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Registration Guide for First Year Students: Class of 2025

First year students enjoying gravimetric analysis lab.

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Swarthmore College

Studying Chemistry and Biochemistry at Swarthmore: Frequently Asked Questions

Registration Guide for First Year Students: Class of 2025

Many first-year students have questions regarding the general chemistry curriculum at Swarthmore. This guide is designed to make sure that students have the proper information before attempting to register for Chem10 or Chem10HN.

         General Information for Incoming Students:

  • The Chemistry & Biochemistry Department does not grant any credit for AP or IB exam scores.
  • AP or IB exam scores alone do not grant entrance into Chem10HN. Students must take the Honors Placement Exam if they wish to enroll in this course.
  • Chem10HN is only available to freshman and sophomore students. The Honors Placement Exam needs to be taken only once, no matter which year you wish to take the course.

The Chemistry Department has two exams available to incoming students on Moodle.  These exams should be taken before arrival for orientation.  Both exams can be taken as late as  3:00 pm on Wednesday, August 18, 2021.  Students who miss this deadline should contact Professor Tom Stephenson (  

Chemistry Readiness Exam:

What is it?

The Readiness Exam is a way for the Chemistry & Biochemistry Department to assess the current level of preparedness for all incoming students interested in taking Chem10 during their time at Swarthmore.

What is it not?

It is NOT a placement exam. Performance on the exam does not “gate” a student’s entrance into Chem 10 (i.e. poor performance will not prevent a student from enrolling in Chem10). The results of the exam are used for advising purposes only.

Who needs to take it?

All students interested in taking Chem10 at any point in their time at Swarthmore need to take the exam. The exam is required for any student interested in majoring in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, or Neuroscience, or who is looking at any pre-medical professional preparation (pre-med, pre-vet, pre-dental, etc.).  Students interested in Engineering and Environmental Studies are also highly encouraged to take the exam, since these students may elect to enroll in Chem10 at some point.

The only students who do not have to take the Readiness Exam prior to taking Chem10 are those who have scored a 5 on the AP Chemistry Exam or a 6 or higher on the IB Advanced (Higher Level) Chemistry Exam.

Chemistry Honors Placement Exam:

What is it?

The Honors Placement Exam is used to determine eligibility for Chem10HN. Entrance into Chem10HN is competitive and this exam is the sole method for gaining entrance into the course. Students with the highest scores on the exam will be invited to enroll in Chem10HN.

Who can take it?

The exam is open to all students scoring a 5 on the AP Chemistry Exam, a 6 or higher on the IB Advanced (Higher Level) Chemistry Exam, or who score highly on the Readiness Exam.

Who should take it?

Any student who meets the above requirements and is interested in possibly taking Chem10HN needs to take the exam. The course is designed for students with an extensive (at least two years) background in high school chemistry and who are interested in exploring the subject in greater depth and with more mathematical rigor.

Taking the Honors Placement Exam does not commit you to taking the course, but it is the only way to be invited to take the course.

Exam Results

Readiness Exam: Each student receives their result from the Readiness Exam upon completion. The student will fall into one of three categories: (1) Student has a strong background and is eligible to take the Chem10HN Placement Exam; (2) Student has an adequate background; or (3) Student may need extra support. If a student falls into the third category, their advisor will receive an email from the Readiness Exam administrator (Tom Stephenson) with an explanation and suggestions for advising.

Honors Placement Exam: Students who are eligible to take Chem10HN are notified by email prior to registration by the course instructor (Stephen Miller).

   If you have questions about the exams or courses, please contact Tom Stephenson (  

Registering for Chem10/10HN and Chem10 Lab

Please Note:

We anticipate high enrollment in Chem 10/10HN and the Chem 10 Lab in Fall 2021.  We may run a lottery on Friday afternoon following registration.  All registrations are subject to lottery.

Some students may find themselves unable to register for one of the courses or the lab on August 27 due to enrollment caps.  If you are unable to register and would like to be added to the waitlist, email Professor Stephenson (, including three possible choices of lab section.

Chem10 and Chem10HN both require enrollment in a section of Chem10 laboratory. The lab curriculum for Chem10 and Chem10HN is identical, so any student can register for any laboratory section. Six laboratory sections are available to students, with labs held every weekday afternoon (1:00 to 4:30 pm) and Thursday morning (8:00 to 11:15 am).

The following are some common questions from students about the Chem10 laboratory:

How do I choose a lab section?

A student must register for a lab section when registering for a Chem10/10HN lecture. Labs are capped at 24 students and are filled on a first come, first served basis. This means that popular sections might fill up. Students should not rely heavily on securing a spot in one specific laboratory section when planning their schedules.

I have a class at 11:20 am on Tuesday and Thursday. Can I still take a morning lab?

Morning labs are scheduled until 11:15 am. If a student has a class at 11:20 am, they should let their laboratory instructor know. We will work with that student to make sure that they get out of lab in time each week to make it to their next class.

The morning labs start at 8 am. That upsets me. Why should I still take a morning lab?

Historically, most students who take the morning labs end up preferring that time for future lab sections when it is available. The labs tend to be smaller, which means less waiting for equipment and more personalized attention from instructors and teaching assistants, so the lab experiments take less time. Also, taking a morning lab by definition frees up an afternoon for the student who can then use it for other activities or just for some free time.

The only labs that work for my schedule are full. What do I do?

If a student cannot get a lab section they want, but are very interested in taking Chem10/10HN this semester, they should sign up for a different lab and contact their lecture instructor immediately about the issue. We will work with the student on finding a way to fit Chem10 into their schedule.

Once the student has contacted their instructor, they will be added to wait lists for all laboratories that fit their schedule. These wait lists are filled on a first come, first served basis. For the first week of labs we can accommodate the student with another time slot (students must attend lab the first week of classes). We typically do have a few spots open up in the first week due to drops or schedule changes.

I really, really, really need to take Chem10 this semester, and the only lab that fits my schedule is full. Can you just make an exception this once?

Chem10 labs are capped at 24 students for safety reasons. This is a hard rule and there are no exceptions. Unfortunately, due to finite resources and widely varying demand for Chem10/10HN, we cannot guarantee that all students will be able to find a lab section that fits their schedule.

If you have further questions, please, check the following FAQ document:

Studying Chemistry and Biochemistry at Swarthmore: Frequently Asked Questions