Organic Chemistry Study Tips

By James Ashenhurst

How To Prepare for Organic Chemistry Exams

Last updated: September 12th, 2022 |

A common problem students tell me is that they feel that they know the material, but when they write an exam, they don’t do well. It’s hard to isolate the exact reasons for this, but there are certainly cases where students under pressure feel a certain amount of mental “lock-up” which leads them to not do as well as they might otherwise.

Reader “R.M.” wrote in with a tip on how he prepares for exams, and it’s worth sharing.

So in general when I have an exam I will read through the material and take  notes while reading, which usually puts me at 5-10 minutes per page. Once I have completed the reading, I review all the notes I have taken (for me to be in great shape for the exam I complete the reading 1 day before the test, the reading usually takes 6-10 hours). After reading through my notes I am usually ready for the exam, but if I have extra time I do practice synthesis problems that my friends create on a white board where me and a friend line up on each side of a double sided white board and race to see who finishes it first. I find that if you can recall the information quickly in a competitive manner then you can do so in a stressful exam environment.  I do find that I have a good memory and absorb things easily but I think my success in ochem 2 is mostly due to my ability to recall information and use it for synthesis problems.

It’s really important to be able to focus.  I think it’s a “oh man I really need to start reading or i’m screwed” mentality that allows me to focus for that long. I try to go to a library or any school building I can sneak into that is quiet for me to study, because I live in a fraternity house right now and as you can imagine it can get hard to study there at times with all the distractions and partying.

You only get to do your exam once, but it’s possible, like R.M. has done here, to simulate the stress and time-sensitivity of an exam environment. This is another instance where having a good “study buddy” can come in handy, in that you have someone to test and challenge you in a practice setting.

By the way, R.M. tells me he got a 95 on his final, and an A in the course overall where the average was a high C.


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