9 steps to getting an A in organic chemistry

Organic chemistry often serves as one of the most difficult challenges during coursework. Many students see it as the chief barrier between them and graduation.

It’s no secret that organic chemistry requires a specific approach for success. One of the things that makes organic chemistry so hard is that the approach needed for success does not always come naturally to students.

For that reason, we have put together nine tips on how to study organic chemistry and succeed in class.

Why Is Organic Chemistry So Hard?

Organic chemistry differs from most other subjects, even in science. Most other classes require that you memorize facts, make analysis based on observation, or take another traditional approach.

The difference in organic chemistry, as some students have described, lies in the fact that the subject best resembles a puzzle. Even more challenging, the puzzle has special rules that you have to apply to succeed. It relies on mastering facts and processes that enable you to solve problems.

Organic chemistry incorporates a range of concepts and processes as well. Much of the class involves trying to learn them, then using what you retained to solve real problems. It focuses on mechanisms and reactions.

Do What Helps to Succeed In Every Class

Organic chemistry presents a number of challenges.  Those asking themselves how to succeed in organic chemistry must start by doing what it takes to do well in other classes.

In most cases, you need to apply a strategy of success to perform at a high level. That includes a commitment to the basics. Show up to class on time, every time. Pay attention. Do your homework.

Most importantly, ask questions.

Many students hesitate to get involved when the professor initiates discussion or asks for questions from the class. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn more. Being involved forces your brain to consider the problem from different angles, resulting in better understanding.

Experts say that an hour spent in class equals two hours of studying on your own. Make every minute in that class count.

Review Organic Chemistry Basics Before Your First Class

Experts agree that you should review organic chemistry concepts before taking your first class. Though no one expects you to come into an entry-level organic chemistry class knowing it all, getting familiar with the concepts can help tremendously.

Being familiar with some of the terms and concepts before hitting the class allows you to think in-depth about how they work. While others are first hearing about them, you can consider how the concepts link together.

Schedule It In a Lighter Semester If Necessary

Some subjects will take up a seemingly inordinate amount of time and effort for a number of reasons. Occasionally, the class has an unusually demanding professor. Other times, you consider the topic of the class a weakness that will require extra attention.

Regardless of the reason, when you see a course that may require more think strategically.  Schedule it, if at all possible, during a semester with classes that offer an easier chance of success. Balance in course-load is a key to overall college success.

If you foresee problems with organic chemistry, try to flank it with classes that do not require as much effort.

Have an Effective Study Strategy

As with other tips, this will help when studying in any class. We suggest that in organic chemistry, as in all classes, make it a point to study daily. Take some time to go over all of the materials already learned.

While this will take increasing amounts of time as the semester wears on, it will also effectively reinforce what you learned in class. When studying organic chemistry, however, make sure to approach it in a big picture fashion. Also, get in the habit of writing down questions to ask during class.

If you find organic chemistry an even bigger challenge than expected, talk to the professor during office hours. One on one discussion and help can go far in boosting understanding and class performance.

Almost as importantly, it shows your professor that you care. Professors appreciate effort and it could work in your favor if you show determination, even when struggling.

Focus on Concepts First

Understanding organic chemistry sometimes resembles building a house. The concepts serve as the foundation upon which everything else rests.

In some classes, and with certain professors, mastering a class comes when you memorize the proper terms. You can do well without going in-depth. Organic chemistry starts in depth.

Learn Through Doing

Organic chemistry requires you to learn concepts and then apply them through problem-solving. Each problem reinforces learning the basic concepts as well as the proper way to apply them.

More so than most other subjects, you learn to master organic chemistry through the process of working it out in problems.

Do not fool yourself into thinking that you must know every aspect of the problem before solving it. Work your way through and you will pick up needed knowledge along the way.

organic chemistry practice problems

Access thousands of organic chemistry practice problems with video explanations

Tackle Exams Strategically

In most classes, students should face no problems taking exams in the traditional fashion. Start at problem one and work in sequence until the test gets done.

Organic chemistry professors and successful students agree that taking a traditional approach could hurt you in this subject. Students trip up when they focus too much on an extremely difficult problem, leading them to take too much time. They not only fail to complete the test, they also miss easier problems.

When you get an exam, take a quick look. Identify the easiest questions and answer them first. Work your way to harder problems, wherever the professor placed them on the test. This will help to maximize your possible score.

Form Study Groups

The idea makes common sense. Get a group of students together to study and discuss organic chemistry after class hours.

Be careful, however, of who gets included. Only include students who take both the class and the group seriously. You will want a study group to focus loosely like a business meeting. Have an agenda that all get to help to put together. Go over topics that give some or all difficulty.

Study groups can even use teamwork to go over college prep materials from sources familiar with both the subject and its difficulty for students.

Importantly, set a hard end point to a study group meeting. This will help to keep the group focused and prevent going off on tangents or social hour.

Confidence Through Good Planning

Finally, lay out a plan for success. Follow the plan every day. Planning for success in organic chemistry should help to take some of the burdensome feelings of uncertainty and anxiety out of the equation.

You must build into that plan some breaks. Give yourself time to recharge your batteries. Reward good performances on exams with a day off from the subject.  Planning also helps you to maintain confidence that your efforts will bring fruit.

Most of all, find the time to relax and get away from the subject. Letting it consume too much of your time and effort will bring diminishing returns.

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