Last semester I had the pleasure of working with “Chris” (a pseudonym) on second-semester organic chemistry topics. Before we met, Chris had already obtained a grade of 99 (!!!) in a large Org 1 class at a prestigious west-coast university. However, he was taking Org 2 with a new, more difficult instructor, and felt he needed some extra coaching. We set up meetings on a near-weekly basis and in the end he obtained an A grade in a very difficult Org 2 course.
With the course over, I asked Chris if he could share some of his insights as to how he was able to learn the course material so well.
MOC: What would you say was your general strategy for studying organic chemistry?
Chris: I made note cards to learn reactions (with examples and mechanism) and exam problems from previous semesters that my professor taught.
MOC: How much time would you estimate you spent studying per week?
Chris: About 2 hours per day, which works out to ~10-14 hours per week.
MOC: What do you think you did differently that a lot of your peers did not?
Chris: I think a lot of my peers treated organic chemistry like a biology course. They devoted most of their time to learning reactions from the textbook, rather than working through as many practice problems as possible.
MOC: What were some of the biggest difficulties you had? What barriers did you have to overcome?
Chris: Stereochemistry was challenging for me to learn. Lots of practice with the model kit was helpful, especially for Fischer projections.
MOC: Where does taking organic chemistry fit into your life goals?
Chris: Like many students before me, medical school.
MOC: If you had to give one piece of advice to students taking the course, what would it be?
Chris: Don’t fall behind! The material in organic chemistry is inherently cumulative and you will always need to recall information from earlier in the course.
MOC: Did you do anything special to study for exams?
Chris: Nothing in particular. I tried to study as far in advance as possible and get a good night’s rest before the exam.
MOC: Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently?
Chris: I cannot believe how long it took me to realize how helpful note cards can be for organic chemistry. I would definitely recommend using them from the start of the course.
I love the quote “a lot of my peers treated organic chemistry like it was a biology course”. Very true.
Thanks to Chris for agreeing to this brief interview.