By James Ashenhurst
Interview: How Jay Got an A+ In Organic Chemistry
Last updated: April 15th, 2019
“Jay” (not his real name) wrote the other day with this note.
I just finished up Organic II. I wanted to thank you for creating this great resource, it’s helped me immensely not only to have a better grasp and understanding of organic chemistry, but it’s also helped to foster a passionate interest in the material. I didn’t discover your site until after I finished Organic I, in which I scraped by with a B+. After perusing this site and using it as a study aid for Orgo II, I can proudly say that I proceeded to finish out Organic II with the highest exam scores in my class and an A+ in the course overall. Keep up the good work!
I’m insanely curious about hearing about how students study for organic chemistry, so he was kind enough to answer a few more questions.
MOC: What’s the reputation of the course at your school?
Jay: Before taking the course, I had talked to several other students who warned me that organic chemistry was “the hardest class they had ever taken” or that it was “hell”. I saw this as more of a challenge and dove in headfirst from the start. Both organic professors at my school have reputations of giving extremely difficult exams, but I found that if you could breeze through the worksheets, the exams were fine.
What was your study strategy for organic chemistry?
Jay: My instructor recommended that I study in a group, but when I did I found that I was doing more teaching than learning since I had been keeping up on the reading. This leads to one aspect of my general strategy: keep up with the assigned reading, even get ahead if you can. Reading ahead in the chapter in preparation for lecture was really helpful. In the periods of time between each exam (2-3 weeks), I would generally go through each chapter on my own around 3 times. The first time would be a relatively superficial run-through, the second time I would go through and do the chapter problems, and the third time I would go through and do reaction mechanisms. For an overall study strategy, I would summarize it this way: Read ahead, compile sheets of reactions and their mechanisms, focus on pattern recognition over blind memorization, and try to get interested in the subject material. Organic chemistry ended up being really interesting for me and I enjoyed reading the chapters and learning reactions because I found it was so applicable to so many things in the world!
How much homework/problems was assigned by your instructor?
The course load was pretty intense, but I was expecting it. We were expected to do all the problems in the assigned chapter every week (~100 problems), and we were given reaction sheets to keep up on. Each reaction sheet was either “Reaction of (functional group)” or “Synthesis of (functional group)”. On the sheet was drawn general reactions, reaction names, specific examples of the reaction including all reactants and products, mechanism of the reaction, and side-notes or comments. I have a pretty thick stack of reaction sheets now, since there are two for every functional group. Completing reaction sheets fully and on time was key for me, and was probably one reason why I enjoyed and excelled at retrosynthesis, “predict-the-product”, and “roadmap” problems so much. Along with the reaction sheets, we were given a 2-3 page problem set for each chapter.
How much time would you estimate you spent on the class every week?
Jay: I would estimate that I spent around 15-20 hours per week on organic chemistry (including reading, homework problems, worksheets, pre-labs, and lab reports).
What was the rest of your course load like?
Jay: As far as other courses go, I was taking Calc II and a statistics course for biology majors at the same time at Orgo I, this was pretty intense for me. I was fulfilling some educational requirements at the same time as Orgo II, including creative writing, introductory philosophy, and a 300-level german course. Overall I would say the second term was moderately intense.
Would you consider yourself to have a good memory?
Jay: I would consider myself to have a really good memory, I aced anatomy and attribute this to my memory. Organic chemistry for me was more pattern-recognition than memory, although a combination of both were helpful.
How much of your exams were multiple choice?
Jay: None of the exams given had any multiple choice questions.
What’s your major? Are you planning on applying for professional schools?
Jay: I’m a biology major with a focus on molecular biology and biochemistry. I considered medical school but I’ve decided that I want to pursue doctorate research instead. I feel that I’m too passionate about science and discovering new things to be satisfied with an M.D.
Thank you so much for your time. Any final words of advice for students preparing to take organic chemistry?
Jay: Try to get interested in the material! The more interested in and passionate about organic chemistry that you can get, the better you’ll do in the course. Studying becomes less of a burden when it’s something you find interesting.
Want to help future students of organic chemistry learn from your experiences, good or bad? I’d love to interview you! Confidentiality guaranteed. Write me at james at masterorganicchemistry.com or use the feedback button above.