For many college students, organic chemistry courses form a critical backbone of knowledge for use in future classes emphasizing biology and chemistry. Unfortunately, organic chemistry is also one of the most traditionally feared college subject areas of all time. However, this does not have to be the case; here are a few tips for maximizing your class experience and minimizing your stress levels.
1. Practice, practice, practice.
Organic chemistry is a lot like a sport in the sense that practice makes (almost) perfect; every successful athlete has to start somewhere and so does any serious organic chemistry student. Working through homework and textbook problems will give you the tools you need to complete the more complicated synthesis questions that are typically found in exams.
2. Pay attention in lab.
Laboratory experiments and activities provide real-life examples of the reaction mechanisms studied in lecture. Rather than mindlessly mixing chemicals and hoping for a passing grade, taking the time to understand the procedures that you are performing will go a long way in aiding your understanding of theoretical organic chemistry concepts.
3. Take colorful notes.
Nobody likes looking at bland notes. Adding a pop of color to your mechanisms, reaction schemes and syntheses will make your notes a lot more appealing to review when exam time draws near. Trust me, your future self will thank you for it.
4. Befriend your teaching assistant.
You are going to need their help sooner or later. It is helpful to establish a relationship with your teaching assistant early on in the academic term so that you will be comfortable with the idea of approaching them with any clarification questions that you may have. As an added bonus, your teaching assistant will be working directly with your professor and may be able to offer you additional study tips.
5. Understand key concepts and mechanisms.
Regurgitating chemical facts will not earn you a passing grade in organic chemistry. To excel in this area of study, it is necessary to have a thorough understanding of how reactions work: simply memorizing example reactions that your professor provides during lecture will not help you on the final exam if you will be asked to demonstrate your conceptual knowledge.
6. Work problems forwards and backward.
It is not enough to follow a chemical reaction to completion; you may also be asked to work backward, and derive a series of mechanisms that will bring you back to the material that you started with. For extra practice in this area, try reversing each of your assigned reaction mechanism questions. Hint: this often involves different reagents from the ones that you used in the forward reaction!
Organic chemistry has an infamous reputation for a reason: it is conceptually challenging. Remember, it is okay to ask for help if you are confused; there is a wealth of academic assistance available in the form of professors, teaching assistants and tutors, so do not be afraid to take advantage of these resources and get all of your questions answered. Good luck in your chemical endeavors!