Kirsop Labs

Skills development for science students everywhere

Stably transitioning from 2nd to 3rd year

3rd year has a bit of a fierce reputation. If you’re heading into it and are looking for survival tips then read on.

Lab/Lecture Balance

3rd year consists of lots of labs and lots of lectures. It’s easy to get bogged down with lab work because there are so many errors to calculate and so many citations, refs and bibliographies to write. Try to work hard on the reports but not at the cost of studying your lecture material. Just because you don’t have weekly deadlines for studying doesn’t mean it should be ignored! You don’t want to reach exam time and realise you’re an expert at analysing IR spectra but have no clue what any of your lecture courses are about.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you’re struggling, don’t just sit in the library crying uncontrollably into the quantum theory chapters of Atkins’ Physical Chemistry. Go and see your lecturers. They’ll be more than happy to help and you’ll find that even though you felt like you knew nothing at all, clarification of one or two important things might make everything else a lot clearer.

If you’ve just had your tutorial for a course but you’re feeling lost, remember that you can seek more help. You might be more suited to somebody else’s style of teaching, and if that’s the case then your personal tutor or another lecturer might be able to run through the tutorial with you again.

Don’t Try to Run Before You Can Walk

If you find a topic is just going straight over your head, try going back to the basics. In 1st and 2nd year you might have struggled with a topic and thought ‘Oh well, once this exam is over I never have to think about it again’. You were sadly wrong. In 3rd year you’ll find that the topics you covered in 1st and 2nd year are the foundations on which you’ll be building your knowledge. I skimmed over some topics in 2nd year and when it got to 3rd year, I was more than a little confused. If you find this as well, go back to your earlier courses and make sure you understand what was taught then, before you move on to the 3rd year material.


If you haven’t already, you really should think about getting the following magical trio: Clayden’s Organic Chemistry, Shriver and Atkins’ Inorganic Chemistry and Atkins’ Physical Chemistry. You may be able to get cheap copies from EdExchange. But if you really don’t want to buy them, there are copies in the library that you can use. I cannot stress how useful these books have been to me. Although they look big and overwhelming, their chapters generally aren’t too long and they are all really easy to navigate.

Don’t just stick to these though. Most lecturers will give you a recommended reading list, and if they don’t, then just ask them for some suggestions. There’s no need to read every book they suggest, but pick one or two to have a look at to support your lecture notes.

A lot of lecturers will recommend a relevant Oxford Chemistry Primer. These are fantastic books as they are really concise. Most of the primers that you will need for third year are in the library, but there are only a couple of copies of each. When there around 100 people in your year, this means the books are often unavailable! You might want to buy a copy of one or several of them, which you can find on websites such as Amazon or AbeBooks.

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About Sarah Piggott

5th Year MChem student from Staffordshire, England.

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