Organic Chemistry Help: How You Should Study

By Tyler Duniho on September 7, 2012

Photo courtesy of “Caroline Davis2010″ via

Organic Chemistry: the name alone strikes fear in students interested in taking the MCAT. No other class harbors the reputation for being difficult like Organic Chemistry. Take the movie 21 starring Kevin Spacey and Jim Sturgess, for example. Kevin Spacey’s character, a professor at MIT, asks Jim Sturgess’s character, a student in his class, what grade he made in his organic chemistry course. When Sturgess replies, “I made an A,” the room falls silent in respect.

Is the difficulty all hype? Yes and no. Like in many courses, the professors brag about the difficultly of their course to scare students into trying harder. On the other hand, this could be one of the harder classes you take in college.

Here are four tips to help you not only survive this class but also learn the material well enough so that you remember it when you take the MCAT (or chemistry GRE).

1. Don’t Memorize. The number one reason people find organic difficult is they try to memorize everything. This course is not about memorization. You can’t memorize hundreds of reactions, and you certainly can’t memorize Stereochemistry. Treat organic like a math course; work lots of problems and learn the process. Put the pencil to paper and draw out those mechanisms. Odds are there will be problems you’ve never seen on exams, so you’re much better off learning the processes.

2. Don’t Procrastinate. There’s a lot of information to learn in this course, and all of it builds on what comes before. If you get lost early, you’ll be lost later. Try studying a little bit each day, around thirty minutes or so, and avoid last minute cramming.

3. Okay, maybe memorize a little. “Wait,”you say. “You just said not to memorize.” Okay, there’s a little memorization. There are some reactions and reaction names that you’ll have to memorize, and you’ll have to memorize all nomenclature (how we name molecules). Again, don’t procrastinate.

4. Don’t Panic. Organic is hard, and it takes a lot of work to do well, but don’t panic. If you were at MIT or Harvard, then yes, you might want to panic a little, but I doubt the courses here at Clemson are as difficult as top tier schools

Plus, the organic professors here are great and helpful. If you ever get lost, go see them. That’s what they’re there for. And last, don’t forget this class is just a small part of your life. Don’t let it take over.

I have graduated with a major in chemistry. I also knows how to write well. That makes me a rare breed, indeed.

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