Organic Chemistry

I know a lot of you have already gotten through this wonderful class (I’m being sarcastic). Does anyone have any advice? I’m really struggling. I study for the class constantly, have two tutoring sessions per week. And still, I’m not doing nearly as well in the class as I’d like to be. I actually failed the last exam we took. Granted, the grade I got was the class average, but still. I’ve only got the final left next week to redeem myself. So, if anyone has any advice or even a little bit of encouragement, I’d appreciate it. I know this is just one more hoop that we have to jump through to become doctors. But it’s an awfully high one!
Good luck to everyone on finals!

The best thing I did before our last midterm was hire a tutor. He knew the type of questions that come up on the exams, and quizzed me on them as he went over the material. I felt a lot more confident after spending a few hours with him. So, you could ask around and see if someone could recommend a good tutor for you.
Now if only someone could recommend a good source of OChem problems (Schaums is terrible, and the problems in my textbook are too easy compared to our exam problems).


Schaums is terrible, and the problems in my textbook are too easy compared to our exam problems)

Yikes! I recently bought Schaums but have not delved into it yet; was waiting for the winter break (our Fall exams are in January ). What don’t you like about it?
In our class they supply on the website some old exams and practice exams. It’s a kind of chicken-and-egg thing; at some time in the murky, primordial past when the course began, they didn’t have last year’s exam. Anyway there are about 3 good resources like that, a set of practice problems and one or two old exams with answer keys posted. In addition there are weekly problem sets and quizzes all of which resemble the exam type problems. The text book is semi-useless. and cost $146 as I recall.
My main problem is catching up on the reading enough to be able to meaningfully work all of these practice problems at least once, preferably twice, prior to the exam date. sigh. No one said this was gonna be easy.

Do not read so much. Spend your time on the chapter summaries and summary tables (key reagents and chemicals and mechanisms). Here is my version of the Keys to O-chem. I didn’t do them all all the time, but I did most of them much of the time:
For reagents, ignore what they say and make the damn flash cards. Memorize key reagents so you can do reactions.
For reaction mechanisms, sit your butt down and draw each one ten times until you are sick of it. Choose a slightly different underlying molecule each time so that won’t throw you when you see it on an exam. For reversible reactions, draw them frontwards, then turn right around and draw them backwards; repeat until bored.
For synthesis, I think it’s actually fine to work the SAME problems over and over a few times. What you actually need to get in your head is the process of, “if I need one of these, I have to make one of these first.” My chemistry prof recommended starting at the end of the problem and working backwards. “I need one of these, and I can make one from one of those. THEN I can make one of those with one of this, and…” I used to start from both ends, sometimes, and meet in the middle. I’m contrary like that.
Someone else, I think Judy (efex), suggested you draw a key molecule in the middle of a paper and draw arrows away from it and show what you can make, and arrows to it showing what you can make it from. I didn’t try that one because it was the end of the semester before I saw it. But it sounds good.
If you’re having trouble with SN1 vs SN2 or E1 vs E2, and your tutor isn’t helping you successfully, get a new tutor. It’s not hard to explain to someone who’s sitting in front of you. Look around on the Web for simple tables summarizing the factors that influence SN1 vs SN2 reactions.
Does this help?


My advice is not to memorize, there’s too much to memorize. The secret to O-chem is learning the trends and applying them to the problems. The periodic table will give you clues. Make sure you have a strong handle on acid/base chemistry. This alone can unlock alot of the subject. Resonance can give you clues to areas of potential reactivity. Look for inductance in the molecules. Remember in the end its all about Coulomb’s law. Before I begin any o-chem problem, I ask myself what I am dealing with. Reactants, solvent, temp etc. anything that can affect the reaction. It sounds simplistic, but it works. How did you do in general chemistry? If you have a specific o-chem question, e-mail me, I will help you. I don’t know why, I just get the subject. Good Luck!

How I survived OChem? I am blessed w/ an ability to learn visually & spatially - I am very good at learning shapes, “rotating” & manipulating them in 3-D. So, I invested a good bit of my time combining them in my mind. Yes, I still focused most of my effort learning those damned reactions, conditions, equilibria, blah, blah, blah - but when I was confused or uncertain on an exam, I reverted back to dancing with who brung me. I looked at the 3-D combinations to discern which answer made the most sense in the context of the conditions provided.
I mean, afterall, isn’t OChem (like BioChem) all about STEREOchemistry anyhow?

McMurry’s text (Organic Chemistry) is outstanding. I don’t know which one you’re using, but I’d encourage you to refer to McMurry if you’re lost or struggling with a particular topic. The book is well-written and well-organized.

Thanks everyone for all your great suggestions. I’ll try as many as I can fit in!

I agree with you, Dave. You have to have the little reagent tools in your head, but when the chips are down and your mind is blank, start moving electrons around to where you think they ought to go, and you can often save yourself.

I know you probably haven’t gotten your exam back, but how did the exam go? What does your gut say? I hope it went well.


I know you probably haven’t gotten your exam back, but how did the exam go? What does your gut say? I hope it went well.

I take the final on Thursday night. Right now, I’m busy writing out mechanisms and going to tutoring sessions. I’ll let you all know how it goes. Thanks everyone for your help!

I am holding a good thought for you. I think we are on a roll. I got my grade today. I got an A in o-chem. Now its your turn.

I got my grade the other day and also did well, despite my apprehensions.

We are definitely on a roll.

Go Gina!


I bought a set of Orgo Cards by Barron’s for about $20. They were a big help through Organic Chemistry, and I know I’ll be referring back to them when it comes time to review for the MCAT.

Finals are over! Yea! I’ve never been so relieved in my life. And I pulled a B in Organic Chemistry! I was pretty happy with that, as my highest test score was about 75%. Thank god for quizes.
Thanks everyone for your support and suggestions. It really helped a lot. One more semester and then I’m done with premed requirements and ready to apply!
On another note, I just got engaged over Christmas! Very exciting. Hope everyone is having a great holiday season.

Congratulations on your B, and double congratulations on your engagement!
Good luck next semester!

Woohoo! Double congratulations!

I’m in o-chem (first semester) right now and so far so good. Got an 80 on my first test, which made me happy. Class average was 75. I also get tutored twice a week, and both my tutor and professor recommend models. Actually, my prof REQUIRES the models, and I think they are enormously helpful. Hope that helps.
P.S. Indigo Instruments has a cheap set for $20, which is what I paid although Prentice Hall has the really nice set for $50, which many people in my class bought.

Good job Stacey! I got my Orgo test back today, and I really thought I did much better I got a 68, which was also the class average. sigh I finished the test super early and I thought I did well, but that wasn’t why I did so poorly. The questions I thought I might have missed I ended up getting right. It seems though that I need to go back over my IUPAC naming skills, because I missed all my points in this section. Oh, I can draw a zillion different conformations of stereoisomers and draw consitutional isomers until my fingers bleed, hybridization is my friend, and I’ve even got the boiling point/energy concepts associated with carbon chains, as well as acid-base properties, but for some reason I made dumb errors on my IUPAC naming.
We get to drop our lowest test grade, and I’m bummed that I will have to drop my first. You’re supposed to do well on your first exam, right, to have that cushion?!
I am still in shock - It’s been 10 years since I’ve had anything lower than a “B”, especially since I work hard for my grades. I went to talk to the professor after class, and he was pretty optimistic. He told me to go back over my naming (of course) before starting material for the next exam on Friday, but since I seem to have a grasp on the harder stuff that I should be able to at least pull a B and maybe even an A if I do that well on the 3 other exams. Mind you, he curves based on the class average, and never “screws” anybody (his own words) that scores above the average.
So, I’m still a little bummed - does anyone have a story of getting a B (or even a C?) in Organic and still getting into med school? Please tell me my life isn’t over
At least I pulled an A on my genetics test the same day!

I almost always end up dropping my first exam in any class. Don’t think of it as losing your cushion; think of it as gaining “focus”.