We talked with one student about strategies for tackling the infamous weed-out course for premeds. Here’s what was said…
What was your study strategy for organic chemistry?
An important aspect about organic chemistry was knowing the different pathways, what normally happens, what the exceptions are, and how it all ties together. I treated it like a math class and continuously practiced problems. It was very difficult for me to memorize pathways or even structures, so I just kept practicing problems, and the more I did – the easier it was to commit to memory. I completed the homework problems a minimum of two times, and even three to four times on sections that were more difficult.
Did you use any other materials to study other than your textbook and textbook companion/study guide?
I mainly focused on the textbook and study guide my professor posted before each exam.
What did you do the night before an organic chemistry exam? (i.e. did you study or relax?)
The night before an exam, a couple friends and I would get together and work through the study guide. We would each go through it once on our own, and do it a second time as a group. Usually the details that are easy to miss arise during the group sessions and you tend to remember them more when you’re talking it out. Groups are great to study with, but it’s also important to know the general idea, so that’s why we would study independently at first.
Did you attend every organic chemistry lecture?
Yes, I attended every lecture.
What was your note-taking strategy for organic chemistry?
I’m a very visual learner, and my professor was great in visualizing a lot of concepts. I would write out processes or general information that she emphasized in class. In retrospect, I wish I had skimmed over the chapter before attending the lecture – it would have cleared up confusions that I had during lecture.
Did you record your organic chemistry lectures?
I did not. Since I’m such a visual learner, it would not have helped me.
How much did you rely on your professor’s lecture to learn what you needed to know?
The lecture was the bare minimum amount of information I had to know. I relied more on the homework problems, quizzes, and the study guide that was posted before an exam. Lecture material contained very important facts that she wanted to drive home, but I wouldn’t have done well on exams just knowing that material.
Were you worried about how well you’d do in organic chemistry before taking the course?
I was very worried about organic chemistry before the first semester. I had heard a lot of classmates and upper classmen express how difficult the class was, so I was really nervous going into it. After the first exam, I developed a studying rhythm that worked for me. As the semester goes on, the material gets challenging, so I was still worried throughout, but not as stressed. And the same goes for the second semester.
Did you prefer to study alone or in a group?
I like to study alone initially, to take my own time to understand the general idea and flow of things, but then I like to study in a group to fill in any gaps I may have. You’d be surprised at how much information you do know!
How many hours would you say you spent each day or week studying for organic chemistry?
Each week I would spend about 4 hours studying, and about 6 hours closer to exam time. Ideally, I would have liked to commit at least 45-minutes to an hour each day to organic chemistry, but I wasn’t able to do that. The students in my class who did do that, ended up with better grades in the class, and a better long-term memory of the concepts.
Is there anything in particular you did to stay motivated while taking organic chemistry?
I was pre-med and I knew how important this class was for the MCATs and my GPA. I just kept working hard to do the best that I could do.
What advice would you give to students taking the course for the first time?
Do NOT be afraid at what you hear. But do realize you will have to work hard. Organic chemistry clicks for some people and takes longer to click to for others. I was in the latter category, so that’s why I would work on homework problems, and re-work them until I fully understood each problem. Even though I might have done a lot more work than some of my classmates to get the A, I eventually received it and you will too! Practice a lot of problems and don’t be afraid to rework problems you have already worked – you’ll be surprised at how much you don’t remember and how much you do!
What, if any, funny acronyms did you use to remember terms, reagent names, functional groups, etc.?
I honestly never used any acronyms.