Grams per Mole, And Other Things I’ve Learned

Allison here, your future chemist.

Every Friday in chemistry, my professor gives the class a quiz. The questions are often much more complicated than anything we’ve covered in class and most students walk away with discouragingly low grades. We complain collectively at the torture of Friday quizzes, fifteen evil questions standing between us and a promising Friday afternoon. I have taken to frantically studying on Thursday nights, trying to make sense of the messy handwritten notes we receive each week in lieu of a power point presentation or even references to chapters in our seemingly helpful textbook. (Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be capable of knowing how helpful the textbook actually is, as I haven’t be assigned any reading from it, nor do any of our chemistry lessons correspond to sections in the book. But it does seem like it’s glossy pages and colored diagrams could be of assistance.) So ultimately, I am on my own to make sense of what little I can. I cram as many equations into my frazzled mind as I can handle but, quite simply, the quizzes are always harder than anything I’m prepared to take.

Two weeks ago, I begrudgingly made my way to Friday’s chemistry class, knowing a quiz that I couldn’t possibly score an A on awaited me. However, as I made my way through each question, I found that I knew many of the answers. I left class pleasantly surprised at how well I felt I had done; I let myself feel a moment of joy, believing that my hard studying might finally be paying off. The next Monday I strode into class, searching for my name on one of the quiz papers that the professor had laid out on a desk. I pulled mine from the pile, the gleam of an A written in red pen across the top of my paper already forming in my mind. But a B was the only thing staring back at me.

I frantically scanned through the questions. How could I have gotten anything wrong? The first question was marked with red pen. I was startled. It was by far the easiest question on the quiz. The red pen, however, was not marked through my own writing, but the typed question on the page. The professor had written the units for a given number incorrectly in the question. The pen marked the units incorrect, striking a red line through his own mistake. My work was counted incorrect because I, too, had used those units.

I was indignant. I had done all the work correctly, I had simply copied the mistake the professor had printed.

I looked to the girl next to me, asking her if she had gotten the question wrong as well. She also has a red mark struck through the question itself, but the professor hadn’t take off points. I laugh and show her my paper; she shakes her head in frustration. Another day in chemistry. I approach my professor after class, expecting a reasonable answer for this absurdity. Surely randomly marking some of the students incorrect for his own work doesn’t make for a fair grading system.

He put a shaky hand on my shoulder and told me he expected that I would know the correct units for molar mass, even when it wasn’t written correctly on the test. I do not tell him that I, in fact, also expected him to know the correct units for molar mass, considering his PhD in chemistry and some fifty years of teaching experience. But instead I smile. Of course.

And he’s right, I do know the correct units for molar mass. And I suppose next time, I’ll write down the correct units, even when my test paper is littered with typos, and even when my professor tells me the units include Joules instead of moles.

College has been difficult, filled with challenging essays assigned with vague prompts and math problems that force me to take the 80th derivative of some obscure equation. I know, regardless of how difficult my assignments become or how impossible my workload seems, I can give my all and will continue to find success. But, of course, I will always have the absurdities of chemistry professors and their interesting grading choices to keep me humble.