HOW TO STUDY ORGANIC CHEMISTRY
To succeed in organic chemistry
(that is, to learn to think logically about molecular properties and behavior,
master the course material, and receive a reasonable grade) you will need a
well-organized approach and the commitment to stick to a fairly rigorous and
time-demanding study schedule. Here are some suggestions about how to approach
doing well in the course.
1. Allocate your time and set study goals in advance. You will require no
less than 10 hours of study time each week, beginning in the first week of
You will get much more value for time
and energy invested if you plan in advance what you intend to accomplish in
each study session
Because you are trying to acquire
useful habits, setting up your study sessions at regular times and in the
same, comfortable place is a good idea
Choose these times and places to
minimize interruption and distraction: this means no television and no loud
music, and preferably a place where multiple friends will not drop by
Focus on work from the moment you sit
down; relax during breaks.
Your plan for each new topic should
include the following activities:
Read the Study Goals for that topic
Read and outline the appropriate
sections of the text prior to the instructor's discussing them in
Read through your class notes and merge
them with the outline of the text;
Write summaries of important points
Make and use flash cards
Make reaction summaries - both of the
reactions of functional groups and of reactions that produce a particular
PROBLEMS; really work them.
Looking at the problem and then looking
at the answer in the Study Guide and saying, "Yeah, OK, I get
it!" is passive studying of the worst kind. It not only does no good,
it makes you overly optimistic about what you know;
List difficulties and questions to
clear up with the instructor during his or her office hours;
Drill with your summaries, flash
cards, and reaction catalogs;
Try to develop visual
summaries, such a flowcharts and tables, in addition to the ones
provided by your instructor; graphics are an aid to remembering content
For example, a student working with
flash cards might notice that most the the reactions studied in the
chapters on alkene and alkyne chemistry can be summarized in a simple
[Can you fill in the
2. Practice daily! Just as
in studying a foreign language, multiple daily sessions yield better results
than one marathon session each week (or even worse, the night before an exam).
An important aid to efficiency is using your larger blocks of time for large
jobs, like working problems, and your smaller scraps of time for small jobs,
like drilling with flash cards.
3. Study actively, with pencil or pen in hand. Outline textual material
rather than highlighting it. Highlighting is too passive.
As you work, draw structures for
molecules mentioned by name.
When you encounter a summary, write it
down, preferably in your own words, don't just read it. Even speak the
summary items out loud.
Other active study methods:
Experimental psychologists have
demonstrated that material learned by passive methods usually can be
recognized as correct when encountered later, but cannot be recalled
at will. Deliberate recall is the aim of learning!
4. Schedule short breaks at regular
intervals during study. Ten minutes out of every hour is a good
proportion. Use the break to stretch and walk around, get yourself a cold drink,
make a short telephone call, or anything else that takes your mind off chemistry
for a few minutes. Consider the break a reward for working hard during the
preceeding 50 minutes.
5. Make sure your study plan includes reviewing for exams, but does
not include "all-nighters" or frantic scrambling right up to the
minute of the exam. These self-defeating measures only lead to panic. Instead,
leave room in your schedule for an enjoyable activity in the few hours before
the exam: a walk in the woods, dinner with a good friend (avoiding discussion of
the exam), watching a favorite video. You want to enter the exam room calm and
confident that your organized preparation has you ready for the exam. These
suggestions and the other learning and problem-solving methods taught during the
course [see for example the Web
Page on flash cards] are based on long-term observations of (and by) many
students, and on proven psychological principles. The approach works best if you
support it in these ways:
Put your study plan into
operation immediately! Begin even before the first class meeting.
Try to anticipate temptations to break your study schedule, and fight them
actively. Skip a study session only if you have managed to complete the
scheduled work in advance. If you plan ahead, major social events need not
become impediments to good grades.
Make a list of the reasons why
you need good grades in the organic course! Fasten it to the inside
of your notebook cover. Then, if you feel yourself losing momentum, or are
tempted to give up your study plan, look at the list.
Use all of the resources
available to you. Many students don't. Some of the most important
Your instructor. Use
office hours and any other time the instructor makes available. Most
individuals in this Department have open door policies, meaning that
you are welcome to ask for help at any time. In addition to getting
answers to questions, you will learn more about what the instructor
Office visits also give you the
opportunity to show that you are taking the work seriously. But
arrive prepared! Vague questions like "Could you go over NMR
again?" imply that you have not done much for yourself. If you
have followed the suggestion above and made a list of specific
things you don't understand, and specific problems in the assignment
with which you need help, your instructor can make effective use of
your time together, and also will be impressed by your study habits.
benefit again depends on your preparation. Watching someone else
work a problem that you have not tried yourself is a passive
experience with limited learning value for you. On the other hand,
seeing confirmation of a solution at which you have arrived by
your own effort, or seeing an alternative solution, is very
valuable. Of course, seeing resolved a problem that you got stuck
on also is valuable.
Detailed study of your returned exam may be painful, especially if
the instructor has written critical comments, but it is an
excellent learning aid. Don't put the exam away until you know
exactly how you made each mistake, and have learned how to avoid
repeating it. Use the answer keys that the instructor will post.
Work now any problems that you did not attempt during the
examination period itself.
Adopt a positive attitude
about the course. Forget what you may have heard about the
difficulty of the course or the personality of the instructor. Remember
that many such comments originate with people not prepared or organized
to do the work. Using the methods described here gives you a pronounced
advantage. The instructor's job is not to entertain you or build your
self-esteem. It is to instruct you. Base your judgements of the
instructor on how well the material is presented, what learning aids are
made available, how accessible he or she is, and so on, rather than on
the intangible of "niceness". Developing hostility toward a
demanding instructor simply diverts energy from the important task at
hand. The greatest enhancement of self-esteem possible comes from
tackling a difficult job and doing well at it by hard work and
Try to make other aspects
of your life as comfortable as possible while tackling this
major course. If possible, schedule organic chemistry when the rest of
your course load is relatively undemanding. Make time for exercise,
which is the best stress reducer of all.
Courtesy : chemistry.umeche.maine.edu