The Student's Guide to Organic Chemistry
A Quick, Basic Plan for Success in Introductory Organic Chemistry
by Kevin P. Asher, student in Dr. Sweeting's fall 1998 CHEM 331 class
Each year hundreds of students enter the Organic Chemistry Classroom with fears about what is called by some "The Impossible Discipline." Indeed, Organic can be very difficult, but it is managable. The goal of this website is to give you a good, simple to follow plan that will allow you to get the kind of high grades you want in Organic Chemistry.
5 Steps to Success
1. KNOW General Chemistry!!!
What is an acid? How do you calculate the pH of a 1M HCl solution? What is a coordinate covalent bond? It is these kinds of questions that you MUST be able to answer because they come up again and again in Organic Chemistry. You must be familiar with the basic principles of chemical reactions if you hope to survive Organic. If you don't remember much from General Chem, or it has been a while since you took it:
Look over a General Chem Text
Get a review book from the Library or Bookstore
Practice basic problems that illustrate basic concepts (acid/base, equilibria, states of matter, etc.)
2. Learn the Basics of Organic Structure and Nomenclature
If you don't know how to name a simple compound, like an alcohol or an alkene or ether, you will fail every test. Guranteed.
The whole language of Organic Chemistry is based on nomenclature and basic structures. The more you learn these basics, the easier it will be to understand how chemical reactions affect them. If you can easily pick out ketones, alcohols, carboxylic acids, aldehydes, ethers, amines and hydrocarbons (alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, cyclic hydrocarbons) and name them, you will be in a very good position to start understanding how and why reactions occur.
3. Do Well in Lab
This is not always the case, but lab is usually easier than lecture. Pay attention, don't make mistakes in the experiments, hand in lab reports on time, and you can get a very high lab grade. This high grade may be important if you need to pull up a low lecture exam grade. On a deeper level, lab will help you to use the theory you have learned in lecture. Why do we use NaOH to wash? Why does distillation of the product as it forms allow us to form more product (General Chemistry again-- it just won't go away...)?
4. Use Resources Effectively
There are a LOT of resources out there for Organic Students. What matters in the end is not how many resources you use, but how well you use each one. My suggestion is this: pick 1 comprehensive source -- any textbook will do.
Use this as "map". Learn the organization, theory and understand the discussions from this book. Then use other sources - web pages, study guides, flashcards, handouts, etc. as secondary sources. The key to getting a grasp on the large amount of material that you must learn is understanding the organization of it. A textbbook usually is very well organized because the author has spent years getting it ready for publication. Use that organization as a basis for your learning.
5. Do a lot of Practice Problems
Let's face it. The standard measuring stick for your performance in most classes is your performance on examinations.
These are composed of problems that you must solve on your own, without reference to your notes. When studying, you have to remember that you have to do more, much more, than just think "Yeah, I can follow that." You must generate the entire solution to a problem. This requires you to:
Looking over your notes before an exam will not prepare you to do this. You must do problems in an exam environment: without notes and timed. When you do this you will think:
"Wait. What is an oxidizing agent?"
"Where exactly is this bond?"
"Is the more substituted or less substituted product favored in this reaction?"
Once you know these things on a deeper level, examinations will be a lot easier.
This guide should successfully lead you through the trials and tribulations of Organic Chemistry.
Some people always are a little better at it than others, but following the guide here will definitely get allow you to successfully complete the course and move on to other scientific endeavors.
Good Luck !!! (and remember always -- Carbon only has four bonds!!)