By: Vanshika Goyal
Organic chemistry has been known to destroy the GPAs of countless pre-meds. If you don’t treat it with caution, you are setting yourself up to suffer the same fate. This subject is easily one of the most challenging of all the medical school prerequisites, and it requires meticulous preparation.
Learning ochem is like learning a new language. You have to train your mind to piece together information in a way that is completely foreign to you. It takes consistent practice, sharp skills, and undying commitment. You can’t decide the night before the test that you’re finally going to unlock the treasure chest of ochem secrets. They need your time and attention to work their magic on the day of the exam.
Luckily, I saved you the hard work of having to discover the secrets yourself. Use our best and worst organic chemistry tips to plan an effective study schedule and guarantee yourself an A!
When you’re sitting in class listening to the instructor talk about new compounds, reactions, and rules, the amount of information can become overwhelming.
Having a pre-introduction to the material will help you follow along in class better. Spending 20-30 minutes the night before reviewing the slides, chapter, or notes will give you a baseline. You can make note of things that are highlighted or bolded and then focus on adding details during class. This will create a web of information in your brain that you can then connect together during class.
Arguably, having to self-study organic chemistry before class doesn’t always sound like fun, but you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to spend hours after class trying to decode what the professor was talking about.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you can watch your ochem lecture later in the comfort of your own space, instead of having to haul yourself all the way to the lecture hall. But I’m here to tell you, “Go to class!”
Attending the live lecture means fewer distractions and more time spent absorbing the material. It’s also a great way to find friends that you can ask questions to and form study groups with. Having to watch a difficult lecture later on becomes more like a chore and is much less engaging, so you’re likely to retain less of it as well (Yes, you heard that right - ochem is interesting once you can comprehend it!).
Additionally, sitting through the lecture live gives you a chance to ask questions as soon as you have them. We often don’t end up asking the questions we have when watching a recorded lecture the next time we see the professor, and then regret it when we see that exact question on the midterm.
One of the best things about college is that there is no one to nag you to do your work daily and you have the freedom to do it all in your own time. Many times, professors take that a step further and make homework optional.
As students, that is often a green light to get some extra sleep. However, in organic chemistry, that is your green light to get an A. Ochem cannot be mastered simply by rereading the textbook, taking notes, and making flashcards.
Think about it like a math class. You need to practice different kinds of problems, utilize different formulas, and experiment with the methods that work best for you. Understanding the material through lectures and the textbook sets the foundation, but organic chemistry is all about applying that knowledge.
However, I would highly recommend going through all the notes and example problems the professor and/or textbook give you before jumping straight into practice problems. Otherwise, you won’t know where to start when tackling the homework questions. The more practice you do, the more confident you will be going into the exam.
Office hours is like the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae - the sundae being your practice problems. Without the cherry, the whole thing is less appealing.
Office hours are the perfect opportunity to sit down and do all your studying for ochem. It’s a time when the TA or professor is freely available to answer all your questions and give you further insights on how to prepare for exams. This is not the time to be shy about asking questions, as I guarantee your questions are valid and vital to fully comprehending the material.
Thus, instead of struggling on your own with ochem homework, a better option is to do it in office hours so you can have all your doubts solved right away. It’s a great source of motivation to actually get your work done since you are guaranteed support. A large lecture hall filled with hundreds of students is not the most ideal learning environment, and you’ll be surprised how much more you can benefit from small groups and individualized attention.
Another bonus is that if you go consistently enough, you can build relationships with your professors and may be able to ask them about research opportunities or recommendation letters down the road.
Procrastination is a nightmare when it comes to organic chemistry because it simply cannot be learned in one night.
Memorization only scratches the surface in ochem, and that’s about as far procrastination will take you here. It’s not feasible to watch all lectures and try to learn all the information in just a few days or even the night before the test. Your brain needs time to build familiarity with the new language of ochem and apply it to different kinds of scenarios and problems.
Let’s say you didn’t procrastinate and instead went to all the lectures on time and took great notes. Now that you’ve reviewed all the material several times, you feel confident enough to start practice problems. Lo and behold, it is significantly harder than you thought it would be.
The biggest mistake you can make in ochem is underestimating how much time you will need to devote to practicing. Homework problems should be done while you’re learning the material. Don’t wait until the end. At this point, you won’t have too many chances left to ask questions. Simply hearing and reading about the material are a lot different than actually doing it by yourself.
Don’t let your biology class study methods control how you treat organic chemistry. Straight memorization may work for biology, but it definitely won’t get you far here. It’s important to understand how to use and apply different terminology, rather than trying to commit a definition word for word to memory.
For example, it’s much more beneficial to know what an elimination reaction entails and be able to identify it in a reaction chain, rather than being able to recite the definition. Having this skill will give you a huge advantage in answering versatile questions.
Sometimes, your mindset can make or break you. It’s very possible that you attended all the lectures, studied hard, did ample practice, but lacked confidence. Speaking from experience, this can profoundly hinder your performance on test day, especially when you are under time pressure.
Be proud of yourself for putting in all the hours and hard work, and know that no matter the result, you aren’t leaving with regrets. Start the class with a positive outlook because you CAN do this! If you dedicate the time and energy organic chemistry requires and follow our tips, we promise that success will follow!
About the Author:
Vanshika Goyal is a graduate from the University of California, Davis with a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior. Her aspiration is to become a physician with a focus on patient-centered care and individualized treatment. She is currently an IGNITE fellow with Teach for America and a very active member of her community. In her free time, she enjoys writing poetry and painting.