How to Make Organic Chemistry a Breeze

“Organic chemistry is difficult. Those who study it have alkynes of trouble.”

Organic chemistry has a reputation, and perhaps it’s well-deserved, for being one of the most difficult classes faced by many STEM majors. If you’re like me, you probably dreaded the day it would be your turn to file in the lecture hall and begin your organic chemistry studies. So if organic chemistry makes you feel like this:

Keep reading because I’ve got some insight that will help make organic chemistry feel a lot less intimidating.

1. Take your notes twice.

I know, scribbling down notes in class is frustrating enough. If you want to really understand the material, you need to take the time to reorganize and rewrite all of it. Use colors to track different functional groups or carbons. Making flashcards and other study devices will be easier if your notes already make sense.

2. Read the lab manual. Read it again.

If you’re one of those people who are fortunate enough to have to take an organic chemistry lab, take the time to read the procedures at least twice. Outline key steps on a sheet of paper. Draw in the mechanisms of what should be happening. If you can relate what you’re doing directly back to what you’re learning in class, you’ll be able to understand it better.

3. Look for extra resources.

I was fortunate to have great professors for both semesters, but not everybody is as lucky. Even with having the best teachers I could ask for, I still needed extra help and practice. I got an old MCAT study book and Organic Chemistry as a Second Language, and those two books made a huge difference in the way I was able to understand material and I had access to even more worked out problems for practice. Sometimes seeing a different explanation is all you need to get a hold on those reactions.

4. Go see your TAs—even for lab!

The TAs in the chemistry department are fantastic. They’re chosen because they excelled: in the case of undergraduates, the class they’re teaching for and the class itself. As for graduate students, they are required to have mastered the classes. Many people have used the TAs for their lecture and homework questions, but most have never approached a lab instructor for help. Not only are they usually happy to work with you, but they probably have a different approach to some of the content than you will learn from others.

5. Go see your professors.

Go to office hours… seriously. At Pitt, you may even have the chance to just go see your professors outside of office hours. Many of the professors in the chemistry department have an open-door policy, and the front desk can tell you if they’re available to chat. The professors really are great resources and absolutely love their jobs. Let them help you.

6. Take advantage of free tutoring.

At Pitt, there is a dedicated team of undergraduates who volunteer every week to tutor students in subjects they’ve done well in. We understand how difficult the courses are, since we’ve taken them ourselves. A lot of us have different resources we can share with you and we’re more than happy to help work through tricky problems.

7. Don’t give into the reputation of organic chemistry.

Too many people self-sabotage when it comes to organic chemistry. You’ve heard it’s difficult, many even impossible, and you walk into lecture already doubting yourself. Organic chemistry doesn’t have to be a nightmare. You’re just as capable of doing well in this class as any other. Don’t give up—just keep triene.

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