused by missing a single word such as “only”, for example or considering negative numbers when the first sentence of the question told me it was positive.
In keeping with my strategy of bolstering my stamina, one week later I took a Kaplan mock.
To Be Continued On "From Not Knowing Long Division To A 760: A 3 and a Half Year Journey Part 2"
How to get a 3.8X or above in your pre-reqs: a result of my quarantine boredom
Hi guys, so I am wrapping up my degree and have finished all of my premed pre-reqs with a 4.0. I feel like I don’t see a ton of stuff on here specific to all of the premed classes so I wanted to make a post with my view about these things. Also, I put up there how to get a 3.8> because my 4.0 definitely came down to some luck. I’ve had amazing professors and have honestly just had some pure luck with some classes. So I really think anything above a 3.8X is what’s actually reasonable with this advice. Also takes into consideration that you deserve a social life, you deserve to have fun in college and not stress about your grades all the time, you need to put your mental health first, get a reasonable amount of sleep, and you need to do ECs and volunteering. I honestly think getting a 4.0 is overrated and comes down to hard work and a bit of luck (in my case). You don’t need to be a genius to do this. I also realize that every university is different, but I do think these cover general study strategies for these classes.submitted by justtrynabeadoctor to premed
So, here’s how I did it.
Bio 1- usually cell bio basics?
This class for me was the second hardest class I’ve taken in undergrad, which to me, is hilarious. I had a really hard prof for this class.
Strategies that helped me succeed:
Drawing diagrams: I can’t tell you how many times I drew a cell and wrote out what everything did
2 column note method: I would take notes on my computer in class and record the lecture along with it (word or notability has this capability, or just use your phone). Then, I would divide the notes into two columns, print it out, and relisten to the lecture and make little notes on what my professor said
Learning objectives: I feel like this is somewhat of a hit or miss for people because sometimes professors don’t follow what they put in the LOs, but mine did. I would take my 2 column notes and write out the learning objectives with it
Teaching others: I had a great roommate who would let me lecture her on this material. If you don’t have this honestly just speaking out loud or filming a video is super helpful.
Quizlet: some stuff you just have to memorize, but I found a lot of this class to be very concept focused. Use anki if that’s your thing
Bio 2 – was more of a macro-biology class as my university talked abt evolution, ecology, animal kingdoms, etc
Okay so first of all I hated this class and it made me sad LOL
My prof had practice exams we could take so I would do those AFTER, I had studied for the test.
Learning objectives: again, this prof stuck to the learning objectives. I would write and re-write them
Recorded lectures: prof used a lecture recording where it live recorded them so I would rewatch them
Office hours: for this class, going to office hours was huge for me because I could talk through the concepts and ask questions about it. It definitely felt a little less straight forward
Quizlet: HUGE for me in this class. Memorizing all of the animal classes and kingdoms and what was special about them felt like rogue memorization, but some of it made sense based on the environment of the animal.
Writing things out: I would make big concept maps on my whiteboard for topics like evolution and tracking how and when things happened (Cambrian explosion, etc). This was also helpful when we got to the animals section because I could map out all the different classes and increasing levels of complexity.
Genetics (not technically a pre-req, but I think most of us take it)
This class is very problem solving and math based, which I loved. If you can’t tell, I’m not a huge fan of bio courses, but genetics was my FAVORITE. I also recommend taking statistics BEFORE you take this class. If I hadn’t taken statistics it would have been a very difficult class and I would’ve felt so behind.
Practice problems, practice problems, practice problems, and MORE PRACTICE PROBLEMS.
I would make up problems, do questions in the book, questions my professor gave me, look on the internet for questions, anything I could find for questions, I would do them. For 4/5 exams I used practice problems, but one exam was on like DNA replication and all that stuff, so for that I lectured a ton and would draw everything out.
I found that genetics had a VERY logical flow and it made sense.
I also would utilize quizlet for the diseases and their specific chromosome problems. Some memorizing tricks for the chromosomal abnormalities like
For these they go in alphabetical and numerical order by the second letter of the word so Patau is trisomy 13, Edwards trisomy 18, and down trisomy 21
For my prof, it was really important to know if a disease was lethal or not so I made sure to remember those.
I also did practice with the family trees and specific diseases, so for example, Huntington disease is autosomal dominant so I would look at random family trees or practice problems for this and see how it would play out. My prof used a lot of family tree questions.
AK lectures is amazing for genetics, just saying. He got me through it!
Overall genetics was one of my favorite classes because it was a lot of logic and problem solving. I never felt like I had to memorize a lot because as long as I understood the concepts, I was good. I definitely had an amazing professor for this class though who had basically perfected the course so I was very lucky.
Chemistry Courses – my personal favorite
Gen Chem 1&2:
I’m going to lump these together because I think the strategies used in these courses are very similar but I’ll break it down a little. I’ve also been a gen chem tutor for four years, so I’m very opinionated on what works for gen chem and what doesn’t. Take it with a grain of salt, everyone is different. This is just what I’ve seen to work in my students
VSEPMolecular geometry Models
I hate when people just try and straight up memorize these. Like if you have X bonds to carbons its Y, I think that’s no good and doesn’t help at all. For these, please draw them out, a lot. Draw different molecules over and over. You will start to see a pattern and learn what normal oxygen bonds look like etc. Also find the logic. It makes sense that the tetrahedral bond angle is 109.5 and that trigonal planar is 120, because of the way they are drawn. It also makes sense that depending on the interactions between the atoms the bond angles may be smaller or larger (think opposites attract and electron clouds, etc.). Draw. It. Out. These things don’t magically come by looking at them. Understanding how to reason through these problems and having a fundamental understanding it CRUCIAL. Get a model kit if it helps you see it more.
At my university, they use this harry potter weird magic formula method which I am not a fan of because it just teaches students how to memorize a formula and people forget formulas (at least I do). Again, with this, draw it out, please. I said it above, but after drawing water or carbon dioxide or whatever molecule, you will see a pattern with how oxygen normally bonds and you will know if there is a positive or negative on it because you have drawn it so much. With that said, I use a counting method to do formal charge that I will do my best to explain here, but please forgive me if it sucks this is all from memory haha.
So basically, I use a counting method:
Lines count as one, and every dot counts as one. If we look at water, there are two lines connected to oxygen and four dots. 2+4 = 6. If you look on the PT, oxygen is in column 16, which means when oxygen is neutral it has 6 electrons. 6-6 = 0, the formal charge is zero.
I could go more in depth for gen chem, but this is already four pages long so I’ll just list general strategies.
This is, by far, the thing I have seen students have the most issue with and I will try to explain it the best I can. In high school, this is what decimated me in chemistry. It didn’t make any sense to me. Until I took physics.
So when I start teaching students about this, I talk about unit conversions. If we know that:
100 cm = 1 m
1 in = 2.54 cm
And you’re given a problem that says:
Convert 900 inches to meters.
You first have to know how to set up the conversion which is the most challenging part for students. The most important thing is that the units have to diagonally line up. If inches is on the top, inches must be on the bottom.
This is the same logic we use for stoichiometry. If we have an equation (that is balanced), we can “convert units” to figure out how much we have of a specific product.
Seek to understand and know when you just have to just accept something.
Gen chem is a lot of problem solving that has a logical flow for the most part. However, there are somethings that you just have to accept. Sometimes you will not understand everything and just have to memorize it. For me, I always have to refresh on those heating and cooling curves. They never quite sunk in for me and eventually I just had to memorize it. I think these situations are case by case (in my experience).
Practice problems: Do all the problems in the textbook (if your prof recommends that). Twice. Change the numbers and solve them, work in study groups (if this is helpful for you). Many schools give practice exams. Take them, twice. Change the numbers. Do them again. This class is SO MUCH practice.
Make concept sheets: I found that for every gen chem test there was about 1-2 pages of pure concepts. I would write them down and lecture about them, then maybe write on a white board. I would make sure I really understood these concepts and that I could apply them to the problems. I also taught my class mates in group study sessions and teaching was by far the thing that cemented the material for me. If you can get in a group with people, ask if you can teach them a concept or work out a problem for them. Have them ask you questions about it. This, in my opinion, is one of the most helpful forms of learning.
Organic chemistry 1—the best class of my life.
I want to put somewhat of a disclaimer here and say that I love organic chemistry. So much so that I really had to consider if I wanted to be a doctor because of this class. This class gave me life. Like, literally, I would do it for fun. I lived and breathed this class and I’ve also been a peer leader for it this past year and taken as many advanced organic classes as my degree has allowed. Organic has my heart, no doubt. I really believe that everyone can do well in organic and that organic doesn’t deserve the rep it gets. I also recognize that I had wonderful, caring, smart professors for these classes that invested in me and helped me succeed.
The first half of organic one is VERY concept based. You need to understand acids, bases, nucleophiles, electrophiles, and how they behave in different environments (protic solvent etc). If you REALLY Understand these concepts all of organic is very similar and follows a logical flow.
- PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE.
- Do those bond line drawings, a million times
- Sell your soul to resonance structures THEY ARE SO IMPORTANT.
- Know how to draw a lewis dot structure
The second half of organic 1 is where students find the most difficulty. At my university the first two exams are concepts and the second two are reactions (an application of the concepts you just spent half of a semester learning).
Here’s what was recommended to me in terms of reactions and this strategy worked SO WELL:
Focus on functional group inter conversion. I want you to make a notebook, binder, whatever works, with a tab for every functional group. In it, you are going to write every transformation that function group does. Example:
Alkene --- alcohol
Write what reactions do this, their mechanisms (if you need to know it), whether it is syn or anti-addition, if there is any regioselectivity, etc
For this example you could write
This also helps you establish their synthetic use. If you need to create the least substituted alcohol, you’re going with antimarkovnikov, if you don’t want a racemic mixture you’re going to use oxymerc-demerc. This strategy helps you place these types of things in your mind.
This is going to
I’ve said this a lot because it’s true but DO PRACTICE PROBLEMS. My organic prof used to say “12 problems a day, will get you the A” and they were right. If you do not practice this material often and well, you will not do well.
Organic 2: a continuation of organic 1 plus some fun spectroscopy
For orgo 2 it’s basically just more reactions with the exception of spectroscopy (NMR, IR, and Mass spec). Some universities cover spectroscopy in orgo 1, mine didn’t. For NMR specifically, you NEED TO KNOW IT. My prof put NMR on every exam we took even after we did our NMR test and I’m pretty sure this is commonplace for many organic classes.
NMR, for me was like a hill, I found it difficult at first and I did not quite understand it, but once it clicked, it stuck. This was the theme among most of my friend group. NMR, to me, was a very nice mix of concept and problem solving. You needed to memorize chemical shifts, understand shielding and de-shielding, etc. But a lot of this made sense based on the electronegativity of the molecule. Practice this stuff a ton. There are so many resources out there for NMR practice that you could practice until you’re blue in the face. Do that. Please.
I liked taking biochem after I had taken my organic sequence, some people do it after orgo 1, but I felt like the aldol chemistry in orgo 2 helped me conceptualize the reactions in biochem, which is a ton of aldol chem.
The lineweaver-burke and michaelis-menton stuff. Each time I take a biochem class I have to go back and relearn this stuff. I did a ton of practice problems, understood how different types of inhibition affected these graphs, and asked a lot of questions.
Catabolic Metabolism vs. anabolic metabolism
Understanding the concepts behind these was SO important for me. Knowing the end goal helped me conceptualize these pathways. Again, I hate memorization, I’m just not good at it. So anyway I could help myself conceptualize and understand something, I did.
- Pentose phosphate
- Nitrogen (Urea, amino acids, etc)
- Lipid metabolism (FA, B-oxidation, Cholesterol)
This was the stuff my class covered, what I did was pathways, pathways, and more pathways. My prof also really liked including a specific disease or two associated with each pathway, I just ended up memorizing that.
For each pathway I made a one pager. On the first side I would write out the pathway and then, yes, I would color code things to make them stick out more. I always cringe when I see people color coding things, but these pathways can get so convoluted that making ATP stick out and the enzymes was visually helpful for me. I would also write next to key enzymes (like PFK-1), what inhibited or activated them and most of the time it makes sense. On the back, I would write all about the regulation and diseases associated with the pathway. Also what compartment (mitochondria, cytosol, etc) that process occurred in.
Knowing the rate limiting enzymes of each pathway is crucial and also understanding what will impact them is SO important.
Another thing I would stress with biochem is that cells are at steady state, not equillibrium. If your cells are at equilibrium please tell me what the afterlife is like bc you are effectively dead. Cells want to maintain a certain number of metabolites and will manipulate pathways to do that. Understanding this concept helped me understand feedback loops, inhibition, and just generally understand why pathways do what they do.
I also took a giant piece of paper and drew out absolutely every single pathway, connection point, and shuttle step I learned in the class. Having this big visual changed the game for me. This, coupled with my one pagers for every pathway helped me remember them and keep them in my mind long term. I also would come up with scenarios of what would happen if X enzyme slowed down in X pathway, etc. I spent so much time with these pathways.
Also there seems to be some animosity towards the krebs cycle on this thread so here is a funny mnemonic that I’m sure you’ve heard before for the substrates in the krebs cycle:
Can I Keep Selling Sex For Money Officer?
I don’t know why, but that always makes me laugh. You have to find joy somewhere when you’re waist deep in metabolism I suppose.
Lastly, for biochem understanding the 6 (or 7?) basic reactions that enzymes do and what they’re called will help you. I found organic helped me a ton for recognizing patterns as far as substrate transformation goes. This info should be online somewhere and I’m 7 pages deep into this so I don’t want to find it haha.
Finally – Physics. GROSS.
I’m not a huge physics fan. This is probably because my university doesn’t have a good physics department and literal gods got me an A in physics 2 this semester. I’ll split this up into physics 1 and 2. I took algebra based, so I cannot speak for calc based physics, but I have heard it is easier? I don’t know.
Practice is HUGE. HUGE. HUGE. You need to do practice problems. Most importantly understand FREE BODY DIAGRAMS. Free body diagrams will help you derive equations. If you can draw the free body diagram you can get the equations.
I once had a physics professor tell me that the only equation you need is F = ma and they were right. Sum up the forces, figure out which ones are in opposition to each other, in other words, DRAW THE FREE BODY DIAGRAM.
Physics is a highly conceptual subject and if you can understand the problems and apply them you can do it. Just do a ton of practice problems
Physics 2: the worst class of undergrad for me
So maybe it’s because I took physics during corona but I HATED THIS CLASS. The math was easy, but the concepts OH MY GOSH. How to I see magnetic field lines I CANT SEE THEM. Anyways, I found for this class really knowing the right hand rules and how to apply them were CRUCIAL. Also Lenz’s Law was my best friend and really just feels like the idea that when you push on something it pushes back on you. Like, if you were to apply a magnetic field going into the page to a loop, since the loop wants to maintain it’s current magnetic field (kind of like steady state w cells) it’s going to “push” back (out of the page) with an opposing force.
Circuits were a ton of practice problems, I thought KA was really helpful for this part. Honestly, a lot of this class was just a ton of practice and then crying because I couldn’t see magnetic field lines lol. Physics 1 made a lot more sense to me because I could visualize everything happening (a ball falling off of a tower, a box being pushed.) but I can’t really visualize flux. If you can you are amazing.
So that’s it. That’s my advice and tips for your pre-req classes. Feel free to add additional information or maybe offer more advice, this was just my experience. I will add more strategies if you have them. Also please be easy on me as I just wrote this off the top of my head because I’m so bored right now. Overall, if you work hard, I really believe you can accomplish anything you want. Perseverance and resiliency have been the most important things for me during this process and I imagine that theme will carry over into the rest of my studies. Best of luck fellow premeds you can do this!!! “Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard”.