Below are some of the most common questions that the Chemistry department receives from students regarding General Chemistry courses and choosing the right course.


Q: I am uncertain about which course I should be taking, how can I get some guidance?

A: There are a number of resources that you can use to help determine the right course for you:

  • Start by looking at your major’s requirements — if you are considering a number of majors, make sure to take a General Chemistry course that will work for all of the majors you are considering.
  • Read the brief descriptions of the courses and note the differences in expected levels of preparation.
  • If you are still uncertain about your choice in course, speak with an academic advisor from your department.
  • If after you have looked through all of these resources, taken the placement exam, and spoken with your advisor, you are still in doubt about what course you should be taking, you can send a detailed email to chemistry-advising@bu.edu to get more guidance. Make sure that your email includes your previous chemistry, math, and physics experience; your major or the majors that you are considering; your level of comfort with fundamental chemistry concepts; and your score on the placement exam.

Q: Do I need to take a placement exam for CH109 or CH111?

A: Yes.   Students considering CH109 or CH111 are required to take the placement exam before they register for either of these classes. The placement exam can be found here.

Q: I registered for CH109 or CH111 but I didn’t take the placement exam. Is that ok?

A: No. We require all students planning to take CH109 or CH111 to take the placement exam, regardless of their background preparation. Sometime early in July, anyone in CH109 and CH111 who has not taken the placement exam will be notified that they have 1 week to complete the required placement work.

Q: I took the CH109/CH111 placement exam and it recommends that I can take CH111. Can I choose to take CH109 instead?

A: Absolutely. The result of your placement (a CH111 recommendation) means that you are prepared to take CH111, but you are certainly welcome to take CH109 instead. Similarly, a placement result that suggests CH109 means that you are prepared for CH109 or CH101. To determine which course is best for your major, interests, and ambitions, please consult the course descriptions or speak with your academic advisor.

Q: I am a pre-medical student – what course should I be taking?

A: All three of the two-semester general chemistry sequences (CH101/102, CH109/110, and CH111/112) are acceptable for pre-health students. That said, we strongly recommend that all students discuss their course choices with their advisor (or pre-health advisor).

Q: The specific section that I want to take is full. Are there waiting lists for general chemistry courses?

A: The Chemistry department does not have waiting lists for its courses. That said, many of the courses do have overflow/holding sections (LX, BX, MX, and/or PX) to accommodate more students. For example, if you are trying to take CH109 but all of the labs that work with your schedule are full, then you could register for CH109 LX (the lab holding section); or, if you find that all of the CH101 pre-lab lectures are either full or conflict with your schedule, then you could register for CH101 PX. Before you register for one of these second, please note the following important information:

  • Signing up for one of the holding sections (LX, BX, MX, or PX) does not guarantee you a spot in a section of your choice. Rather, it signified a commitment on the part of the chemistry department to do its best to find you a spot in one of the sections that works with your schedule. While we would like to accommodate all students, space in sections is limited by room capacities and other factors.
  • It is always best to register for an open section (that still has seats in it) than to rely on overflow sections, since you will not necessarily be given options for what section you are placed into. Rather, your academic schedule will be used to assign you to a section that works for your schedule.
  • Make sure that at least one of the full sections would fit your schedule. If none of the sections of the course fit your schedule, then registering for the overflow section will not help you and you will not be able to take the course.
  • If all of the overflow sections are full, or the course that you are trying to register for does not have an overflow section (and is full), then please send an email to chemuaa@bu.edu with the details about what course your are trying to register for.

Q: I signed up for an overflow lab (CH101 MX, CH109 LX, or CH111 LX), discussion (BX), or pre-lab (PX) section. Can I choose when this section will meet?

A: These are not actual sections of the courses. Rather, they are overflow/holding sections that assist the Chemistry department in accommodating as many students as possible in their courses. Students in these sections will be assigned to another existing (but full) section during first week of classes (please do not email your instructor about getting assigned to a section before the first week of classes).

If you are registering for one of these sections, make sure that at least one of the full sections would fit your schedule. If none of the sections of the course fit your schedule, then registering for the overflow section will not help you and you will not be able to take the course.

Q: I took AP Chemistry in high school. Can I skip General Chemistry?

A: The short answer is: probably not. The long answer is: students with a score of 4 or 5 on AP Chemistry will receive credit for CH131 or CH171. If your major only requires one of these courses, and you are not considering pre-health, then you would not need to take General Chemistry. That said, most majors that require General Chemistry require students to complete two semesters of general chemistry (CH101/102, CH109/110, or CH111/112). To see what the minimum General Chemistry requirements are for your major, click here.

Q: I took AP Chemistry in high school. Which is the right General Chemistry course for me to take?

A: Doing well (4 or 5) on AP Chemistry might be a helpful indicator for choosing your General Chemistry course. In reality, it isn’t your AP score that is the most helpful in choosing the right course; rather, your level of recall and confidence with the material is the most important factor when choosing your General Chemistry course. CH101 assumes little previous chemistry experience, so it is appropriate for students who are not confident that they can apply the skills from AP Chemistry. Both CH109 and CH111 assume that students have completed at least one year of high school chemistry and have confidence in their ability to apply those chemistry skills. If you are confident in your proficiency with the fundamentals of chemistry and are considering CH109 (or CH111), take the placement exam to see if CH109 (or CH111) is right for you.

Q: I didn’t take Chemistry is high school, but a really want to be a chemistry or biochemistry (BMB) major. What course should I take?

A: The minimum General Chemistry requirement for BMB or Chemistry majors is CH109/110, but these courses do assume comfort and confidence in applying basic skills from high school chemistry. Students who want to major in chemistry or BMB, and who did not take chemistry in high school (or do not remember their high school chemistry), can take the alternative sequence: CH101 + CH102 + CH201 (Quantitative Analysis Lab). Speak with an advisor from your department before registering if you believe that this is the right course sequence for you.

Q: I took Chemistry is high school, but I really don’t feel confident that I remember the material. What course should I take if I want to be a chemistry or biochemistry (BMB) major?

A: The minimum General Chemistry requirement for BMB or Chemistry majors is CH109/110, but these courses do assume comfort and confidence in applying basic skills from high school chemistry. Students who want to major in chemistry or BMB, and who do not remember their high school chemistry, can take the alternative sequence: CH101 + CH102 + CH201 (Quantitative Analysis Lab). Speak with an advisor from your department before registering if you believe that this is the right course sequence for you.

Q: I took “college-equivalent” general chemistry at my high school (taught at the high school). Do I need to take General Chemistry?

A: In our experience, high school courses (even those listed as college-equivalent and taught at a high-level of rigor) cannot replace college-level first-year chemistry, and students who skip this find themselves at a disadvantage later on (especially in the laboratory). For these students who will need to take other chemistry at BU (Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, etc.), we recommend taking either CH109 or CH111.

Q: I took general chemistry at a college while I was in high school (taught at the college). Do I need to take General Chemistry?

A: If you took chemistry at a local college, then it may transfer in to BU. Depending on the rigor of the course, it may count as your first semester of chemistry. To see if it will count, send your course syllabus, lab syllabus and transfer credit equivalency form to chemeval@bu.edu. Please note: if you are a BMB or Chemistry major, then the courses will not count for your major requirements; as such, we highly recommended that you take general chemistry at Boston University (CH111 or CH109) to prepare you for future coursework down the road.

Q: I’m majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (BMB), Chemistry, or Chemistry:Biochemistry, and I’m concerned that I don’t have a strong enough background to start in CH109. What should I do?

A: There is a third option for students to complete the chemistry major: CH101, CH102, and CH201. This is not the preferred pathway, and we highly recommend that Chemistry or BMB majors start at least in CH109. The course faculty for CH109 are available in office hours to help all dedicated students work to learn the material. Additionally, there are resources available to help you prepare over the summer.

All of that being said, if you have not taken any chemistry in high school, or do not remember the chemistry you studied before, then you should begin in CH101.

Q: Can I take CH101 (General Chemistry 1) in the fall and CH110 (Advanced General Chemistry 2) in the spring?

A: No. Students are not permitted to move between the course sequences. As such, students who start in CH101 will need to continue to CH102, students who start in CH109 will need to continue to CH110, and students who start in CH111 will need to continue to CH112.

Q: I plan to take CH109 or CH111 in the fall, but I need to review some topics. What are good resources for reviewing this material?

A:The following are good resources that you can use for reviewing the pre-requisite material for CH109 or CH111:

  • Students who will take CH109 are encouraged to purchase the textbook that they will use during the school year: Atkins, et. al., Chemical Principles (7th edition), ISBN-13: 978-1464183959. The first section of the book (“Fundamentals”) has all of the material that is necessary for doing the review work that you will need for CH109.
  • If you will take CH109 and you would prefer to wait before buying your textbooks, or you plan to take CH111 in the fall (which does not use the Atkins textbook), a good alternative is to buy a used copy of an earlier edition of Chemical Principles (Atkins). All of the previous editions (starting with the fourth edition) have the same “Fundamentals” section, and used copies of these editions can be found on Amazon or similar sites for as little as $5.
  • While the Atkins text is our primary recommendation for review resources, there are also free online textbooks that you can use. One such resource is the Chemistry OpenStax book. In this book, the Chapters 1-4 and 7 cover the material that should be reviewed prior to CH109 or CH111.

Q: What happens if I realize quickly that I signed up for the wrong general chemistry course?

A: Students are allowed to “add” new courses during the first week of classes at Boston University. As a result, if you realize in that time that you are signed up for the wrong class, then you can switch to the correct course. After the “add” period closes, you can still drop courses, but you will not be able to add another course. Important note: it is highly preferable that you do your best to register for the right class and not rely on switching during that first week. Students who miss the first week a class can find it difficult to catch up. We recommend using the resources on this site to help you to try to figure out the best class for you so that you won’t have to switch.

Q: How large are the General Chemistry classes?

A: That depends on the course and course component. CH101 generally has around 800 students in the fall semester, CH109 has around 160 students, and CH111 will have between 60 and 80 students. All of the courses have a lecture, pre-lab, lab, and discussion section. The labs and discussion sections are generally kept to below 20 students.

Q: What is ALEKS?

A: The Chemistry department used to use ALEKS for summer placement work. Starting in summer 2019, this has been replaced with an online placement exam. Students considering CH109 or CH111 are required to take the placement exam before they register for either of these classes. The placement exam can be found here.

Q: I have a question about the materials (textbooks, etc.) that I need for my courses.  Where do I get information about these materials?

A: Faculty will provide a list of books and materials to the BU bookstore during the month of August.  Once the list has been submitted, visit the bookstore website to see what materials are needed for each of your courses.  Some faculty will email their classes before the semester begins with further information and post the material on their course websites.

Q: Textbooks are very expensive – do I need to buy the textbooks for my courses (CH101, CH109, or CH111)?

A: All questions that are course-specific should be directed to the faculty teaching those courses.  That said, all course materials are required for these courses.


Still searching for answers? For general advising questions or about what courses you should be taking, please re-read the pages on this site, and then send email to chemuaa@bu.edu.  Send course-specific questions to your course instructor.