Organic chemistry, or Orgo, is one of the most difficult courses that a pre-med student will take in their college career. Oddly, it’s not something they’ll even use when they become pharmacists or physicians.
“We have to find people who can do both the personal and the scientific,” Dr. Goldman said. But both also emphasized the continued importance of orgo, not because doctors actually use it but because it lays the groundwork for biochemistry and pharmacology.
- The New York Times
What makes organic chemistry so difficult?
In many of the major courses in college and even late high school, you can learn a concept and then apply it to various situations. Physics, for example, is a set of principles that you then extrapolate to new situations to predict what will happen. While that’s a gross oversimplification, it’s illustrating a point.
Orgo is about understanding mechanisms, reactions, nomenclature, and molecular theory. There are a huge number of these items to remember and understand. While there are some rules that govern these interactions, there are few formulas that can be used to cover the majority of them. Essentially, it is about the visualizing organic molecules in a 3d space. Move the molecule below and see if you could picture the same orientation in your mind. If you are having trouble see this molecule in a 3d space (acetone below - hydrogens omitted) with the compound below. Don't worry you are not alone. Most people have trouble seeing this as well.
There’s one more aspect that makes Orgo so intense; it’s a requirement for all medical and pharmacology tracks. If you don’t pass Orgo or don’t get a good grade, it almost guarantees you can’t get into a med school.
A Weed-Out Course
One of the reasons that schools made organic chemistry so difficult is that it’s a “weed out” class. If you can’t pass this class well, there’s an excellent chance you can’t get through med school or any other advanced medical or pharmacology field.
While you’ll rarely use the knowledge, you get from organic chemistry, it is, as the article above states, the foundation of other things you will need to know. It’s also the first introduction you’ll get to the biological intricacies you’ll need to be a doctor, a researcher, a pharmacist, and more.
Acing Orgo becomes more important when you realize that your grade in this one class will be looked at for the rest of your career.
How to do Great in Organic Chemistry
There are a few ways to do really well in Orgo.
Before starting your course
Get a study guide - There are a number of study guides on the market that you can go through to begin to get familiar with the jargon and some concepts. The problem is that it requires that you’re a self-starter.
Use an online course and games - At PDAFL, we offer a number of organic chemistry courses, interactive videos, 3d modeling software, and games that help you understand the concepts without the dry and boring need to read through another textbook. By gamifying the information and having a fun and interesting course to take before you take your college credit course, you’ll already be proficient in organic chemistry even before you walk into class the first time.
During the course
Old-fashioned effort - Your textbook should take you through every step of organic chemistry. The most effective way to make sure you learn everything is to do all the practice questions, study every section, and read every work.
Notes - The professor’s notes will tell you everything she or he wants you to know of the exams. Go through every word of their notes so you can understand what they want you to know.
Study groups - Get together with other students to learn what you don’t understand and help them learn new concepts. While no one in the group will understand everything together, you’ll all have almost everything covered.
Study guides - There are some textbooks with study guides designed to be companions to your course. Get those and follow along with the class materials. The advantage is that this is a different way of learning concepts so you can more fully understand a new idea.
The Most Effective Way to Ace Organic Chemistry
Here’s the most successful path we’ve found for students who expected to struggle with Organic Chemistry:
1. Take the PDAFL Organic Chemistry course the summer before you start Orgo at your college or university. It may seem strange to take a course twice, but it’s a lot less expensive than repeating the course at college. Also, your struggles the first time through won’t be on your college transcript.
2. Take the course - Do all the assigned work. There are always a lot of practice questions and other study aids in the textbook. Do them all. Be sure to go to class every day and take good notes. If the professor offers their notes online, print those out and study.
3. Join or start a study group - Learning together is easier. When you’re struggling with a concept, someone in the group will be able to explain it to you. The best part is that you’re likely to make friends for life. Many of those same people will be going through the same track you are.
When exam time arrives, don’t just go to the textbook or the teacher’s notes. Look at the PDAFL course for portions you’re struggling with. You might get some insight, as it will be taught a little different in our course.
Take online mock exams if you’re feeling unsure. The ones that come with our course are great. You can also find some online. This will help you find those areas you’re struggling with and need to restudy.
“I failed Organic Chemistry. Now what?”
Don't despair. It’s going to suck paying for the class twice, but you’ll survive.
Go back to the beginning of this article and look at the section How to Do Great in Organic Chemistry. If Orgo was a struggle, you need to do every step.
Take the course. Get the study aids. Work with a study group. Everything.
The one thing you can’t do is fail the course a second time.
If you find yourself struggling again, get a tutor well before midterms. Again, expensive and sucky, but it’s better than losing your dream of being a doctor because of one class. Or try PDAFL’s Live sessions for additional support.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The fact that organic chemistry isn’t your strong point doesn’t mean you won’t make a great doctor or researcher or whatever. It’s their “weed out” class, not yours. By the time you start your first job, we guarantee you’ll understand everything you need to know to do great!
Millions of students have passed organic chemistry since the first university was founded. You’re just as smart as them. You can do this. You just need to follow the plan in this article. You’ve got this!
A guide into tackling organic chemistry. Looking for organic chemistry games check out the fall of the reagents. This organic chemistry game will break down complicated organic chemistry reactions. If your looking for a chemistry game or chemistry games check out PDAFL.
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