Frequently Asked Questions, FAQs

  ChemIst Fun   Cruising The Educational Highway

Students frequently say, "I did not want to ask a stupid question". There is no such thing as a stupid question. If something is bothering you, you should eliminate it by asking a question about it and get on to other things. The only stupidity is in NOT asking the question and letting some possibly small point interfere with your study and learning. The following questions are not stupid, but are frequently asked. To save time, they are answered here.

 1. Do I have to take notes?  Little Winston 

Consider the possibilities:

a) You have a photographic memory and have total recall of anything you see; then, there is no need to take notes.

b) What I do in class is done to dazzle and impress you and is not designed in any way to contribute to your understanding of the material; then, sit back, relax, be dazzled and impressed, but don't bother to take notes.

c) The premises of 'a' and 'b' are false; then, take careful, detailed notes that allow you to reconstruct and study what you have been shown in class.

2. Are you going to collect the homework?  Worried Reggie

The purpose of doing homework is to achieve mastery of the subject. Exams are used to demonstrate mastery.

A students may say "I knew that material, but your exam just didn't demonstrate my understanding". Here, the student is confusing familiarity with mastery. You may understand how a bicycle works without being able to ride it. Mastery requires that you are able to use it to get somewhere. Mastery requires the practice which homework provides to the learning process.

You will most likely NOT do chemistry homework problems after you successfully complete this course. A knowledge of chemistry is often required for an understanding of those aspects of your chosen field which depend upon chemistry. Mastery is required to be able to carry this knowledge to another discipline.

I do not need to see your practice work. It will be obvious from your performance on exams whether or not you practice. If you have some difficulty with your practice, I will be happy to look at the problem and help you with it.

3. Since you are not collecting the homework and I am very, very busy,
    can I learn what I need to know the night before the exam?

No! Learning Chemistry is a very   Big  Job which cannot be done the night before the exam. The material builds upon itself and you need to time to tackle this big job a little at a time. You need time to absorb and understand each small section before tackling the next section. There is no way you can handle this large job in a short period of time. Weeks are built into the schedule between exams because this time is required to build each section before learning the next.

4. I don't think you understand how very, very busy I am.

I have a great deal to do, I am very bright, I have a great deal of self-esteem, and I've always been able to cram enough material to do well on exams. What will happen if   I   cram the material as I have always done?

  Passing Out of the Course

5. I was not in class. Presumptuous Mike Did you do anything important?

Yes! Let us examine this question from my perspective. There is a limited amount of class time, and I try to use this time as effectively as possible. If I don't consider something important, I do not spend class time on it. Even if I am wrong about its relative importance, I consider all class material to be important. Absence from class as well as coming late and leaving early are detrimental to your success in the course.


6. In class, is it rude to:

a) come late

b) leave early

c) leave my cell phone on

d) go out for a drink, walk, etc. (emergency trips to the lavatory are acceptable)

d) talk

f) pass notes

g) sleep

h) do physics homework

i) be generally inattentive  Inattentive Mike

Yes! The above items are unacceptable behavior for a college student. Beside being rude, you may miss something important or you may cause another student to miss something important. It is not a good use of valuable class time. (See FAQ 3.)

7. Is this going to be on the exam?

Let us understand the basic rules of the game. It is my job to coerce you into studying all the material I think is important. (This is related to FAQ 3.) If I don't consider a topic important, then I don't waste our limited time on it. Therefore anything I spend time on I consider important. It is also my task to determine whether you have learned the material. I do this by giving exams in which I ask a representative set of questions. (I don't have time to ask every possible question.) If you have learned all the important material, you should be able to answer the representative questions. If  I tell you in advance which questions are on the exam, it

a) spoils the surprise (akin to spoiling Xmas) Jake with a spoiled Xmas

b) tempts you to study only the material on the exam. (As hard as it is to believe, given the opportunity, some less motivated individuals will actually do this.)

c) effectively decreases the content of the course.

This amounts to robbing you of the full content of the course for which you paid. I would never do this. To see that you get your (and the taxpayers') money's worth, I will not disclose the detailed contents of any exam. To do so would cheat you of the full measure of your tuition.

8. Why do I have to learn this?  Overworked Winston   It's so hard and I am NOT a chemistry major!

Just as one swallow does not make a spring, one chemistry course does not make a chemistry major. Further, we might recall the words of Sakini, the interpreter, in the play "Tea House of the August Moon":

"Pain make man think,

Thought make man wise,

And wisdom make life endurable."

I am trying to help prepare you for an endurable life! You are on the path to wisdom.

9. Expectant Jake Can we have an open book exam?

(For background, see FAQ 5.) Let us try to understand your request for an open book test. You would like me to ask questions, the answers to which you can copy from the book and submit as your demonstration of learning the material. You effectively want me to evaluate the author's knowledge of the subject and give you his credit. By such reasoning, any Xerox machine should receive an A for the course. Further, this again robs you of the full measure of the course for which you and the taxpayers have paid.

10.    Can I do a project for extra credit?  Machiavellian Mike  

Let us understand the situation which frequently prompts this question. Your grades are something less than you would like. This reflects that you are having difficulty with the work already assigned, or haven't done it sufficiently to perform well on exams. You are now asking for still more work to do to get "extra credit" when you haven't gotten the basic credit already provided.

Further implied in the question is that you want me to give you some perfunctory task so that you can get points that others do not get and thereby better your class standing to the detriment of others. This would be unfair to the others.

I cannot in good conscience make a special arrangement with you to the exclusion of others. I try to incorporate as many credit bearing exercises as possible to give every student ample opportunity of demonstrating to me that the course goals have been met, and that all the material of this course has been learned. To do otherwise would be unfair to your fellow students.

11. Why are your questions different from Professor X ?

Neither Professor X nor I are clones of each other. Additionally, at different times, some of my questions are different from other of my questions.

12. Do you accept assignments which are late ?  It's Too Late!  

No, but I happily accept assignments which are early.   There often comes a time in life when "late" just will not suffice.  In as much as education is a preparation for life after college, late assignments will not be accepted.  


13.  Nick Why are you so unreasonable?

Just am.

14.  Do you flunk anyone?     Care-Worn Winston

No! I do not take credit for the good grades you earn through your hard work and study. Neither do I take responsibility for your failure to do so. Where grades are concerned, I am the bookkeeper in the course, monitoring your progress or lack thereof. As an adult college student, you have the freedom to make the adult decision to study or not to study and to live with the consequences of your adult decision.

15.   If a significant percentage of the class fails or withdraws, will this not concern you?

Meditative Mike

The short answer is yes. As an instructor who puts considerable effort into producing class materials, strategies and exercises for students, and trying to help students be successful, it is most frustrating when a larger percentage of students do not put forth the effort to become successful.

As a parent, taxpayer, and citizen of this country, I am bothered when a greater percentage of students do not take advantage of the opportunities provided in large part by taxpayers. When students miss class, do not use class time effectively or do not study outside of class, I am concerned for the missed opportunities and the wasted time and resources.

This course has clearly defined goals. I cannot in good conscience lower those standards to accommodate those who do not meet those goals. Students may have been passed along in high school regardless of their effort, but in this college course, students succeed only on their merit and achievement, not on the percentage of those who do not achieve. I cannot pass the unprepared and perpetuate this lack of performance.

Those who are successful in this course go on and are successful in the next course. Student success in the next course is the ultimate evaluation of this course.

16.   Since I'm repeating this course, I already know this material and don't really have to attend all lectures, attend all labs, do all the homework, etc.

Einstein's Thoughts

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over
and expecting a different result.
Albert Einstein.

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