Gunner’s Revenge

by James

in Organic Chem Study Tips

When I took sophomore organic chemistry I was kind of a proud and cocky young kid, to be honest.  I thought I was smart enough to just do everything by myself, blow through everything and ace the course. I fancied myself a bit of a Lone Hero. I was going to take the course and show up all those pre-med gunners who talked about orgo like it was the Black Plague. And I was going to do it all by myself.

I wasn’t afraid of organic chemistry because I’d prepped the summer before by doing the problems in the first five chapters of the textbook. So I blew the first midterm out of the water in early October, and watched the students who sat in the front of the class with me freak out like headless chickens and start organizing themselves in study groups. I was quietly satisfied that my little plan was working out nicely. “Poor suckers”, I thought to myself. “They’re screwed.”

In the end it was the gunners who won, not me.

As the semester wore on, while I was working on problems by myself and getting stuck with nobody to turn to, they had at least somebody they could talk to about problems and even teach the material to each other. In contrast, I stubbornly insisted on doing everything myself and not relying on anyone else for help or even feedback. I was my own little island.

When the final exam came, some of the reactants were written down in a format that was unfamiliar to me. Since I was relying on my own methods and never exposed myself to alternative ways of looking at the material, I never fully developed the skill of thinking these things through. I screwed up two major sections of my exam.

I was so pissed. I remember thinking how unfairly difficult the exam was.  Then, as I was getting coffee after the exam, I saw one of the gunners from my class and asked him what he thought about it.

“Not so bad”, he said.

Not so fricking bad? are you out of your mind, you smug little prick”, I thought at the time.

He smoked me.

Unlike me, the gunners weren’t afraid to look stupid by asking questions, were comfortable in giving and receiving help,  and ended up being among the social learners with good outcomes. My mistake was thinking I was a Lone Hero when actually I was just a loner.

The next year at college, I got lucky. A loud and extroverted classmate of mine  essentially grabbed me by the lapels and made me his study partner. We were never best friends. But we had a great working relationship. He got me out of my shell. My grades improved too.

Don’t be an island.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


well said.

Always ask questions. Always study with a buddy. Never do homework problems with the solution manual open next to you.



Agreed. There is no better way to learn orgo than to have to explain it to somebody else who’s working out a problem. If it is a graded assignment, even better; the other person probably won’t let you off the hook until he is satisfied he has the correct answer.

And if you’re working out problems alone, keep the solutions manual in a different building. Otherwise, there is too much temptation to convince yourself you have something figured out and to look at the answers quickly to verify it. Plenty of times, you’ll be wrong and will have robbed yourself of the important skill of having to figure something out for yourself. This skill is critical for exams, where professors make it their job to throw peculiar things at you.



I’ve been going over as many of the “How to Succeed In Orgo” handouts from professors as I can find on the web, and they pretty much all talk about the evils of checking answers without really understanding how to do the problem.
One really good suggestion for a “study buddy’ I saw was to have someone you can call who has access to the answer book who can give you a broad based hint, without giving away the problem itself.
Good study partners are like pearls – valuable and hard to find.
I’m not sure what to say to people who are having a hard time finding a partner, other than just be aggressive and put yourself out there, and be ruthless with flakes.


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