You have worked hard studying organic chemistry. Are you ready
to take the exam? How can you prepare
for that ultimate test? The number of hours you spent studying does not
really measure your preparation. You have to find out what you know, and
especially what you do not know before taking the exam. And, of course, you
must fix the deficiencies that you discover in the process. Such honest
self-evaluation is a very important, but often neglected, component of a strategy to earn
highest exam grade possible. Here are your 10 steps to organic-chemistry
Foundation building (everyday)
- Start early and give yourself plenty of time to prepare for each exam.
Organic chemistry is a difficult course that will challenge you. Develop
good study habits!
- Check if you have your notes in order (recopying often helps),
prepare summaries from your readings, and make note cards (flash
cards). Use any method that helps you build a framework of logical
connections between various concepts of organic chemistry. Remember,
each new subject builds on previous material (concepts).
- Make sure that you are comfortable with basic skills (such as
drawing structures, building models, and visualizing 3-dimensional
shapes), and that you have mastered the appropriate vocabulary
(definition of new chemical terms and nomenclature).
- Do all of the assigned problems. Try to solve them without looking
back into your book or notes. Consult your book or notes only if you do
not know how to start. Only as the last resort find the solution in the
answer book. And even then, in addition to finding the answer, you
should try to discover why you were not able to solve it without
the book. Test your understanding with lecture quizzes (ANGEL). You must find and fix the gaps in your knowledge. For
help use our web discussion forum, visit TA's or use the Resource Center.
There is no way to pass this course if you have not done
at least this much (doing
really well will require much more).
First round of self-evaluations (start at least two weeks before the exam)
- Do other problems in the book concentrating on the subjects that give
you the most trouble. Do not look at the answer until you have
seriously tried the problem. If you use help from the answer book, you
must discover why you could not do it without the book. The early
questions in each chapter problems are usually easier (more routine) and can be
used in the foundation building (see above). The last few problems are
more difficult and are more appropriate for self-testing. The training
sets (available on the web) are
provided to help you to move beyond the book, and to get adjusted to
the multiple-choice format. Get help if
- Get study mates. Ask your study mates the most
difficult questions you can think of. Ask them to do the same in
return. Explain the answers. If they understand you, it usually
means that you know what you are talking about. Studying with somebody
also helps you with more precise understanding of the new chemical terms
and concepts, since you must verbalize your thoughts in the process.
- Work with a training set and a practice exam (save the most recent exam for
last!). DO NOT use the answer key, your book or notes. Use your model kit as needed.
Solve exam questions as individual problems. Do not worry about keeping
time. Make sure that you understand the questions (terms and vocabulary),
make sure that you know what material they refer to. When appropriate,
try to solve the questions without looking at choices provided, and then
match your answer with the choices available. Keep score. What
percentage can you do correctly? Which subjects were difficult? Any time
you do not know how to solve them, or why you have chosen a wrong answer
try to determine the reasons behind your failure ("What did I not know?").
Seek help if needed. Participate in the evening review sessions.
Work extra hard with the problems. Seek more information from your book, your
TAs, or your lecturers. Determine exactly what aspect of the problem you do not
understand. This may take more time than you are used to giving to a course. Do not merely memorize the
answer: this will not help you when you encounter a new question on your own exam.
You want to learn to think "chemically", not to memorize.
Final self-evaluations (start three-four days before the exam)
- Take a practice exam under the
"real" test conditions. Get familiar with the format and test
instructions on the cover page. Time yourself. Do the whole test in one
session without interruptions (no TV, no music). Evaluate your results
critically. Did your percentage score improve? Did you still have problems with the same subject material?
Have you discovered a new weakness? Get back to work. Remember, you
must find out why you have problems with some of the questions.
- Take the most recent exam. It will be your best indicator of what is to come
on the "real" exam, and how well you are prepared. Time
yourself. For each question, make a note how sure you were of your
choice. If you were guessing you are not entitled to count any points.
If you were not sure why a given answer was the correct one (you did
memorize something, but could not really explain why) give yourself only
half a credit. Now carefully count your points (nothing for guessing,
half for the unexplainable, but correct, choices) and subtract from 5%
(if you deal well with the exam stress, and feel that luck is with you)
to 10% (if you are prone to "stupid" mistakes) from your
score. That is how well you are prepared. If you can live with that
score, you may relax and just do light reviewing during the remaining
hours. If your score is below your expectations, you still have time to
fix some (if not all) newly discovered deficiencies.
- Get ready for your "real" exam. Rest and relax the last few hours
(if possible). The last-minute "cramming" is usually
counter-productive. Take the test with the attitude that you can
do it. Your goal is not to get the perfect score. Your goals is to get
the highest score possible, without false expectations. How well did it go? Did you do better than you
thought? If so, your exam preparation was about right. If you struggled, then
you need to increase your effort, adjust your preparation strategy, and
of course, fix the holes discovered on the real exam in the preparations
for the next (cumulative) test.
If you find yourself saying that "I did all of the problems and all of the
old exams, and I still did poorly", then you went through the motions without developing active
knowledge of the material. This may be harder that you think. But this is
the way to go. This is the way to master organic chemistry, to learn how
to learn, and to develop your critical thinking skills.