Home / How John Pulled Up His Organic Chemistry Exam Grades
How John Pulled Up His Organic Chemistry Exam Grades
Last updated: March 29th, 2019 |
The other week, loyal reader “John” (not his real name) wrote in to tell me how he had pulled up his exam grade in organic chemistry from a 44% on the first midterm to a 90% on the second midterm. I asked him through email to explain the study techniques he used in a little more detail.
Tell me what happened.
I got your e-mail about figuring out how to make O.Chem easier. I went from a 44% to a 90%. I spent hours studying when I made that 44%, but I changed my process. I think its all about the process and then putting the time.
OK! What were some of the key aspects of your study strategy for organic chemistry.
Firstly, consistency is key. I think it is possible to be as happy as a clam in O.Chem if you are consistent. This is the hardest part for me.
I really do well when I follow these 3 steps:
#1 – Read the book and try problems before class
#2 – Actively participate in class (which is easy to do since I should have LOADS of questions from step #1)
#3 – Consistently do practice problems. Go to professor for help. Watch youtube videos. Study in a group (this is really helpful! It forces you to explain yourself and gives you new perspectives on things). And also use “Organic Chemistry as a Second Language” <– this book makes O.Chem feel like a cake walk!! These are my keys to success.
But consistency is key. That, I feel, is the HARDEST part about O.Chem. How to stay consistent is a whole ‘nother topic. And I don’t even really get it. Also, confidence is necessary. Confidence that you know what you are doing, even if you feel like you don’t. Confidence that this will eventually make sense. Not being deterred or discouraged when you feel like “WHAT THE EFF IS GOING ON???!!!!” Just accepting confusion as a part of the learning process, period.
How much time per week did you devote to studying?
Well, I went from 44% on an exam to 90% on an exam. I studied about 2 hours a day. If I skipped a day, then of course, I must study more. Now, I will admit, I think I am a bright person. So /maybe/ it is easier for me to understand things. But I also have reading disability and ADD. So whatever natural gift I have is balanced out by such limitations.
What source do you use for practice problems? Are they provided from your instructor or from the textbook?
Yes, practice problems in the textbook. Our teacher assigns homework which is optional, but IMO if you want to do well, the homework is not optional. Our textbook is Org. Chem by David R. Klein. Also, he has a book called “Org. Chem as a Second Language” which is IMMENSELY helpful. I highly, highly recommend it to any org. chem student. I haven’t checked out any other supplemental O. Chem book (like o.chem for dummies), but doing the practice problems in this book was amazing for my understanding. So I am doing practice problems from both the textbook and my supplemental book.
Do you use online videos at all?
Where you do find you do your best studying?
When I study alone, its usually at home. Its terrible. There are quite a number of distractions. Subtle things. You’re room’s messy so subconsciously, you’re wondering when you can clean it. Your house has a fridge and you’re a bit hungry so you start wondering about when you’ll go eat. Things like that. And of course, internet!
Sometimes I study in those cubicles at the library. The kind that literally force you to focus because you can’t look at anything else. I used to hate them. I felt trapped. But now, I value my grades and my time so much that they are becoming my best friend and I study there as often as I can. I WANT to be trapped.
Pomodoro technique is what I use when I find I am procrastinating too much. You focus for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break. And sometimes I can get away with my break being an online thing… but I usually can’t. It usually triggers uber-procrastination. So the 5 minutes has to be not computer related.
What’s your motivation for doing well in organic chemistry?
I’m applying to a Masters of Nutrition program that starts in Fall 2012. If I am accepted, O.chem is one of 6 courses I must have completed. I cannot fail!… So I can be competitive with other schools, I need to make an A! Nutrition is my passion & part of the ultimate career I want to build for myself and I am really tired of … not doing it. So I have quite a lot of drive to do well in O.chem.
Anything else to say to prospective students?
Viewing O.chem like a beautiful work of art. You need to be able to see the whole picture. I don’t know how to explain it. Being able to zoom in and zoom out as needed seems helpful.
I know how to ENSURE you fail O.chem. I had a friend who just dropped the class yesterday. We both studied the same way for the first test. We weren’t consistent in study. We didn’t do as many practice problems as we could. We were just trying to memorize different concepts. We both failed. Then I realized that O.chem is about the big picture. I can’t just pick and choose what to focus on. Everything can be tested and everything is useful to understanding 1 problem. So I started doing what I listed above. My friend didn’t. I told him “Look, if we study the same way we studied last time, we are going to FAIL.” He failed. I made a 90. I sent him a text “Consider dropping this course. If you don’t change how you study, I guarantee you are going to fail this course. Period.” And he came to the realization I was right and dropped it!
Thanks, John, for taking the time to answer these questions.
Want to share your experience with organic chemistry, good or bad, so that others can learn from it? Write me at james at masterorganicchemistry.com, or use the “Feedback” link above. Confidentiality guaranteed.
00 General Chemistry Review
- Gen Chem and Organic Chem: How are they different?
- How Gen Chem Relates to Organic Chem, Pt. 1 - The Atom
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Pt. 2 - Electrons and Orbitals
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Pt. 3 - Effective Nuclear Charge
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Pt. 4 - Chemical Bonding
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Pt. 5 - Understanding Periodic Trends
- From Gen Chem to Org Chem, Pt. 6 - Lewis Structures, A Parable
- From Gen Chem to Org Chem, Pt. 7 - Lewis Structures
- From Gen Chem to Org Chem, Pt. 8 - Ionic and Covalent Bonding
- From Gen Chem to Org Chem, Pt. 9 - Acids and Bases
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Pt. 10 - Hess' Law
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Pt. 11 - The Second Law
- From Gen Chem to Org Chem Pt. 12 - Kinetics
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Pt. 13 - Equilibria
- From Gen Chem to Organic Chem, Part 14: Wrapup
01 Bonding, Structure, and Resonance
- How Concepts Build Up In Org 1 ("The Pyramid")
- Review of Atomic Orbitals for Organic Chemistry
- How Do We Know Methane (CH4) Is Tetrahedral?
- Hybrid Orbitals
- How To Determine Hybridization: A Shortcut
- Orbital Hybridization And Bond Strengths
- Sigma bonds come in six varieties: Pi bonds come in one
- A Key Skill: How to Calculate Formal Charge
- Partial Charges Give Clues About Electron Flow
- The Four Intermolecular Forces and How They Affect Boiling Points
- 3 Trends That Affect Boiling Points
- How To Use Electronegativity To Determine Electron Density (and why NOT to trust formal charge)
- Introduction to Resonance
- How To Use Curved Arrows To Interchange Resonance Forms
- Evaluating Resonance Forms (1) - The Rule of Least Charges
- Evaluating Resonance Forms (2): Applying Electronegativity
- Evaluating Resonance Forms: Factors That Stabilize Negative Charges
- Evaluating Resonance Forms (4): Positive Charges
- Exploring Resonance: Pi-Donation
- Exploring Resonance: Pi-acceptors
- In Summary: Resonance
- Drawing Resonance Structures: 3 Common Mistakes To Avoid
- How to apply electronegativity and resonance to understand reactivity
02 Acid Base Reactions
- Introduction to Acid-Base Reactions
- Walkthrough of Acid Base Reactions (1)
- Walkthrough of Acid Base Reactions (2): Basicity
- Walkthrough of Acid-Base Reactions (3) - Acidity Trends
- Five Key Factors That Influence Acidity
- Walkthrough of Acid-Base reactions (4) - pKa
- How to Use a pKa Table
- The pKa Table Is Your Friend
- A Handy Rule of Thumb for Acid-Base Reactions
- Acid Base Reactions Are Fast
- pKa Values Span 60 Orders Of Magnitude
- Acid Base Reactions: What's the Point?
03 Alkanes and Nomenclature
- Summary Sheet - Alkane Nomenclature
- Meet the (Most Important) Functional Groups
- Condensed Formulas: Deciphering What the Brackets Mean
- Hidden Hydrogens, Hidden Lone Pairs, Hidden Counterions
- Don't Be Futyl, Learn The Butyls
- Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Quaternary In Organic Chemistry
- Branching, and Its Affect On Melting and Boiling Points
- The Many, Many Ways of Drawing Butane
- Common Mistakes: Drawing Tetrahedral Carbons
- Common Mistakes in Organic Chemistry: Pentavalent Carbon
- Table of Functional Group Priorities for Nomenclature
- Organic Chemistry IUPAC Nomenclature Demystified With A Simple Puzzle Piece Approach
04 Conformations and Cycloalkanes
- Newman Projections
- Putting the Newman into ACTION
- Introduction to Cycloalkanes (1)
- Geometric Isomers In Small Rings: Cis And Trans Cycloalkanes
- Calculation of Ring Strain In Cycloalkanes
- Cycloalkanes - Ring Strain In Cyclopropane And Cyclobutane
- Cyclohexane Conformations
- Cyclohexane Chair Conformation: An Aerial Tour
- How To Draw The Cyclohexane Chair Conformation
- The Cyclohexane Chair Flip
- The Cyclohexane Chair Flip - Energy Diagram
- Substituted Cyclohexanes - Axial vs Equatorial
- Ranking The Bulkiness Of Substituents On Cyclohexanes: "A-Values"
- The Ups and Downs of Cyclohexanes
- Cyclohexane Chair Conformation Stability: Which One Is Lower Energy?
- Fused Rings - Cis-Decalin and Trans-Decalin
- Naming Bicyclic Compounds - Fused, Bridged, and Spiro
- Bredt's Rule (And Summary of Cycloalkanes)
05 A Primer On Organic Reactions
- The Most Important Question To Ask When Learning a New Reaction
- The 4 Major Classes of Reactions in Org 1
- Learning New Reactions: How Do The Electrons Move?
- How (and why) electrons flow
- The Third Most Important Question to Ask When Learning A New Reaction
- 7 Factors that stabilize negative charge in organic chemistry
- 7 Factors That Stabilize Positive Charge in Organic Chemistry
- Common Mistakes: Formal Charges Can Mislead
- Nucleophiles and Electrophiles
- Curved Arrows (for reactions)
- Curved Arrows (2): Initial Tails and Final Heads
- Nucleophilicity vs. Basicity
- The Three Classes of Nucleophiles
- What Makes A Good Nucleophile?
- Leaving Groups Are Nucleophiles Acting In Reverse
- What makes a good leaving group?
- 3 Factors That Stabilize Carbocations
- Three Factors that Destabilize Carbocations
- What's a Transition State?
- Hammond's Postulate
- Grossman's Rule
- Draw The Ugly Version First
- Learning Organic Chemistry Reactions: A Checklist (PDF)
- Introduction to Addition Reactions
- Introduction to Elimination Reactions
- Introduction to Free Radical Substitution Reactions
- Introduction to Oxidative Cleavage Reactions
06 Free Radical Reactions
- Bond Dissociation Energies = Homolytic Cleavage
- Free Radical Reactions
- 3 Factors That Stabilize Free Radicals
- What Factors Destabilize Free Radicals?
- Bond Strengths And Radical Stability
- Free Radical Initiation: Why Is "Light" Or "Heat" Required?
- Initiation, Propagation, Termination
- Monochlorination Products Of Propane, Pentane, And Other Alkanes
- Selectivity In Free Radical Reactions
- Selectivity in Free Radical Reactions: Bromination vs. Chlorination
- Halogenation At Tiffany's
- Allylic Bromination
- Bonus Topic: Allylic Rearrangements
- In Summary: Free Radicals
- Synthesis (2) - Reactions of Alkanes
07 Stereochemistry and Chirality
- On Cats, Part 4: Enantiocats
- On Cats, Part 6: Stereocenters
- The Single Swap Rule
- Introduction to Assigning (R) and (S): The Cahn-Ingold-Prelog Rules
- Assigning Cahn-Ingold-Prelog (CIP) Priorities (2) - The Method of Dots
- Types of Isomers: Constitutional Isomers, Stereoisomers, Enantiomers, and Diastereomers
- Enantiomers vs Diastereomers vs The Same? Two Methods For Solving Problems
- Assigning R/S To Newman Projections (And Converting Newman To Line Diagrams)
- How To Determine R and S Configurations On A Fischer Projection
- The Meso Trap
- Optical Rotation, Optical Activity, and Specific Rotation
- Optical Purity and Enantiomeric Excess
- What's a Racemic Mixture?
- Chiral Allenes And Chiral Axes
08 Substitution Reactions
- Introduction to Nucleophilic Substitution Reactions
- Walkthrough of Substitution Reactions (1) - Introduction
- Two Types of Substitution Reactions
- Common Blind Spot: Intramolecular Reactions
- Why the SN2 Reaction Is Powerful
- The SN1 Mechanism
- The Conjugate Acid Is A Better Leaving Group
- Comparing the SN1 and SN2 Reactions
- Polar Protic? Polar Aprotic? Nonpolar? All About Solvents
- Steric Hindrance is Like a Fat Goalie
- The SN2 Mechanism
- The Conjugate Base is Always a Stronger Nucleophile
09 Elimination Reactions
- Walkthrough of Elimination Reactions (1)
- Elimination Reactions (2): Zaitsev's Rule
- Elimination Reactions Are Favored By Heat
- Two Types of Elimination Reactions
- The E1 Reaction
- The E2 Mechanism
- Comparing the E1 and E2 Reactions
- The E2 Reaction and Cyclohexane Rings
- Bulky Bases in Elimination Reactions
- Comparing the E1 and SN1 Reactions
- Elimination (E1) Reactions With Rearrangements
11 SN1/SN2/E1/E2 Decision
12 Alkene Reactions
- Addition Reactions: Elimination's Opposite
- Selective vs. Specific
- Regioselectivity In Alkene Addition Reactions
- Stereoselectivity In Alkene Addition Reactions: Syn vs Anti Addition
- Markovnikov Addition Of HCl To Alkenes
- Alkene Hydrohalogenation Mechanism And How It Explains Markovnikov's Rule
- Curved Arrows and Alkene Addition Reactions
- Addition Pattern #1: The "Carbocation Pathway"
- Rearrangements in Alkene Addition Reactions
- Bromination of Alkenes
- Bromination of Alkenes: The Mechanism
- Alkene Addition Pattern #2: The "Three-Membered Ring" Pathway
- Hydroboration - Oxidation of Alkenes
- Hydroboration Oxidation of Alkenes Mechanism
- Alkene Addition Pattern #3: The "Concerted" Pathway
- Bromonium Ion Formation: A (Minor) Arrow-Pushing Dilemma
- A Fourth Alkene Addition Pattern - Free Radical Addition
- Alkene Reactions: Ozonolysis
- Summary: Three Key Families Of Alkene Reaction Mechanisms
- Synthesis (4) - Alkene Reaction Map, Including Alkyl Halide Reactions
13 Alkyne Reactions
- Acetylides from Alkynes, And Substitution Reactions of Acetylides
- Partial Reduction of Alkynes To Obtain Cis or Trans Alkenes
- Hydroboration and Oxymercuration of Alkynes
- Alkyne Reaction Patterns - Hydrohalogenation - Carbocation Pathway
- Alkyne Halogenation: Bromination, Chlorination, and Iodination of Alkynes
- Alkyne Reactions - The "Concerted" Pathway
- Alkenes To Alkynes Via Halogenation And Elimination Reactions
- Alkynes Are A Blank Canvas
- Synthesis (5) - Reactions of Alkynes
14 Alcohols, Epoxides and Ethers
- E and Z Notation For Alkenes (+ Cis/Trans)
- Alcohols (1) - Nomenclature and Properties
- Alcohols Can Act As Acids Or Bases (And Why It Matters)
- Alcohols (3) - Acidity and Basicity
- The Williamson Ether Synthesis
- Williamson Ether Synthesis: Planning
- Ethers From Alkenes, Tertiary Alkyl Halides and Alkoxymercuration
- Alcohols To Ethers via Acid Catalysis
- Cleavage Of Ethers With Acid
- Epoxides - The Outlier Of The Ether Family
- Opening of Epoxides With Acid
- Epoxide Ring Opening With Base
- Making Alkyl Halides From Alcohols
- Tosylates And Mesylates
- PBr3 and SOCl2
- Elimination Reactions of Alcohols
- Elimination of Alcohols To Alkenes With POCl3
- Alcohol Oxidation: "Strong" and "Weak" Oxidants
- Demystifying Alcohol Oxidations
- Intramolecular Reactions of Alcohols and Ethers
- Protecting Groups For Alcohols
- Thiols And Thioethers
- Calculating the oxidation state of a carbon
- Oxidation and Reduction in Organic Chemistry
- Oxidation Ladders
- SOCl2 Mechanism For Alcohols To Alkyl Halides: SN2 versus SNi
- Alcohol Reactions Roadmap (PDF)
- What's An Organometallic?
- Formation of Grignard and Organolithium Reagents
- Organometallics Are Strong Bases
- Reactions of Grignard Reagents
- Protecting Groups In Grignard Reactions
- Grignard Practice Problems: Synthesis (1)
- Grignard Reactions And Synthesis (2)
- Organocuprates (Gilman Reagents): How They're Made
- Gilman Reagents (Organocuprates): What They're Used For
- Common Mistakes with Carbonyls: Carboxylic Acids... Are Acids!
- The Heck, Suzuki, and Olefin Metathesis Reactions (And Why They Don't Belong In Most Introductory Organic Chemistry Courses)
- Reaction Map: Reactions of Organometallics
- Degrees of Unsaturation (or IHD, Index of Hydrogen Deficiency)
- Conjugation And Color (+ How Bleach Works)
- Introduction To UV-Vis Spectroscopy
- UV-Vis Spectroscopy: Absorbance of Carbonyls
- UV-Vis Spectroscopy: Practice Questions
- Bond Vibrations, Infrared Spectroscopy, and the "Ball and Spring" Model
- Infrared Spectroscopy: A Quick Primer On Interpreting Spectra
- IR Spectroscopy: 4 Practice Problems
- Homotopic, Enantiotopic, Diastereotopic
- Liquid Gold: Pheromones In Doe Urine
- Natural Product Isolation (1) - Extraction
- Natural Product Isolation (2) - Purification Techniques, An Overview
- Structure Determination Case Study: Deer Tarsal Gland Pheromone
17 Dienes and MO Theory
- What To Expect In Organic Chemistry 2
- How Concepts Build Up In Org 2
- Are these molecules conjugated?
- Conjugation And Resonance In Organic Chemistry
- Bonding And Antibonding Pi Orbitals
- Molecular Orbitals of The Allyl Cation, Allyl Radical, and Allyl Anion
- Pi Molecular Orbitals of Butadiene
- Reactions of Dienes: 1,2 and 1,4 Addition
- Thermodynamic and Kinetic Control
- More On 1,2 and 1,4 Additions To Dienes
- s-cis and s-trans
- The Diels-Alder Reaction
- Cyclic Dienes and Dienophiles in the Diels-Alder Reaction
- Stereochemistry of the Diels-Alder Reaction
- Exo vs Endo Products In The Diels Alder: How To Tell Them Apart
- HOMO and LUMO In the Diels Alder Reaction
- Why Are Endo vs Exo Products Favored in the Diels-Alder Reaction?
- Diels-Alder Reaction: Kinetic and Thermodynamic Control
- The Retro Diels-Alder Reaction
- Regiochemistry In The Diels-Alder Reaction
19 Reactions of Aromatic Molecules
- Electrophilic Aromatic Substitution: Introduction
- Activating and Deactivating Groups In Electrophilic Aromatic Substitution
- Electrophilic Aromatic Substitution - The Mechanism
- Ortho-, Para- and Meta- Directors in Electrophilic Aromatic Substitution
- Understanding Ortho, Para, and Meta Directors
- Why are halogens ortho- para- directors?
- Disubstituted Benzenes: The Strongest Electron-Donor "Wins"
- Electrophilic Aromatic Substitutions (1) - Halogenation of Benzene
- Electrophilic Aromatic Substitutions (2) - Nitration and Sulfonation
- EAS Reactions (3) - Friedel-Crafts Acylation and Friedel-Crafts Alkylation
- Intramolecular Friedel-Crafts Reactions
- Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution (NAS)
- Nucleophilic Aromatic Substitution (2) - The Benzyne Mechanism
- Reactions on the "Benzylic" Carbon: Bromination And Oxidation
- The Wolff-Kishner, Clemmensen, And Other Carbonyl Reductions
- More Reactions on the Aromatic Sidechain: Reduction of Nitro Groups and the Baeyer Villiger
- Aromatic Synthesis (1) - "Order Of Operations"
- Synthesis of Benzene Derivatives (2) - Polarity Reversal
- Aromatic Synthesis (3) - Sulfonyl Blocking Groups
- Synthesis (7): Reaction Map of Benzene and Related Aromatic Compounds
20 Aldehydes and Ketones
- Weird Nomenclature In Carbonyl Chemistry
- Aldehydes and Ketones: 14 Reactions With The Same Mechanism
- Wittig Reaction
- Imines and Enamines
- On Acetals and Hemiacetals
- Carbonyl Chemistry: 10 Key Concepts (Part 1)
- Carbonyls: 10 key concepts (Part 2)
- Acid Catalysis Of Carbonyl Addition Reactions: Too Much Of A Good Thing?
- Breaking Down Carbonyl Reaction Mechanisms: Anionic Nucleophiles (Part 1)
- Breaking Down Carbonyl Reaction Mechanisms: Reactions of Anionic Nucleophiles (Part 2)
21 Carboxylic Acid Derivatives
- Simplifying the reactions of carboxylic acid derivatives (part 1)
- Carbonyl Mechanisms: Neutral Nucleophiles, Part 1
- Carbonyl chemistry: Anionic versus Neutral Nucleophiles
- Proton Transfers Can Be Tricky
- Let's Talk About the [1,2] Elimination
- Carbonyl Chemistry: Learn Six Mechanisms For the Price Of One
- Summary Sheet #5 - 9 Key Mechanisms in Carbonyl Chemistry
- Summary Sheet #7 - 21 Carbonyl Mechanisms on 1 page
- How Reactions Are Like Music
- Making Music With Mechanisms (PADPED)
- The Magic Wand of Proton Transfer
- The Power of Acid Catalysis
22 Enols and Enolates
- The Amide Functional Group: Properties, Synthesis, and Nomenclature
- Basicity of Amines And pKaH
- 5 Key Basicity Trends of Amines
- The Mesomeric Effect And Aromatic Amines
- Nucleophilicity of Amines
- Alkylation of Amines (Sucks!)
- Reductive Amination
- The Gabriel Synthesis
- Some Reactions of Azides
- The Hofmann Elimination
- The Hofmann and Curtius Rearrangements
- The Cope Elimination
- Protecting Groups for Amines - Carbamates
- The Strecker Synthesis of Amino Acids
- Introduction to Peptide Synthesis
- Reactions of Diazonium Salts: Sandmeyer and Related Reactions
- D and L Notation For Sugars
- What is Mutarotation?
- Reducing Sugars
- Pyranoses and Furanoses: Ring-Chain Tautomerism In Sugars
- The Big Damn Post Of Carbohydrate-Related Chemistry Definitions
- The Haworth Projection
- Converting a Fischer Projection To A Haworth (And Vice Versa)
- Reactions of Sugars: Glycosylation and Protection
- The Ruff Degradation and Kiliani-Fischer Synthesis
25 Fun and Miscellaneous
- Organic Chemistry and the New MCAT
- A Gallery of Some Interesting Molecules From Nature
- The Organic Chemistry Behind "The Pill"
- Maybe they should call them, "Formal Wins" ?
- Planning Organic Synthesis With "Reaction Maps"
- Organic Chemistry Is Shit
- The 8 Types of Arrows In Organic Chemistry, Explained
- The Most Annoying Exceptions in Org 1 (Part 1)
- The Most Annoying Exceptions in Org 1 (Part 2)
- Org 1 Review Quizzes
- Screw Organic Chemistry, I'm Just Going To Write About Cats
- On Cats, Part 1: Conformations and Configurations
- On Cats, Part 2: Cat Line Diagrams
- The Marriage May Be Bad, But the Divorce Still Costs Money
- Why Do Organic Chemists Use Kilocalories?
- What Holds The Nucleus Together?
- 9 Nomenclature Conventions To Know