Case Studies of Successful O-Chem Students

By James Ashenhurst

How Chris Aced Org 1 and Org 2

Last updated: January 23rd, 2024 |

Last semester I had the pleasure of working with “Chris” (a pseudonym) on second-semester organic chemistry topics. Before we met, Chris had already obtained a grade of 99 (!!!) in a large Org 1 class at a prestigious west-coast university. However, he was taking Org 2 with a new, more difficult instructor, and felt he needed some extra coaching. We set up meetings on a near-weekly basis and in the end he obtained an A grade in a very difficult Org 2 course.

With the course over, I asked Chris if he could share some of his insights as to how he was able to learn the course material so well.

MOC: What would you say was your general strategy for studying organic chemistry?

Chris: I made note cards to learn reactions (with examples and mechanism) and exam problems from previous semesters that my professor taught.

MOC:  How much time would you estimate you spent studying per week?

Chris: About 2 hours per day, which works out to ~10-14 hours per week.

MOC: What do you think you did differently that a lot of your peers did not?

Chris: I think a lot of my peers treated organic chemistry like a biology course. They devoted most of their time to learning reactions from the textbook, rather than working through as many practice problems as possible.

MOC: What were some of the biggest difficulties you had? What barriers did you have to overcome?

Chris: Stereochemistry was challenging for me to learn. Lots of practice with the model kit was helpful, especially for Fischer projections.

MOC: Where does taking organic chemistry fit into your life goals?

Chris: Like many students before me, medical school.

MOC: If you had to give one piece of advice to students taking the course, what would it be?

Chris: Don’t fall behind! The material in organic chemistry is inherently cumulative and you will always need to recall information from earlier in the course.

MOC: Did you do anything special to study for exams?

Chris: Nothing in particular. I tried to study as far in advance as possible and get a good night’s rest before the exam.

MOC: Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently?

Chris: I cannot believe how long it took me to realize how helpful note cards can be for organic chemistry. I would definitely recommend using them from the start of the course.


I love the quote “a lot of my peers treated organic chemistry like it was a biology course”. Very true.

Thanks to Chris for agreeing to this brief interview.


Comment section

6 thoughts on “How Chris Aced Org 1 and Org 2

  1. I’m taking Organic Chemistry I this semester, it’s already my third week and I know that 5 hours on it every saturday won’t help if I want to master it. I’m really going to try using notecards. And hence comes my questions: what do I do with the notecards?

  2. The last time I took organic, I was studying about 5 hours a day and using notecards but still made a D in the class. I guess it just wasn’t going to work for me. Maybe this time around I’ll try a different approach.

    1. I smoked too much and cared too little; I ended up with a b- first semester and a B second semester. Lots of regret for the apathy with which I treated the course.

  3. Next week will be the 2nd full week of O Chem 1 for me. I plan, starting today, to begin committing at least 2 hrs per day studying and working practice problems. Likewise, I plan to make full use of the notecard method. Thanks for the suggestion! I hope I can walk away from both sections of organic chemistry as successful as Chris!

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