Organic Chemistry Study Tips

By James Ashenhurst

Organic Chemistry Study Tips: Super-Detailed Advice

Last updated: February 21st, 2020 |

The other day a student named Peter left several comments about his specific study methods in organic chemistry. I thought it was so useful that I’ve copied them and made them into a separate post. If you want specific advice on how to dominate in organic chemistry, look no further.

Peter also does work for, a site put together by students that helps first year science students prepare for and navigate their way through their first year of university at University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia. Thanks, Peter,  for your time in posting these helpful comments!

Here it is:

I am an undergrad student, taking a second session Organic Chemistry course.

I have not used the textbook much (it’s the Clayden book, and my puny arms can barely lift it off the ground).

For learning reactions, I read the lecture notes, then rewrite them.

I rewrite the reactions, and the mechanisms, with some notes.

Then I write flashcards, from my notes.

Then I sit and record me reading the flashcards (front and back). I listen to this recording on the way to and from Uni.

Lastly, I write a ‘summary sheet’ of the reactions (similar to what James has here).

I then go and do problems. If I need to, I look at the flashcards to help me.

When I am driving or relaxing, I try and think of a compound, and how to synthesise it using the reactions I know of.

The texts I’ve found helpful are ‘Instant Notes in Organic Chemistry’ by Patrick (which is very condensed – its a small book)….for more extensive info, I’ve tried McMurry’s ‘Organic Chemistry’.

Also – Khan Academy has a section on Organic Chemistry. It’s very helpful.
Use ‘academic earth’ ( to find online organic chemistry lectures.
YouTube has lots of videos of Org 1/2 reactions and mechanisms.

Lots of writing and drawing reactions from these videos can help.

– ACE Organic Chemistry is a program online that proposes questions, and asks you to draw (using their software) the product of a reaction, and/or the reaction mechanism.
What’s great is, if you get the answer wrong, it will give you a hint in the right direction – rather than just revealing the answer.

ChemSketch: this is free and a good way to find out the names of molecules (you draw them in, and use the ‘name molecule feature’ and it tells you the IUPAC nomenclature.


I use Yahoo Answers and (the organic section) when I need help with something and can’t ask my lecturer.

Oh and for writing mechanisms, ‘Pushing Electrons’ is a very helpful book (especially for reteaching resonance, and visual depictions of molecules to students who might have forgotten those concepts)….its very simple…short introductions, then lots of problems.

That’s what I use to study Organic Chem. But my midsession is next week and perhaps I’ll tell you to disregard my advice after I get my marks back

No fricking way I’d disregard this advice! That’s the kind of attention to detail – and passion – that will almost guarantee success in the course (or anything else, for that matter). If you can take at least *one* of those suggestions and apply them, you’ll be on track to do better in organic chemistry.

By the way I’d second Chemical Forums if you’re stuck on something. There’s a lot of incredibly knowledgeable people on there who are very generous with their time in helping students “get” organic chemistry and they don’t get nearly enough praise.  They won’t do your homework for you, but they can give you a push in the right direction.


Comment section

9 thoughts on “Organic Chemistry Study Tips: Super-Detailed Advice

  1. Another good resource –

    The blog owner is pretty helpful with clearing doubts :-)

    1. hi, the above website is quite impressive and really useful for beginners of organic chemistry…… Thanks a lot

  2. No worries James, I’m glad to offer any study info I can :)

    One thing though: the ACE organic chemistry link is actually

    I wanted to let you know a couple more resources:

    According that journal article, students have a tough time learning retrosynthesis, because organic textbooks group reactions by functional group.
    “In contrast, the retrosynthetic approach requires the student to envision “reactions that yield the functional group”.”

    The way they suggest to fix it, is using a Functional Group Transformation notebook when they learn functional groups and particular reactions.
    They learn the reactions forwards, and also backwards – how to get to the functional group mechanistically.

    An online resource that offers this, for free, is the website for Carey’s 7th ed of Organic Chemistry.

    Starting from Chapter 6, there are “synthesis” problems, where you’re told to, (for example) “design the synthesis of 2-methyl-2-pentanol using the starting materials shown [2-methylbromopentane].”

    It has beginner, intermediate and advanced levels for most Chapters…the link is here:

    I dunno if there’s actually even a link from the Mcgraw-hill website or anything…but this is a top resource for retrosynthesis…and while it doesn’t let you draw mechanisms, it’s very useful for thinking about functional group transformations in reverse from the way the books give them.

    1. The McGraw-Hill resource seems to no longer be available.

      This resource had helped me immensely while I was studying O-Chem II during the Spring 2014 term. I was hoping to review it in preparation for advanced organic chemistry, but it seems to no longer be available.

      Is there an archived version of this resource? Does anyone know where I could find a similar resource for retrosynthesis?

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