Case Studies of Successful O-Chem Students

By James Ashenhurst

“Organic Chemistry Is Like…” – A Few Metaphors

Last updated: January 23rd, 2024 |

What’s organic chemistry, and how is it different from most classes you’ll encounter?

In this post I share a few useful metaphors from commenters on a recent Reddit thread, “Organic Chem: What Is Meant By “Don’t Memorize, Learn The Concepts”.  

Organic Chemistry Is Like Math

If you take the time to understand the concepts, you won’t have to memorize nearly as much.
Think of it like teaching math to someone with no concept of numbers. Going the memorization without understanding route, this person will memorize that 2+2=4. However, with no understanding of the concept, this person will not understand that 1+3, 4+0, 1+1+1+1 etc. all also equal 4. In order to pass this class, this person will have to memorize every combination of numbers that equal other numbers rather than understanding the concept of addition.
Same thing when it comes to ochem. If you don’t take the time to understand what’s going on in the mechanism, you’re gonna have a rough time.

thanks, Reddit user  konaborne!

Organic Chemistry Is Like Chess

I think of it like chess. A terrible way to become good at chess is to watch a bunch of pro games and try to memorize the pattern of moves in each game. You instead need to understand the general principles that led the players to make those moves in the first place.

thanks, Reddit user mlukeman!

Organic Chemistry Is Like Learning A Language (2)

A simple metaphor: Learning organic chemistry is like learning a language. You don’t become fluent in a language by memorizing phrases and attempting to regurgitate/recall them. You learn how the pieces of a sentence work together to create meaning so that you can understand phrases you’ve never seen before and create new ones of your own!

thanks, Reddit user  M1ntB3rrycrnch!

Organic chemistry is like a language. Your instructor wants you to learn it by trying to construct different sentences (i.e. try mechanisms on different molecules), not memorize a conversation verbatim.

thanks, Reddit user grimmra2

And from David Klein’s “Organic Chemistry As a Second Language”, there’s always this:

Compare Organic Chemistry To A Movie

You probably know at least one person who has seen one movie more than five times and can quote every line by heart. How can this person do that? It’s not because he or she tried to memorize the movie. The first time you watch a movie, you learn the plot. After the second time, you understand why individual scenes are necessary to develop the plot. After the third time, you understand why the dialogue was necessary to develop each scene. After the fourth time, you are quoting many of the lines by heart. Never at any time did you make an effort to memorize the lines. You know them because they make sense  in the grand scheme of the plot. If I were to give you a screenplay for a movie and ask you to memorize as much as you can in 10 hours, you would probably not get very far into it. If, instead, I put you in a room for 10 hours and played the same movie over again five times, you would know most of the movie by heart, without even trying. You would know everyone’s names, the order of the scenes, much of the dialogue, and so on.

Organic chemistry is exactly the same. It’s not about memorization. It’s about making sense of the plot, the scenes, and the individual concepts that make up our story

Any other metaphors readers want to share?


Comment section

4 thoughts on ““Organic Chemistry Is Like…” – A Few Metaphors

  1. Organic Chemistry is like Music Theory.
    You learn the concepts of melody, rhythm, harmony, and progression.

    Atoms are notes. Bonds are intervals. Molecular structure/isomers are harmony/inversions. Reactions and mechanisms are harmonic progressions. And at the end, you get to be creative depending on what your goal and vision is.

  2. Organic Chemistry is like Lego;

    Organic chemistry is like lego, only this time you use the buildingblocks of the universe.

    (that’s the main sentence but view it as you like, lego has specific bonding sides, different type of “bonding”. Some pieces fit, some pieces don’t fit the structure)

  3. As a Chemistry student I find this course a difficult one because of the numerous organic names to memorize, from the least to the most priority group, analyzing the polarity and electronegativity of every organic compound to determine its reaction and structural effects. But when I read this article I realized that I don’t need to memorize all the names of the organic compound. From now on I will understand and analyze every topic not memorize it all to get higher marks. This article is a great help for a Chemistry student like me. :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.