Case Studies of Successful O-Chem Students

By James Ashenhurst

How Esther Bounced Back From a “C” To Get A’s In Organic Chemistry 1 And 2

Last updated: January 23rd, 2024 |

The importance of attitude

The student who is the subject of today’s success story, Esther,  didn’t start off doing well in organic chemistry. Actually, she says that the first time she took organic, she got a C. This is because she believed that her NOT doing well was almost inevitable.

Esther: “I am not going to lie, I took Orgo I twice. The first time, I was not prepared. I think people believe that this is a tough class and come in with the attitude that a C is the best one can do. This is what happened to me. I listened to people and walked into the class with the attitude that a C will be a blessing and this was the amount of effort I put forth. And that is the grade I got in the class. “

How painful.  Something completely beyond her control – the whispers and complaints of other people talking about how hard the course was – actually got her psyched out and affected her success.

She needed to re-take the class. The second time was completely different.

Esther: Your attitude will definitely affect your output. The second time, I walked in ready to work my ass off and ready to demolish this class. And that is exactly what happened.

I asked Esther to share some more of her story to find out how she bounced back from a poor first attempt  to “demolishing” it the second time. and got an A in organic chemistry.

MOC: When you say you went in to “demolish the class the second time”, what did that mean for you? 

Esther: “Demolish” to me,  as I was going into the class meant two things: A) understand the material presented,  and B) Be able to retain that information to get all A’s on exams. In organic I, I knew that I had to retain all information in order to be able to succeed in second semester and by constantly encouraging myself to basically destroy any information presented by understanding it and applying it for problem solving, I would be successful overall.

MOC: What’s your “why” ?  Why was doing well in organic important for you? 

 Esther: When I was retaking organic, I got exposed to pharmaceutical sciences and was considering a career in it. When talking to my school advisers and some mentors I knew, they all told me that Organic was an essential class in that career path. I had to do well in this class if I wanted to be considered when applying for programs.

MOC: What do you think was the key factor in your success? 

Esther: Consistently doing problems. It is one thing to just pay attention in lecture but at the end of the day you’re not going to understand nucleophilic substitution until you do problems. When I took the class we were using the Sorrell textbook, which is filled with error, but has tons of problems at the end of each chapter and just doing those exposed me to enough problems such that I could handle any that showed up in the exams. There are also a ton of exam archives for organic classes around the country and just doing problems from other schools exposes you to all kinds of problems and different ways to solve the same questions (this is especially helpful in Orgo II when you’re doing synthesis problems. Seeing different problems learning that a ton more reagents can do the same thing and it’s always helpful to have a bank of reagents on file)

MOC: Anything else that helped?

Esther: Studying with others. In my first semester organic, there was supplemental instruction (SI) which is out of class tutoring open to anyone. In the group, I was able to work with others and we shared studying techniques as well as tip on how to remember stuff (this is the only place where I was finally able to understand hybridization after a friend taught me a trick he knew). In the second semester, we didn’t have SI however I was taking the class with the same people from Orgo I and we just formed a study group. Even though there were time we didn’t accomplish much and all we did was talk, it still was good having a group of people who could help you if you were stuck on a concept.

Also, TA and professor office hours. They’re people there meant to help you. I always went to see my professor if I was stuck on a problem. My lab TA was also an amazing resource when it came to answering questions. Do not be afraid to ask for help. After second semester, I was asked to be a TA and one thing I always encouraged students to do is come to my office hours if they have questions. It can be extremely helpful.

MOC: What was that hybridization trick?

Esther: I don’t know if this will make sense but I’ll try. Basically you count the number of electron regions around an atom. You count how many things are around an atom, for example, carbon, and each electron region is a +1. So like with methane, the first c-h is sp0, second ch-sp1, third c-H sp2 and the fourth c-h sp3. The last one shows the hybridization of that carbon. Electron pairs count as electron regions. Double and triple bonds still count as one electron region. [note from James: this is a useful trick – I’ll write a blog post about this and link to it here. ]

MOC: Did you ever doubt your chances of getting a good grade?

Esther: I did not get spectroscopy for ages!! I mean the fist quiz in class we had on spectroscopy I completely bombed! Like F bombed! And it can definitely be discouraging but with doing problems and exposing myself to all kinds of problems, I finally got it. And now I can do an unknown problem in less than 5mins.

MOC: Was attendance in classes important for you? Did you do anything special to prepare for class?

Esther: Attendance was especially crucial to my success. Not only due cause there were quizzes everyday by I-Clicker but also because there was just information that I couldn’t have understood without going to class. It also helped that the students i met in Orgo I were also in my Orgo II class so we basically had a whole row to ourselves and always worked together on group quizzes and always helped each other.

As far as preparing for class, I did a lot of problems basically. I used the Sorrell text book which has an amazing number of problems at the end of each chapter. Plus my professor would always have “suggested” problems with each chapter that corresponded to the topics being covered in class. I also used the CU Boulder Organic Archive which has old tests ranging from 1999-2014. This was useful when studying for tests. My professor also had a personal archive of her old exams and quizzes that we could use to study so I always did those before each quiz and exam. One of the main tools that I used to study though was my classmates. We built a great rapport and we were able to help each other and at the end of it, I realized Organic is not a class you can be able to succeed in without having someone to study with.

MOC: Did you do any preparation for Org 1 the second time you took it, like doing problems over the summer or doing advance reading?

Esther: I did not do anything to prepare of Org. 1 second time except for what was assigned by the professor. I took the class over summer too so I only had like 3 weeks to prepare. However, I had taken the lab during my first try of organic I and I had a packed on nomenclature which I did front to back because I had had a hard time doing problems the first time I did mostly cause my professor did not go over nomenclature  the first week and instead expected us to do that outside of class on out own. As far as preparing I did look over some old notes quickly but didn’t really prepare all that much.

Your success is very inspiring! Congratulations on doing so well in organic chemistry!

 Thank you very much to Esther for sharing her organic chemistry success story.

Here at MOC I’m always looking for stories of students that describe their best techniques for doing well in organic chemistry. If you’d like to share your story, fill out this quick survey. It only takes a few minutes, and you can be as anonymous as you like.


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