How to Ace Organic Chemistry (Part II)
In the first half of this article, the concept of excellence in studying a subject is discussed and includes the short-term goals every top student spends the majority of their time doing. It’s a short but by no means easy list to get done. In organic chemistry, these skills are especially important. What continues here are those characteristics of the subject itself, how it’s traditionally taught, and the reasons that to ace organic chemistry is one of the ultimate tests of study skill.
What do you mean “Explain it to Myself”?
The textbook for most other classes explains what you are supposed to do, you absorb much of it as you take in the words and that is largely what you need to know.
But there is no organic textbook that does that very well. This is not an exaggeration or a joke. Some books get reasonably close and those have the most in-chapter questions and solutions explained.
Furthermore, the textbook is written like most by explaining what you can or are supposed to know to do—but it hardly ever tells you what you can’t do, so students feel adrift even after careful reading. This is one of the major characteristics of the subject that people find foreign and that can stop their work and progress.
Organic professors are like any other professor in any other course and often have no idea how detached they are, having forgotten how difficult it was for themselves, from their students. A PhD is not a teaching credential, it’s an okay to perform research. Their job is to mention important concepts, not to teach them, and what is conveyed is an outline or list of things to study. In fact, most professors go overboard except with unnecessary information or waste time on tangents about their research, trivia that sounds important, and other unhelpful details.
Some professors lecture as though this is all somehow a review and teach as if it was presented somewhere in general chemistry or by them personally. But it was not, at all, presented in General Chemistry. No one has explained it to you so that you can explain it to yourself. If that doesn’t happen, you will go nowhere.
Whenever we learn anything at all, we internally express or internalize what we take in and it becomes associated through an internal type of dialogue. This is deceptively hard to do in organic chemistry. Many students swear it made sense during lecture but afterward, even with the notes they wrote, it hardly makes any sense at all. That internalization did not happen. It seemed to because it was right in front of you being discussed and the words sounded familiar but had no framework to harden onto.
Professors become rigid or fixed in their ways of presenting this or that in their own style and it stays with them, for better or worse, throughout their entire career. Whether it works or not, there is always a bell-shaped curve of grades, so they keep their jobs regardless of actual teaching performance.
Most importantly, organic professors don’t emphasize the fundamentals and that is exactly what you need to learn from a practical, not a conceptual or definition-based viewpoint from the first week. Instead, they go on, one chapter, one functional group to the next and keep going, rarely (or never) looking back, until the end—at which point it’s over.
I experienced this personally. Everyone who’s taken the class has experienced it. I’m not saying professors don’t try. I’m not saying they are bad people; they had to endure it too. Many do make an honest effort to teach. But the majority could not care less about your understanding. They can’t read your mind; it isn’t possible even if they do care. I’ve heard colleagues say there is just no hope for some. While this bothered me at first, sure there are some people who just want to pass, but those who are trying in earnest that is just a slap in the face.
Since the most important information is truly at the beginning of the book (hard to believe? I’ll prove it to you…) few, if any, organic professors ever do that. They barely ever cover anything more than once or cover it adequately while using and citing good reasons for doing the things they do as they do them.
Try to deny this. Your professor may be well-liked, articulate, and people may accept the lecture for what it is, but that’s illusory as most people don’t know what to complain about yet. Nor is it the point of lecture to teach you anything. Like every other class, it’s your job to learn not to be taught. The people who get “it”, who have done the reading or who have a private tutor, or are probably re-taking the class, are busting theirs to kick yours. Some people study it in advance and just audit it a semester or summer beforehand.
So if you really want to ace organic chemistry you will have to do everything mentioned above, because really, you are on your own. Ask anyone who’s been there. Droves of people frantically searching the internet is evidence they feel alone or it feels like they have no other recourse.
This is the reality of organic chemistry. Accept it now and try to do what good students do with this in mind. If you can do even a handful of these things, you will do enough in organic chemistry. If you can do them all, you will certainly ace organic chemistry.
Find the help you need to make the reading and problem solving issues easier. You will work hard, that’s unavoidable in college. Working hard and still not understanding it is a terrible, far more painful wake-up call. Let’s avoid that.
What Do you Need and What Do We Strive to Do?
You need explanations, working definitions and shortcuts to cut the reading down.
You need a method for doing things systematically and solving problems without getting stalled.
You need to see things done accurately to model your work after; and precious time to get there at your pace.
You need many of the unspoken rules no one will tell you.
This is not like any other site. The name Organic-ese is not a laughable claim that implies something it cannot promise. Acing something or gaining mastery takes years, not months. You have mere months, really just weeks if you break it down into critical periods, and you need to be as productive as possible by knowing what to do. That knowledge, the tools to play the game on equal footing can be provided, explained, presented, and given to you. There are tools that are not found elsewhere. These are not secrets. All you have to do is read on or watch—more is on the way.
The name and the mission is about the main problem which is a lack of method, it is not a shady promise absent of foundation. You can and will make your life easier if you follow these guidelines. The focus is on the barrier you need to traverse and to give you what you need to overcome the hard stuff to ace organic chemistry for real.