How To Study for Organic Chemistry Exams
Organic chemistry is often the hardest part of any undergraduate chemistry course sequence. The course is generally offered in two parts, Organic I and Organic II, with at least one lab portion. The course is significantly different than other chemistry courses and any other class in an undergraduate’s career. The uniqueness of organic chemistry courses can make it especially challenging for students to study for their exams. These tips aim to help guide students to reflect on how they study for a class that requires a different studying pattern.
1. Pay attention to the details. Organic chemistry relies on a significant amount of details that have massive effects on the outcome of the problem. In other words, small changes in the beginning of a problem have lasting impacts on the end result. Additionally, the first organic chemistry course covers a massive amount of theoretical information that sets a solid foundation for the material to come. Learning this material early and efficiently will help ease students into deciphering the outcome of a specific reaction problem.
2. Make reaction pages. Reaction pages should state the name of the reaction, the mechanism type, functional groups associated with the reactants or products, the overall reaction, and the full mechanism with electron-dot pushing. In order to maximize the usefulness for these pages, the mechanism and overall reaction should only include generalized functional group types. After making the reaction pages, ask your professor to go over them with you for any corrections. The last thing any student wants to do is study and memorize the improper mechanism.
3. Practice makes perfect. Organic chemistry requires a huge time commitment for studying. This type of chemistry is not solely theoretical or tangible. Essentially, the course requires students to have a working knowledge base that they are able to apply to a wide range of problems. They only way to prepare is to practice. Students will not be able to simply memorize how one reaction works. Often, organic exams require students to combine more than one mechanism or reaction type. Most likely, this combination will not have been seen before by the student or gone over in lecture by the professor. One easy way to prepare is to repeatedly practice recreating reaction pages from memory. In the end, students will have learned the basic knowledge needed to complete any problem given to them. The only thing that needs to be thought about during the exam is how to apply the reaction pages.
4. Map out all the possible choices. One of the easiest ways to prepare for the exam is to create a chart of all the possible products from a specific reaction mechanism that was taught in class. Using this method, students are able to get a glance at possible questions on the exam. Mapping out the possible choices gives students another opportunity to think about the material, perhaps in a different manner. Essentially, students will be ahead of the game when it comes to the exam because they are taking their knowledge to a new level before and not during the exam.
5. Focus on problem solving practice. Use the maps that were prepared to set up problem solving practice for yourself. Find a product that took three or more reactions to get too and attempt to work backwards to find the original reactant. This type of problem will almost certainly show up on your exam in some form.
6. Utilize office hours and the professor. The last tip is something that should be a given for many students. Office hours and the professor are there solely to help you. However, with organic chemistry, it helps to get the information in more than one form. The more preparation and sources of help you seek out will greatly raise your grade. Perhaps you can use this time to get the professor to look over your reaction pages or help you figure out a particular product based on a specific reactant’s functional group.
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