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How Helena Aced Organic Chemistry
Last updated: March 29th, 2019 |
How Helena Got 93 In Organic Chemistry
An Australian reader, Helena, recently wrote to say she’d earned a 93 in her organic chemistry class as part of her course requirements as a biology major. Here’s how she described her background:
I’m a “mature age” student. The last time I studied chemistry was in high school twenty years ago. Going back to university was quite daunting and I can’t afford to fail subjects (mainly due to pride rather than financially).
My previous uni studies when I was straight out of school were all over the place since I had discovered the pub, attendance wasn’t mandatory, and oh I can just do the subject again next semester). (There was a saying back then…. 51% is a waste of effort, 49% is a waste of time).
I have since done other study including postgrad so it wasn’t like I wasn’t not capable… just lazy!
I asked Helena to share some of her tips for how she succeeded in her organic chemistry course.
MOC: What factors do you think were key to your success?
Helena: Number one: when a lecturer says “this is something important you should really know” highlight, circle, draw great big arrows next to it…. and then learn it, understand it!
Number two: I found that the exam questions were often the exact same question or a slight change (i.e. change a molecule here and there) from the previous years’ questions.
So I did every previous exam for the past 4 years – completed twice!
Number three: always go to all of the lectures in the last few weeks of semester, that’s usually when the content of the exam has been finalised and lecturers might give out some hints.
MOC: Any other advice for students in organic chemistry?
Helena: Read the subject syllabus. Why? To know when assessments are due, and also to find out the learning objectives for each topic (why try and learn 100 functional groups if the lecturer lists the 20 they want you to know?)
- Complete every single piece of assessment, no matter how small the weight of that assessment overall.
- complete every tutorial question, and check against the answers.
- Work equations and problems. Don’t just look over the notes and think, “yeah, I know that!” Do the problems again and again until they are easy.
- I used flashcards for learning functional groups. I found doing them over and over again was the only way I could remember them.
- Keep up! Or be slightly ahead. If you start to trail in your reading you might get overwhelmed with trying to catch up later.
MOC: Was there ever a time when you doubted your chances of getting a good grade?
Helena: Some days I sat in org class and thought the lecturer was speaking another language…… but I worked out the org chem language and started to love it!
In my final exam I struggled with one problem question in particular. It was early in the exam and I spent so much time on trying to get the answer. It was something I had practised and practised and I knew that I knew how to do it – that was the most frustrating part – but it was just not coming together for me.
I was getting extremely stressed and started to think I knew nothing, I was going to fail the exam. Eventually I thought to myself, ok, I’ve spent too long on this question, I need to keep going, and I’ll come back to it if I have time, it isn’t worth the time I was spending on it mark wise to miss other questions I could answer easily , and…CALM DOWN.
[Also the exam was worth 60% of the total assessment, and I knew I only needed to pass the exam (50%) to get a pass overall, but still I stressed].
So… I finished the rest of the exam and came back to the problem question feeling more confident and knocked it over straight away.
I completed the exam about halfway through the allocated time and scored 91% for it (and 93% overall). Happy days.
After my first semester results I was asked to enter an honours program as a dean’s scholar which includes a small financial scholarship for next year.
MOC: Congratulations! What resources have you found helpful?
Helena: My subject was fairly basic compared to what others have described as it really was only an intro, and org was only 1/3 of the subject.
The resources I used from your blog were mainly
- functional group (what they are and priorities)
- study and exam tips
- summary sheets
- drawing molecules (though apparently my sister thinks drawing molecule structures is not as fascinating and exciting as I thought it was).
- nomenclature (gosh – it starts out so simple and turns horrid quickly!)
and really it was just reading through all the blog, getting familiar with the language, referring back to class notes and the text. Even if the post wasn’t relevant to my course I still read and learned different things (ok there was some procrastinating going on occasionally), but often something I’d read would be mentioned in class as an aside and it just put things in perspective.
Thanks so much for this blog. I found it so useful, easy to read, and you have photos of cats. The humour and the informal style and tone is really good. It’s not a chore to read (like the text book often), and you make org far less intimidating. And there are cats.
This semester I am doing chem for life sciences so once again I’ll need to be referring to your blog (more steroism – therefore cats!).
Thanks to Helena for sharing her insights!
Got an organic chemistry success story to share? We’d love to hear from you! It only takes a few minutes, and you can help inspire the next group of organic chemistry students.
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
- Elimination Reactions (1): Introduction And The Key Pattern
- Elimination Reactions (2): The Zaitsev Rule
- Elimination Reactions Are Favored By Heat
- Two Elimination Reaction Patterns
- 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
- E and Z Notation For Alkenes (+ Cis/Trans)
- 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
- 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)
- 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