Organic Chemistry Survival Tips

You need a sense of humor to survive organic chemistry class.
Todd Helmenstine

Organic chemistry is often considered the hardest chemistry class. It's not that it's impossibly complicated, but there is a lot to absorb, in both the lab and classroom, plus you can expect to do some memorization to succeed at exam time. If you're taking o-chem, don't stress! Here are survival tips to help you learn the material and succeed in the class.

Choose How To Take Organic Chemistry

Are you more of a mental sprinter or is distance running your style? Most schools offer organic chemistry in one of two ways. You can take the year-long course, broken into Organic I and Organic II. This is a good choice if you need time to digest and learn material or master lab protocols. It's a good choice if you tend to ask a lot of questions because your instructor will be able to take the time to answer them. Your other option is to take organic over the summer. You get the whole shebang in 6-7 weeks, sometimes with a break in the middle and sometimes straight through, start to finish. If you're more of cramming, run-to-the-finish type of student, this may be the way to go. You know your study style and level of self-discipline better than anyone else. Choose the learning method that works for you.

Make Organic Chemistry a Priority

Your social life may take a hit while you're taking organic. It won't be your first chemistry class, so you already expect that. Try to avoid taking other challenging courses at the same time. There are only so many hours in the day to work problems, write lab reports, and study. If you load your schedule with sciences, you're going to get pressed for time. Plan to give time to organic. Set aside time to read the material, do the homework, and study. You'll also need some downtime to relax. Getting away from it for a while really helps the material "click". Do not expect to just go to class and lab and call it a day. One of the biggest survival tips is to plan your time.

Review Before and After Class

I know... I know... it's a pain to review general chemistry before taking organic and to review notes before the next class. Reading the textbook? Agony. Yet, these steps truly help because they reinforce the material. Also, when you review the subject, you may identify questions to ask at the beginning of class. It's important to understand each part of organic because topics build on those you have already mastered. Reviewing builds familiarity with the subject, which builds confidence. If you believe you can succeed in organic chemistry, you will. If you're scared of it, you'll probably avoid it, which won't help you learn. After class, study! Review your notes, read, and work problems.

Understand, Don't Just Memorize

There is some memorization in organic chemistry, but a large part of the class is understanding how reactions work, not just what structures look like. If you understand the "why" of a process, you'll know how to approach new questions and problems. If you simply memorize information, you'll suffer when it's time for tests and you won't be able to apply the knowledge to other chemistry classes very well. You need to understand how organic chemistry works in everyday life.

Work Lots of Problems

Really, this is part of understanding. You need to work problems to understand how to solve unknown problems. Even if homework isn't picked up or graded, do it. If you don't have a firm grasp of how to solve problems, ask for help and then work more problems.

Don't Be Shy in Lab

Learning techniques is an important part of organic chemistry. If you are unsure what to do, speak up. Ask lab partners, watch what other groups are doing, or find your instructor. It's okay to make mistakes, so don't beat yourself up if an experiment doesn't go as planned. You're learning. Just try to learn from your mistakes and you'll be fine.

Work With Others

Any modern science career involves working as part of a team. Start honing your teamwork skills to survive organic chemistry. Study groups are helpful because different people may understand (and be able to explain) different concepts. Working together on assignments will probably get them completed more quickly. You may have gotten through general chemistry on your own, but there's no reason to go it alone in organic.

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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Organic Chemistry Survival Tips." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). Organic Chemistry Survival Tips. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Organic Chemistry Survival Tips." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 23, 2023).