How is getting an A in Organic Chemistry even possible, you ask?
With all the horror stories about Ochem, here’s what you always hear from the science geeks: it’s easy! That said, for most of us mere mortals it’s not going to be a walk in the park. The key to getting out alive (with an A or close to an A) is keeping up. It all boils down to good study habits. (And finding and using the best resources.)
These are pretty obvious suggestions, but I’ll make them anyway, because I’ve made the mistake of not following my own advice, and paid the price.
1. Attend every class session. Go to class prepared by reading about the topic you’ll be studying during that class session before class. That way you’ll be prepared to ask questions.
2. Participate in class. One of your best resources is your professor, so use her/him when you’re in class to clarify concepts. Also make use of your TA when needed. I can’t emphasize this too much—you need to understand each concept before moving on.
3. Take good notes. After class, take time to copy down the notes you just wrote. This will help with retention.
4. Set aside a specific time every day (a couple of hours?) to study Ochem, and stick with your plan.
5. Study both your Ochem textbook and your notes. Take advantage of exercises and problems at the end of every chapter.
Use outside resources
As you enter the world of complex carbon compounds and their structure and reactivity, you’re speaking a new language. Anything that helps in the translation process should be welcomed. Here are a few suggestions for added resources that will make your experience less foreign (and maybe even help you get that vaunted A in Organic Chemistry!):
1. Use a second textbook as a companion. Every textbook has its own look, style and approach. You may find a better one than what your professor uses. Here are a couple of well-respected Ochem resource textbooks: Organic Chemistry As a Second Language and Organic Chemistry by John McMurry. For online textbooks, William Reusch’s Virtual Textbook of Organic Chemistry is the best.
2. Use resources found at zillions of helpful websites designed to help you with extra notes, exams and practice materials. I suggest the MIT opencourseware site where you can download course materials including a syllabus, lecture notes and exams. For awesome quizzes, check out Ian Gould’s Arizona sites. For summaries of different reactions, check out FSU’s site. Or for you gamers, try the OMG (Organic Molecule Game). And this is really cool…you can get class notes at AceOrganicChem.com. If you have questions, you can even visit the Chemical Forums!! If you’re serious, there’s no reason not to utilize these no-cost online tools. There are dozens (no, hundreds) of sites that exist to help you through your Ochem crises.
3. Order a molecular modeling kit. For those of us who are visually-oriented it helps to be able to see the structure of compounds while we’re learning about them. You can find kits (new and used) on Amazon, eBay and dozens of other websites.
Don’t get behind
Make sure to attend every lab. Keep up with your homework, spend the time to study for not just tests, but quizzes, and do not procrastinate! It will be tough (impossible?) to catch up if you get behind. Cramming with last minute studying is the worst possible idea, and will not help you in your quest to get an A.
Will a C in a pre-med class keep me out of medical school?
Most likely not. That said, you and I both know that you need to have a relatively high GPA to be accepted to most U.S. medical schools. If you have more than a couple of C’s in your core med school prerequisites, it will drag down your possibilities.
Many med school adcoms use your grade in Organic Chemistry as a harbinger of things to come in medical school, so that’s a good place to put your best effort. Other pre-med classes are considered more or less important, depending on the med school you want to attend.
If you’re a non-science major, remember that the grades you receive in your science classes will have a much more dramatic impact on your science GPA, since you’ll take fewer classes to anchor it. So go ahead and burn the midnight oil on those Ochem and biology midterms and finals, because it will, indeed make a difference.
See my post on how much your Science GPA counts vs. your overall GPA!
And if you’re down to studying for the MCAT, check out my reviews of two top companies: Kaplan and The Princeton Review for test prep classes:
A couple more new books (on Amazon) that should help you dominate in OChem: