How do you go from being clueless in exams to feeling confident?
I got the following email last week from a student who we’ll call “Trip”, who wrote to describe how he went from essentially a W in Org II [drop] to nailing a high B+ .
I asked Trip to explain how he went from dropping out of Org 2 to nailing the course the next time around – and how he managed to overcome the handicap of a 2.5 year gap (!) between Org 1 and Org 2.
Read on to learn about the secret of Trip’s success.
I took about a 2.5 year break in between Organic I and II. I took Organic Chemistry I in the Fall of 2010, and did fairly poorly in the course (something to the tune of a C-).
As a Chemical Engineering major, I was required both of the semesters of Orgo, so I registered for Organic II in the Spring of 2011. After taking one exam, I had a D+ in the course (not cutting it). After the second exam, nothing improved, so I had to drop and take a W. For one reason or another, I kept putting off the second semester of Orgo (taking Summer off to travel, make money doing other work, take a semester off for personal reasons), until this Summer.
I knew going in that I had a huge uphill battle since I hadn’t taken the class in such a long time. I immediately started using this site (casually), as well the book “Pushing Electrons” (did the problems in it cover to cover) about a month before the class started on July 1. Needless to say, though I haven’t gotten my official grade, the release of statistics regarding the final exam have been released, and my score in the class is about 10% above the average. This should correlate to a high B, a vast improvement over my previous Organic experience. [Update – Trip tells me he got a B+]
I can say that there was a definite difference between my confidence in taking Organic II exams this Summer than the time before when I didn’t finish it. Last time, I would often come across problems which I had absolutely no clue how to even approach (usually resulting in scribbling something down, or worse, leaving it blank). This time I made sure that I put a reasonable attempt into every problem, but only after doing the ones I was confident with first.
I think another factor at work was that in Engineering, during the semesters, I had a lot higher of a workload than most of my Organic Chem classmates. This can be a problem, since Organic requires A LOT of time and effort.
I also made an active effort to take a professor that focused mostly on mechanisms/spectroscopy, rather than my last one, that wasn’t as thorough regarding mechanisms when teaching reactions, and instead focused that time on things like Nomenclature (which my second professor seemed to avoid like the plague).
Additionally, the first time I took the class, I did use flashcards. The second time, I made a “no memorizing policy” for myself. If I felt that I was doing one-step synthesis problems where I was just parroting back a memorized answer, I actively thought out the mechanism for the reaction so that I knew I truly understood the chemistry behind what was going on.
- Work problems every single day. Do all the suggested problems.
- Look into “Pushing Electrons” before taking the class. I feel like it could smoothly transition someone from General Chemistry to Organic Chemistry by starting with Lewis structures, then going to resonance, and then onto Mechanism.
- Avoid memorizing as much as you can. Being able to actively work out mechanisms can lead you to a right answer sometimes, even if a particular reagent looks unfamiliar to you.
- If you take a long break between Organic I and II, you DEFINITELY need to brush up a bit beforehand. Again, I think “Pushing Electrons” is a great resource.
One last note on my motivation for putting in all this work: in order to get the degree that I’d spent about 4 years going for, I really needed to pass this class (just had to eek out any passing mark). I decided to do as much as I could to guarantee I’d pass the course, and it turned out I not only passed, but did so with flying colors (B+).
Thanks to Trip for sharing his story of how he turned his grade around. He’s not the first to talk about the importance of doing problems, but it’s a lesson that bears repeating.
Have a story about your organic chemistry experience you’d like to share? Want to provide tips for students who are just about to take the course? Send an email anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org