bombed Orgo--now what???

I did poorly in organic chemistry (B- fall, C- spring) and now I’m wondering what to do. I had planned to take physics this summer and have been studying the book so as to be well prepared.
But maybe I should take summer school Organic chem and try to achieve a satisfactory score. I have heard that medical schools will say “Hmm, that looks bad” when you retake a course but my irritatingly contrarian conscience tells me the hell with what “they” think; I want to master this subject and prove to myself that I can do well.
It’s kind of discouraging. I sometimes think I should have taken courses at a less competitive, lower standards school than Harvard, but that contrarian voice says, go for the best and make yourself work for it.
Any advice, perspective, or tough love would appreciated. My asbestos suit is on!!!
-Terry

Well, before you decide whether to re-take, what went wrong for you with o-chem this time? What gave you trouble?

Hi there,
How did you do in your other courses? If you have As in your General Biology and General Chemistry, I would advise you NOT to worry about re-taking Organic Chemistry this summer. The summer course is very condensed and since you passed both semesters, you really do not need a re-take.
You should go on to General Physics and do an outstanding job with this class. Again, summer courses are very challenging in that the material is presented very rapidly and you must achieve a greater understanding very quickly. You should be very solid in your math skills for the summer physics course too.
I would advise against re-taking any course that you passed unless your grade was a D. If you have As that B- and C- are not going to totally tank your application unless you are trying to do major “GPA damage control”. In that case, I would advise taking something like Biochemistry (upper division) and getting an A but do not re-take Organic unless your feel that you learned nothing over the second semester. If you do feel compelled to repeat second semester organic, you should probably take the repeat during the regular term.
Dangers of repeating courses: You could get a lower grade and you do not progress. Your repeated grade does not replace the C- so move forward and take something else, like Cell Biology or upper division Biochemistry and do well.
Biochemistry has very little to do with Organic chemistry (yes, both are carbon-based and I have a graduate degree in Biochemistry and I was not “carbon-friendly” as an undergraduate chemistry major) but you should be able to get a good grasp of Biochemistry after having passed Organic Chemistry even with a C-.
Good luck and keep moving forward.
Natalie

No, I have no A’s so far.





I haven’t seen my exam yet, but I think I failed to properly memorize the mechanisms.





I also didn’t take advantage of the office hours and help sessions and study groups, feeling that my time would be better spent studying alone. Now I’m regretting this choice.

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I did poorly in organic chemistry (B- fall, C- spring) and now I’m wondering what to do. I had planned to take physics this summer and have been studying the book so as to be well prepared.
But maybe I should take summer school Organic chem and try to achieve a satisfactory score. I have heard that medical schools will say “Hmm, that looks bad” when you retake a course but my irritatingly contrarian conscience tells me the hell with what “they” think; I want to master this subject and prove to myself that I can do well.
It’s kind of discouraging. I sometimes think I should have taken courses at a less competitive, lower standards school than Harvard, but that contrarian voice says, go for the best and make yourself work for it.
Any advice, perspective, or tough love would appreciated. My asbestos suit is on!!!
-Terry


First take a deep breath Terry. For what it’s worth I’ve really struggled with Organic Chem too. A C- at my school doesn’t count toward my degree so I’ve had to retake both Orgo I and II. Orgo I I improved to a C+ the second time. Orgo II I improved from a D to a C- and will be retaking again this fall.
Am I happy about it? Of course not. In my case I just can’t seem to make the connection from the memorization to the puzzle solving. Everything gets too jumbled in my head. However this fall I’m gonna check out several additional texts (ie. Wade, Soloman, etc) to try and figure out what it is that is not connecting thru reading our own text (Carey).
I would not recommend taking Orgo II during the summer however. My second attempt at Orgo II was a summer session, and it really is just too condensed. We skipped over some of the more biochem oriented chapters but even then we just never got to breathe and let any of the material sink in.
Since a C- wouldn’t count for me I don’t really have the choice of deciding whether or not I needed to retake it, but since the key to retaking a course should be to drastically improve your grade (something I haven’t always been successful at obviously), my recommendation would be to first double check to make sure a C- would even count for prereqs, if it does then you can debate whether or not to retake, if it doesn’t then you really don’t have a choice in the matter. Then if you do decide to retake it I’d take it in the fall or spring and start Physics over the summer instead. Physics seems much more doable in the summer for Ochem challenged folks than Ochem.
Good luck!

Well, this is kind of good news (except that you do need some As from here out): you know where you went wrong. And it sounds like you can apply that in future semesters in other subjects. Study groups are da bomb! I had one in physics this semester and it made my life SO much easier.
I would go ahead and do the physics. Focus on kicking the stuffing out of the homework (I do homework problems over and over again and that works supremely well for me) and FORM A STUDY GROUP! You’ll work problems together and explain them to each other and I promise it will help you. Use this summer in this new course to refine your study technique and make sure you can get those A’s. Then you’ll be in a position to look forward and figure out whether to take biochem or re-take o-chem. I’d say if you can usually make an educated guess about the reaction mechanisms (knowing the electrons PROBABLY want to go over THERE) then you have a decent grasp of orgo. Certainly good enough for the MCAT.

Don’t forget about tutoring. That’s what got me through orgo. It was really nice to have someone to explain mechanisms and how to think through problems one on one. My tutor also went over the tests I took and helped me learn from my mistakes. I seem to make a ton of dumb mistakes like not counting the electrons properly or missing an obvious detail. Also, if you have the Carey book, I think it kind of sucks, so I would definately look into other texts. Thankfully I had a good teacher, but that book was absolutely worthless when it came to helping me understand organic chemistry. Just keep your goal in mind, you’ll get it. Good luck!
Gina

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Don’t forget about tutoring. That’s what got me through orgo. It was really nice to have someone to explain mechanisms and how to think through problems one on one. My tutor also went over the tests I took and helped me learn from my mistakes. I seem to make a ton of dumb mistakes like not counting the electrons properly or missing an obvious detail. Also, if you have the Carey book, I think it kind of sucks, so I would definately look into other texts. Thankfully I had a good teacher, but that book was absolutely worthless when it came to helping me understand organic chemistry. Just keep your goal in mind, you’ll get it. Good luck!
Gina


Thanks to all of you for your good suggestions. I definitely could have worked harder in orgo; I have heard people talk about practicing their synthesis reactions every morning, and I have to admit I didn’t do that. Maybe it’s a time management issue.
By the way, our book also sucked (Bruice). But one guy who posted a review on Amazon said how he took that book and did every problem in it, 3 or 4 times, and scored an A. I suppose that’s one way to do it.
Anyway I’m thinking I’ll keep prepping for physics and make my decision right before the summer term begins. Physics seems so easy compared to orgo. By the way, Gina–are you coming to DC?

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Thanks to all of you for your good suggestions. I definitely could have worked harder in orgo; I have heard people talk about practicing their synthesis reactions every morning, and I have to admit I didn’t do that. Maybe it’s a time management issue.
By the way, our book also sucked (Bruice). But one guy who posted a review on Amazon said how he took that book and did every problem in it, 3 or 4 times, and scored an A. I suppose that’s one way to do it.
Anyway I’m thinking I’ll keep prepping for physics and make my decision right before the summer term begins. Physics seems so easy compared to orgo. By the way, Gina–are you coming to DC?


Umm Our university uses the Bruice book as well for Orgo and I found it to be very straight forward with lots of good help. In addition, the website companion is AWESOME, esp if you use it with chime (look up MDL chime) for the 3D rendering of the molecules. Great source to give you a mental image of the reactions and molecues. You can also pay like $7.50, which I’d recommed, for their “deluxe” site. There is a bit more help there, better review of the mechanisms. Its just enough of an enhancer that was worth the 7.50/yr access. Think that is how long the access is good for.
As you mentioned above, I did each problem 3 or 4 times, maybe even more in some cases - Ended up with an A in both Orgos. So, IMHO - it really takes Effort - ALOT of EFFORT & time to memorize all the mechanisms and reactions. Esp with the Bruice text since there is no energy or pka calc’s/determine who will win the proton, that type of stuff. All just pure memorizaiton.
Good luck!

Physics will also require a LOT of work unless you are a natural…so beware! IMHO I would probably not take physics over the summer where they go at the speed of light. You need to get A’s from now on and taking physics in the summer will require a lot of determination to do problems over and over until you have them down cold. Asess your motivation level right now because you need to eat/think/sleep physics…

I think that depends on your math and trig skills. If trig is easy, first semester physics is easy (you still have to kick the crap out of the homework, but it’s not hard to UNDERSTAND). If trig is work, physics is hard.

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Don’t forget about tutoring. That’s what got me through orgo. It was really nice to have someone to explain mechanisms and how to think through problems one on one… Gina


I think Gina makes an excellent point. Often times, the problem isn’t so much memorizing the mechanism as it is being able to extrapolate the information provided by that memorization. What worked really well for me was going through each mechanism in a very detailed process to discover (or at least hypothesize) why each step was happening and why the steps were happening in the order they were. Equally important is to theorize and probe why situation A DOESN’T happen? I think you will find this process to be very beneficial as you answer questions that seem to come out of the blue on exams. Admittedly, I was frustrated often because the reasoning behind why things happen in one case may be completely off-base for the next case. That’s where the tutor (as Gina suggested) or meetings with your professor can be very fruitful. And even then the reasoning can seem at best ambiguous, at least in my experience. Perhaps that’s because, although many theories exist, so much of organic chemistry has yet to be understood.
With this in mind, I would suggest “tracking” how your professor solves mechanism problems–is there a typical first step, are certain reactions favored over others, etc? Also, devise mechanism problems on your own (or take them from other textbooks or resources) and bring your answers to your professor to see whether you were on the right track. And do LOTS of them. While the tutor will be incredibly helpful in the overall understanding of organic, working with the professor directly may give you insight in the testing/grading procedures of the professor resulting in better grades. Plus, the professor will see your determination to not only do well in the course, but to understand the material.
I wish you the best of luck! Don’t get down on yourself!! Enough people are out there in the world ready to do it for us. You are to be admired for seeking assistance–take the many ideas from the posts on this site, choose what you think will give you the best results, and run with them. Gaining additional knowledge is ever-present in medicine, and determing how you learn on a personal level and practicing and becoming comfortable with it is key to that. Mark this experience as another leading you down the path of becoming an exceptional doctor–in many ways, it can become a remarkably positive one.
Larry

I have to say… there’s nothing straight-forward about Orgo… :wink: I’m still not exactly sure WHY we had to take it… but well… it certainly didn’t help me any with biochem… which I enjoyed… but orgo… blech!
Physics on the other hand… as someone already said… is a toughie… and I would STRONGLY suggest that you not take it during a 5 or even a 10 week summer session… during the regular school year there are usually a lot more resources (tutors etc) at your disposal for a course like physics… use them… use them well… in fact bug the tutors so much that they wince when they see you…
I made friends with all of mine… and there were actually several of us that lived in the Physics tutorial center at my school. it was indispensible…
If at all possible, regarding organic…make friends with the TA from your course… find out who is the cool lab TA that knows his/her stuff and become their best friend… because that can REALLY help you out… I was lucky enough to make friends with my inorganic TA who also helped me through both inorganics and organic chems…utilize study groups…it does make a HUGE difference…
and getting back to summer school… as a person that has taken some tough courses over the summer… genetics, biochem, calc II, and several others… it CAN be done… but do you really want to risk doing poorly… AND do you really want to eat, breathe, attempt sleep of these subjects… if you can avoid it… the answer is probably NO…

ttraub,
I found relevance to be the unique challenge of Orgo. Most classes have some clear relevance, not so much with orgo. How many brominated anythings are in the human body? I’ve got a degree in Physics and half of what they teach in any orgo class is unquestioned pedagogy handed down generation to generation; the other half is paternalistic. Organic chemists teaching the introductory orgo course tend to talk about mechanisms as though they are the first principles. The mechanisms aren’t first principles. Electronegativity isn’t a first principle. Quantum physics contains the first principles governing covalent bonding. But even ‘hard’ scientists like chemists don’t like to talk about QED, so they gloss over lots of stuff while lecturing safely behind the lecturn to innocent, unsuspecting undergrads. You can’t be skeptical enough.
IMHO most advice is reiterated over and over and over, especially in the undergraduate curriculum. Did you ever notice your TA and prof citing the exact same examples, working the exact same “off-the-cuff” problems? How many post-orgo students have told you “tutor”, “work more problems”, or “just gotta memorize”? I have yet to meet a resident who said they’ve used orgo. Again, they’re reciting what other students taught them to say.
Step outside the box and teach yourself. Look up these papers by some of the best orgo profs of the last century:
Morrison, R. 1986. “The Lecture System in Teaching Science,” in “Undergraduate Education in Chemistry and Physics: Proceedings of the Chicago Conferences on Liberal Education,” No. 1, edited by R.R. Rice (Univ. of Chicago), p. 50-58.
Lambert, F.L. 1963. “Editorially Speaking: Effective Teaching of Organic Chemistry,” J. Chem. Ed. 40: 173-174.
E-mail me (human.embryology@gmail.com); I’ll send them to you.
Turns out drug design and biochemistry absolutely hinge on one reaction that the organic chemists figured out late in the game, so they tacked it on at the end of their course, so they don’t teach it to us until the end of the course, now, 80 or 100 years later. It’s the condensation reaction. You can’t pick up the New England Journal or Nature without reading about a condensation reaction somewhere. Get the Biochemical Pathways charts maintained by Expasy (order online, they’re free from Roche), and look at all the enzymes that carry out condensation reactions. I recommend you subscribe to the New England Journal ($60/yr student price) regardless, and, if you really want to dig deep, get Goodman & Gilman’s Pharmacologic Basis of Therapeutics (book - $135). Then you can actually see the structures of these drugs, the conjugated, nitrogenated rings, along with essays on their uses, and figure out, yourself, why they’re important, what enzymes they block, what condensation reactions they block, and what we don’t know about them.
I can’t emphasize it enough, read the primary literature if you don’t understand. Get half a dozen medical dictionaries if you have to (my favorite is the palm version of Stedmans). Read the Nobel Prize lectures. Seriously. They don’t gloss over anything. PNAS has some great archives too. If you’re up Thursday for the conference go to the National Library of Medicine (they’re open till 9 on Thursdays) in Bethesda and just have a look around. Call up a few journal articles, like Watson & Crick’s letter to Nature, and then go to the copy room. You’ll see research on an industrial scale. It’s awesome. They don’t have time to gloss over stuff.
Once you’ve seen the stuff you’ll be reading later, you’ll develop a gut-level need, as I did, to understand the mechanisms. I didn’t need to do problems nearly as much, although I probably did more out of sheer motivation, because I saw the relevance of the material.
If you’re already doing all that, if anticipation caused me to shoot high and right, forgive me.

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I think that depends on your math and trig skills. If trig is easy, first semester physics is easy (you still have to kick the crap out of the homework, but it’s not hard to UNDERSTAND). If trig is work, physics is hard.


Personally I think the difficulty of physics varies from person to person, and also depends on the class. I had three semesters of calculus behind me, and I still had a hard time understanding some of the concepts. It really took a lot of effort. It was worth it though, because I ended up really liking physics. Also, everything from first semester reappears in second semester in a different form. Without basic trig skills, I don’t see how anyone can get through it, but even with that, it can be hard.

To echo what Pushkin said: I really liked math, especially trig, and I did not “get” physics at all. I have likened it to learning a foreign language. There is just a conceptual difference to physics - at least to me - and until I learned to “think in physics,” it was just really hard to wrap my brain around it. On my first test I scored below the mean on an OPEN BOOK TEST. Some time after that, I stopped struggling to rephrase physics into English, learned to think in physics, relaxed and did much better. For me it was definitely a foreign language, though.
I think the summer school immersion experience of physics MIGHT actually be a good way to do it, I dunno. Given how stubborn I am, it probably would not have worked for me because I would’ve kept trying to translate it into English in my head for a few weeks - which in summer school is half the semester. From anecdotes here and elsewhere, it does seem that physics is a uniquely personal experience.
Mary

Wow, this is an eye-opener to me! I supposed I had to learn to think in Physics (or at least in moving pictures the same way I think about physics) to learn trig in the first place, and maybe other people didn’t have to do it that way. I write corrected!

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…I found relevance to be the unique challenge of Orgo…


Wow, what a cool post! Lots of food for thought there. I agree that while organic chem may not be directly related to medicine, it is hugely important nonetheless. It’s also true that organic chemists haven’t figured out how to impart their knowledge to beginning students, though there are some brave efforts underway. The textbook of the year for me is Organic Chemistry as a Second Language, which helped me immensely in mastering some basics, though I wish he’d put out a volume 2 and also eliminate all the filler worksheet pages near the end.
I have decided to repeat organic chemistry this summer. I could just move on and put it behind me, but I really want to master the subject. It feels like the right thing to do.

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The textbook of the year for me is Organic Chemistry as a Second Language, which helped me immensely in mastering some basics, though I wish he’d put out a volume 2 and also eliminate all the filler worksheet pages near the end.



I also thought Organic Chemistry as a Second Language was great, and he IS putting out a second volume:
Organic Chemistry as a Second Language Volume 2

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I think the summer school immersion experience of physics MIGHT actually be a good way to do it, I dunno.


I took summer school Physics. Trig based Physics I & II taught in 10 weeks. The class met 5 days a week from 9am-noon with two afternoon lab sessions a week. An exam a week.
For some reason, it “clicked” for me and I walked away with two As. However, on the first day of Physics I there were 39 students sitting in class. The vast majority were self described pre-med and biology majors. By the end of the last day of class, there were maybe a dozen of us left standing.
A friend of mine who took the course with me (he got an A & a B), completed his application cycle a year ahead of me, and has just finished his M1 year said that "summer school Physics was harder than medical school."
It’s doable, just don’t plan on having any kind of a life while you do it.