Main page  HOW TO STUDY?

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.

Observations made 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.

  1. Read the chapter material before (!) the lecture and attend all lectures
    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.
  2. 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 preparation strategy!
  3. 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 ANGEL.. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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 without assistance.

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.

How to Study Last updated 07/29/10 Copyright 1997-2013
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