Organic chemistry is a difficult subject... and a challenging
course. It covers a lot of demanding material. It uses its own language, and employs
many very precise concepts, yet without referring to mathematical models. You can,
however, become quite good at it in a semester or two. And you should be able to use the
basic concepts to understand a lot about the molecular world around you; the world
of biochemistry, medicine or material science.
over the past few years suggested some generally useful strategies that help to improve
student performance. Here is our list of five things to do to succeed in organic chemistry
without trying. Because, "just trying" will not do. You REALLY have to do it.
- Read the chapter material before (!) the lecture and attend all
We mean read (not study, see below). And we mean all lectures (sleeping in your seat does
not count). If you read before, you will be more attentive in class and you
will take better notes (since you know what's in the book). You will also know better when
and what to ask during the class (instructors love good questions). Even if you are
not finished with the previous material, read forward. The time in class well spent will
minimize your studying hours; it is a very good investment.
- Study everyday (!), do reviews weekly
Studying means organizing the material (reviewing the reactions, rewriting the mechanisms,
maybe even redoing your lecture notes), making the logical connections with what you know,
learning the new terminology and building mental or "real-world" models of the
new ideas. You should constantly probe your understanding by asking (and answering)
the question "why?" in relation to all statements and logical
constructions that you encounter. Doing "a little" every day is much more
efficient, than trying to do "everything" at once. Most importantly do not
fall behind in your study; it is virtually impossible to prepare well for the exam in just
a few days before it. You should develop a good exam
- Solve as many
problems as possible
Reading and understanding the material (passive understanding) is
insufficient; you should be able to use the just learned concepts in
situations not previously encountered, and make logical connections
with concepts learned previously (active understanding). The best way to
achieve such understanding is by solving problems.
Indeed, we test your understanding by giving you collections of problems
to solve. Start by working on in-chapter-problems as soon as
possible, so you can raise questions in class while the material is still
being covered. Then progress to the end-of-chapter questions. If you are
stuck on a problem, look back through the chapter, your notes or
our web pages to find the relevant material.
Then try again. If necessary come back to the problem the next day, or during your weekly
review. Use our discussion forum
(ANGEL) to get
hints and directions. Resort to the answer book only after you have seriously
attempted the problem. If you finally get to the correct answer,
you must also find out why you had difficulties with it in the first place; and fix
the discovered deficiencies. If you simply read problems and then turn to the answers, you
gain very little in your understanding. You must DO the
problems, and then test your understanding with lecture quizzes on
- Study with a friend
Not just sit and read together. Ask each other the toughest questions you
can. If you can explain a concept to your study mate, you know you understand it.
- Get help when you need it
Do not postpone until the next week. Discuss your progress and problems
encountered with the TA's and the lecturer. Come prepared with questions and the
background material. If you have done your homework, the help session will be much
more productive. Remember you not only want to know the answer to a specific chemical
question, but also how to arrive at the correct answer, and why you could not do it
Sounds like a lot of hard work? It is. But, it could also be
a lot of fun, learning how the world around us is built and how it operates. Life after
all is just organic chemistry. You can also get a lot of satisfaction from doing well
in one of the Penn State most challenging courses, and even get into a medical school.
To learn, YOU must do the work. We can only
help you by emphasizing the important, explaining the difficult, and testing the learned.
You pay in money, pain of new neuron connections and precious time. On the latter
subject, of study hours, how many you ask. For A or B performance invest at least 3
hours per each lecture, if you are aiming for the average (C) you may be able to do it
with a little less.
Good luck in your organic chemistry course! Just remember, luck
has little to do with it.