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How Tyrell Got The Highest Grade In Her Organic Chemistry Course

Reader  “Tyrell” (not her real name) kindly wrote the other week with her story of how she got the highest mark in her organic chemistry course. She had five key suggestions. Here they are:

How I Got The Highest Mark In My Organic Chemistry Course, by Tyrell:

  1. Immediate review. I would review the material covered in class immediately after the lecture, if possible. Definitely within 24 hours. This method is scientifically proven to be effective and made studying for midterms/exams exponentially easier, since recalling concepts felt very familiar, and nearly nostalgic. My review involved reading my in-class notes, the corresponding book sections, and then combining them to synthesize new “master” notes. Then, I would complete the in-chapter exercises as well as the suggested problems. This method also helped remember the nitty-gritty facts mentioned by my professor in lecture.
  2. Use multiple textbooks. Sometimes the key to understanding a concept is just in the phrasing. Every author explains slightly differently, so I would read chapters in several textbooks in order to grasp tricky concepts firmly. It helped me develop a unique/personal understanding of the concept (rather than merely memorizing and regurgitating). The extra practice problems are a super bonus. Regarding this tip, the Internet is your friend! ;)Note: I’m a fan of Klein (favourite by far), Solomons, Bruice, and McMurry. Carey, my assigned textbook, was *O.K.*, but was definitely not clear enough when explaining certain topics (prevented me from receiving 100 on my second midterm) :(
  3. Make mechanism and reaction sheets. This tip can be found in every Organic study guide because it is truly effective. The abundance of material in Organic Chemistry can sometimes hinder the points that are more important than others. Thus, it is essential to keep a sheet filled with every mechanism and reaction covered. I organized mine by reactions of alkanes, alkenes, allyls, dienes, alkynes, and arenes. I further categorized them into substitution, elimination, addition, radical, etc.To further this tip, I would also make brief (bullet point style) “cheat sheets” on the theory of each chapter.
  4. Personify the substrates/reagents. This made learning mechanisms infinitely easier, and solving syntheses even more so. I once heard a professor refer to mechanisms as simply being “electron psychology”. I found this fascinating, and began applying the concept to each step of a mechanism. I would create basic personalities for the substrates and reagents based on their electron psychology, and proceed to engagingly re-enact the “plot”. Each mechanism became a different story to tell.For example, the substrate in Sn2 is a “socially awkward penguin”. He’s shy, hates crowds, and becomes introverted (inverted) when introduced to a new person (nucleophile). The rowdy nucleophile recognizes the substrate’s submissive nature, and thus takes advantage by performing an unexpected backside attack while at the same time the attached halide  leaves and takes both electrons (substrate is a pushover).
  5. Practice problems > everything else. Enough said. There’s no other efficient way to study. If possible, also do as many practice tests/finals as you can find.
Many thanks to Tyrell for writing in.  Want to share your story of organic chemistry success (or instructive failure!)? Students listen to advice from other students much more than they do from Ph.D.’s like me. Write me at or use the feedback button above. 

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