We surveyed your professors and asked them about the best ways to learn organic chemistry
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1. Practice problems: The #1 answer to that question is practice exams and practice problems. Almost 90% of the professors we surveyed said this was the best and most efficient way to study for o-chem. This was an overwhelming majority. Professors lumped practice exams into the larger category of practice problems, which they told us are something students should spend a lot of their study time on. This one was the fastest way to get some organic chemistry help.
2. Videos: We observe that there are three types of org chem videos on the web. The first are full lectures, in which a full semester of videos can be 30-50 hours long. These are usually webcasts of a professor’s entire semesters lectures, put into podcast form and available to anyone. iTunes or a university website are the best places to find these. The second type of summary videos, which can be anywhere from 6-14 hours in total length to cover a semester. These are nice because they condense the material and are a bit easier to digest, but still cover all of the major topics. YouTube, iTunes, or organic chemistry help websites are a great place to find these. Finally, specific topic videos are the third type of video you will find. These are 10-25 minutes long and focus on specific topics or reactions in organic chemistry. These are nice for students who are doing pretty well in the class but might be struggling with a specific area or reaction.
3. Learning reactions and mechanisms: The second most popular way among our professors for studying is by learning as many reaction mechanisms as you can. This will not allow help you to learn the reaction itself by seeing it again, but it will reinforce why the reaction works, which will assist you if you have to figure out a reaction or mechanism you might have never seen before.
1. Just reading your text again: What a terrible way to study. First of all, you have seen this material already once before so it can't show you concepts in a new way. Second, it is boring as anything. Your professors know it is a bad way to spend your limited study time.
2. Doing nothing (obviously): Anything is better than nothing, because nothing is really really bad. Totally no help.
#1- Watch out for the “Flunking Professor”.Because the sciences have become so popular in recent years, many of the larger universities have several professors teaching organic chemistry, which means in financial terms, this is a buyer’s market. You have choices on whose class you take and whose class you avoid. Of course the best way to learn who is good, who is bad, and who is ugly is to ask the boys and girls who have already taken the class. In lieu of that, here are a couple of tell-tale signs that you are about to enter the realm of “Professor Flunks-alot”: 1) On the first day, the professor brags about how many students fail/drop the class. 2) The professor is anti-medical school. (Organic chemistry is a big med school prep subject) 3) The professor does not have a degree in organic chemistry; some schools, due to staffing needs, will run someone out there with a degree in another field of chemistry, or worse—a biology degree. 4) The professor is not receptive to student questions in office hours.5) The professor does not incorporate examples of more recent organic chemistry into the lectures. This is a tricky one. It might show that the instructor is a little out of touch, or doesn't care enough to find more interesting examples to present.6) The professor focuses a lot on physical organic chemistry (orbitals and such). First, this is not the main part of organic chemistry, which rotates around the synthesis of new molecules. Second, it is very boring.If you determine that you have a bad professor, the first thing to decide is if there is a better one out there, preferably teaching the course this semester. If it is easy, and you feel comfortable, switch to the other class. If you consider yourself a masochist, tough guy, or just can’t switch, then sit back and make the best of it.If you really need to get out and can spend a little extra money, many universities will accept a junior college transfer credit. Call the registrar’s office at your school, ask if they will accept organic chemistry from the local community college and take it there. More often than not, the community college will offer a simpler version of the course, which you can take back with you to avoid the whole mess of a jerk professor.
#2- Study in packs—there is safety in numbers.This reminds me of my favorite video on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM). You are a pack of wildebeest, just chilling out by the water, trying to score a good grade in organic chemistry. But you are being hunted by pride of hungry lions (your professors) who would like nothing better to make a quick snack of the weakest one of you. After crouching in the brush, the lions suddenly pounce (pop quiz) and grab a hold of the smallest one of you (the student with the hardest course load). Two things can happen at this point: Either the rest of the pack of wildebeest will cut their losses and try to save themselves or they can go back and heroically battle the lions to rescue their fallen colleague. I am not going to ruin the video if you have not already viewed it, but I think you already know what happens. More than just helping others, studying in packs provides a number of other benefits:1) Studies have shown over and over that studying in groups directly leads to higher grades for all participants. 2) Studying in groups is generally more enjoyable for people, which leads to more time spent on the subject. 3) If you are weaker in one area of the course, you have the opportunity to have a peer explain it to you. Many students are more likely to understand a peer’s explanation over a stuffy professor’s. 4) If you are stronger in one area of the course, you will strengthen your overall understanding of chemistry by teaching it to someone else.Of course, when you are choosing study partners on the Serengeti, you need to be very careful to stay away from the jackals. These are the students that are more parasite than human and will just leach off of your talents. They will come to study sessions unprepared and expect you to teach the entire course to them. They are more Succubus than man and will not help you much. We suggest finding study partners that are interested in a good grade and are willing to put in the time necessary to achieve high marks in the course.
#3-Take the course at a more opportune time. A useful strategy that many students have used is to take chemistry in the “off season”. This means that they have taken Organic I in the spring and then followed with Organic II in the next fall. This presents a number of advantages, including that since you are “out of sequence” the class sizes will most likely be smaller; this will usually provide for a better learning environment. Many will ask if they should take it in the summer. This is not an easy "yes or no" question, and definitely depends on the student. Here are some of the considerations for summer classes: The Good: 1. It is only usually 5 weeks long. 2. If you are not working that summer, it is much better than just sitting around doing nothing.3. If you are not majoring in chemistry and don't want to go to medical school, it is a great way to get organic chemistry out of the way quickly. The Bad: 1. If you ARE majoring in chemistry, it is very easy to forget everything that you learned in the class because you crammed it all into 5 weeks.2. Classes are usually at least 3 hours per day, plus homework every night and an exam once a week. This can be overwhelming. The Ugly:1. If you get a bad professor, keep the hemlock close.
#4- Get away from the Pre-Meds. Yes, we realize that many of you that are taking organic chemistry dream of going to medical school someday. Everybody needs doctors, and the job pays well, so good for you. However, there is a seething underbelly to the pre-med world. Some horrible things that nobody wants to talk about are: 1) Pre-Meds are notoriously cutthroat. By this, we mean that they would slit your throat if it would get them another point on that quiz. We have seen pre-med students tear essential pages out of textbooks in the library because they didn’t want the other students to get that help. We have seen pre-meds steal the exam answer key off of the wall (most answer keys are online now, so that helps), so that YOU don’t know what the correct answers were. 2) They can be curve-wreckers. It is not unusual to find a professor who has the average grade in his class be a 50 out of 100 points. This means that anything above that line is a “B” and anything below is a “C”. Pre-med students are like the Terminator: they don’t feel pity, they don’t feel remorse, and they are relentless in their studies. The average grade in a class full of pre-meds is going to be much higher than one with only a few of them.
#5- Don’t over-emphasize the lab section. One of the biggest complaints that most TAs hear is that the laboratory section of organic chemistry is a lot of work for just one credit. There are no two ways about it…this is a true statement. Think about it. If you were to do everything most TAs require for the lab, you would spend at least one hour prior to the lab preparing for it, three hours in the lab itself, and two hours analyzing your data and writing your report. This equals six hours of work per week for one lousy credit. Compare this to your organic chemistry lecture class, which is usually three hours of class for three credits. We can’t change the system, but we can learn how to work it to our advantage. With respect to the pre-lab preparation, one trick we have found that works well is to get together with a group of labmates and split the work on the lab preparation by alternating who does the lab prep for that week. Some TAs want to you to have the MSDS sheets for all chemicals to be used, in addition to answering pre-lab questions about what you are going to do in lab that day. By alternating who does that each week, you could save hours of time that could be devoted to the lecture portion instead. The report to be written after each lab exercise is another place that many students waste countless hours. Remember that the most important part of the lab is to do the calculations correctly. It does not matter that your data is crappy, it matters what you do with that crappy data. Second, do not spend a ton of time on the narrative portion. Concisely write what you did and leave it. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your TA is going to go over this with a fine-tooth comb. Many will find this to be a controversial statement, but we have found that a “B” in the lab section is not going to preclude you from going further in science, whether that be to a graduate degree or medical school. The one credit from the lab section does not factor that heavily into your “science GPA” or overall GPA. If you could spend three hours less per week on the lab and focus that time into studying the lecture portion, you are much more likely to see a tangible benefit down the road. Further, would it be worth spending that extra three hours on the lab portion if it were only going to raise your lab grade a little bit? (For example, from a “B” to a “B+”) This is even more true if all you want is to pass the lab section and don’t care about the grade. Do not mistake what we are saying here, as the lab portion can be a fun and rewarding experience. We are only advocating that for some students it may be helpful to not over-emphasize a class that is only worth one credit.
If you enjoyed learning organic chemistry, you might want to consider a way to continue the party. The way is to get a graduate degree in that subject. Here are some of the benefits to it:
1) Recruiting trips: Rent the 80's hit movie Johnny Be Good. Your recruiting trips to prospective graduate schools will not be quite that crazy, but each school you are accepted to will fly you out for the weekend to wine and dine you. This includes meeting the faculty & current graduate students, seeing the campus, hearing about research that you might be interested in and seeing what life as a grad student would be like. It is a great way to spend part of your senior year and is the first step to picking the perfect graduate school for you. It is also an amazing opportunity to talk to the graduate students that are already there and find out how life at that school really is.
2) You get paid to go to school: Almost every university that offers a graduate degree in our favorite subject will pay you go to school there. No joke. In exchange for teaching undergraduate classes and/or doing research in order to obtain your degree, these schools will pay you a stipend. Generally, it is not much money, but it will be enough for most of you to live on. Depending on the school, this stipend can range from $15K to $35K/year and tuition is usually covered in that (or is very cheap). Plus, if you want a little extra money on the side, you can always tutor students at about $40/hr.Considering that you are being paid to be a student, this isn't such a bad deal. think about that tutorial
3) You get to put off starting real life: If you get a masters degree, it will take you 18 months to three years to complete. If you get a PhD, it will take you between 4-6 years. This is all time in which you are still a college student and can continue to party like it is 1999.
4) You will increase your earning potential for your entire career: With an advanced degree on your resume, you can demand higher salaries for your entire working career.
5) You don't necessarily even need to become a chemist with your degree: A sizable percentage of those who get advanced degrees never actually become bench chemists, or even stay in the field. I know people that have become engineers, pharmaceutical sales reps, medical examiners, and even FBI agents. The great part about it is that you have flexibility and aren't pigeon-held into a chem job.
Overall, more education never hurts anyone, especially when someone else is paying for you to do it. If you are even remotely interested in hearing more about this, I would strongly suggest learning more about a graduate degree in the sciences. For most schools, you can visit their websites and get more information. If you decide to start the process toward going to graduate school, you want to take the GRE exam sometime in your junior year and start applying in the fall of your senior year.