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How to Get An A In Organic Chemistry

When I ask my students what their goal for the course is, the most common answer is this: “To get an A”. I don’t know how to guarantee getting a certain letter grade, but I certainly think there are habits which successful students have in common.

So a few weeks ago I asked several students of mine who were particularly successful in their organic chemistry class (read: got A’s) two questions.

1. What was your study strategy for organic chemistry?

2. What advice would you give to students taking the course for the first time?

Here’s what they had to say.

“My Study Strategy for Organic Chemistry”:

  1. Learn concepts
  2. Practice and Identify weaknesses
  3. Practice Weaknesses
  4. As the test nears, practice strengths. If I continued to try to identify weaknesses right before the test, I would get psyched out. Practice STRENGTHS right before the test. This will build CONFIDENCE.
  5. Roll with the Punches: This class is tough and there were concepts that proved to be more challenging than others. But don’t give up. You never know where the chips will fall.”

“Advice I’d Give Students Taking Organic”

  • Grant: “In the first semester, I had to push myself to understand the concepts—memorizing powerpoint slides will not be helpful.In the second semester, index cards played a huge role for me. I would buy large index cards and write in dark sharpie the reactant and reacting agent.  The product would be on the opposite side (C for Carbon, etc). A teacher may like to test instead on the reacting agents, so in this case, write the reactant and product, and have the reacting agent on the opposite side of the index card. The ultimate way to succeed in the second semester is to understand the logic behind the reactions, but given the fast pace of my summer class, memorization of the reactions served me well.”
  • Matt: “If i was to give any advice to students it would be to put in an at least an hour of chemistry every day no matter what. You’re going to get discouraged but keep your mind on your end goal and keep on working. Hard work is the cure to the organic epidemic haha.”
  • Tiffany: For a student taking ochem for the first time, I would advise them to do lots and lots of practice problems. I realized that the more sets I did, the more comfortable I was during test time… .because after all, there’s only so many types of ochem questions that the prof can ask.
  • Some advice to first time organic 2 students would be: go home after every lecture abd learn the material presented. This will help  you from getting behind and cramming for exams. Look at the material everyday because eventually you will be able to understand it. The last bit of advice if to not get discouraged if you dont do well on your first exam, learn from it and know your  weaknesses for your next one!
I didn’t have any particular agenda in asking this other than that I was genuinely curious what the study strategies of successful students are. Notice how nobody said, “oh, I just breezed through it”: these students worked their butts off. If you’ve read, “How to do well on organic chemistry: collected advice” you’ll see a lot of common threads here.
  1. Do lots of practice problems
  2. Don’t fall behind
  3. Write things out (such as reactions and mechanisms)
  4. Talk it over with others to solidify concepts.
There’s also the taboo subject of memorization. Some students rely on it. I think its usefulness ultimately depends on how the tests are written. Students will develop strategies adapted to how they expect to be tested. For what it’s worth, getting organic chemistry instructors (myself included) and students to have a frank conversation about memorization is not easy. Instructors will tell you not to memorize, even though they know you’ll probably do it anyway. And if you do do it, they probably don’t want to hear about it, and if something bad happens, well – you were warned.






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