(Helpful Lies) Secrets in Organic Chemistry

Most students at one point or another get stuck before they get started working a problem because they don’t know what’s okay to write and and what’s not. These unspoken rules means the open-endedness of questions could be anything. When you have uncertainty, the reason is simple. You don’t know what it is you don’t know…or how much of what you don’t know that you really grasp or should have heard by now. But it’s not big. It’s some small thing.

You only vaguely know what you have picked up and do know. The majority of student questions mentioned privately from “I don’t know where to begin.” to “You mean it’s okay to do that?” and occasionally “Why don’t they just say that?” It takes some learning or outside advisement to do the latter.

What do you mean white lies?

White lies are omissions. Simple things are repeated, but the important simple things aren’t repeated sufficiently. This varies of course between professors’ lectures, how their exams are written, and overall congruency with the textbook and its problems. Some are better organized than others.

Textbooks show you one way of doing things and students try to model that in what they do. When something is not phrased clearly or has multiple parts it’s even worse and modeling a procedure that doesn’t have linear steps or break down mentally into simpler steps is a recipe for disaster.

Take  identical twins, put them under the same course conditions and observe them separately. One must learn 3-4 new skills a week by using every available resource, knowing that the content they are absorbing will be helpful later. This first twin seeks ‘the point’ of the course. The other twin is allowed to use the book and lecture only and, unseen by the each other, the first goes at double or triple the pace of the other. The second twin stopped considering that there is a ‘point’ and seeking it is the goal.

Regardless of intelligence, one twin will certainly ace the class, the other will seek alternatives and a “Plan B”. It’s not intelligence but time that makes the difference. Learn it quickly (early if possible). If you realize there is a point, you understand you have just enough time to barely get it all reasonably well, even superficially. Any time wasted is damaging, particularly at the beginning.

What you don’t need to know or worry about would be helpful to know.

But if you knew that, you would understand the bulk of what you do need and your life would be much easier. And it’s impossible. You will never know what you don’t know or you don’t know you don’t know. For some people though, this course is among the most formidable college obstacles face. People think, learn, and operate differently. And the bulk of what isn’t known can be trivial to one person and befuddling to another.  Performance can be increased by covering what not to do as much as what is needed: repetition of important ideas, immediate feedback, and third, some point.

People seek perfection immediately and it hurts them. They try to go too fast and are a couple of steps beyond what to consider.

They’re accustomed to it.

Here is a secret.

The smartest people are hurting themselves by trying to memorize.

Many people selectively choose not to do what is best for them. There is one focus in the subject. Mechanism. Ask a question where you understand, at a minimum, draw it completely, you get it.

Start drawing mechanisms. If they do start, people who are totally lost are forgetting something small. People who don’t write and draw frequently miscount atoms, forget left from right, lose their train of thought regardless of subject because they are used to thinking at that rate. This is more harmful than anything else. Then it becomes hard to know what mechanisms to study. If you want to get good, you have to learn to spank mechanism.

Akward at first, mechanism makes everything else easier and more clear. When that understanding happens, you get it. It feels like learning to surf or eating corn. When you get good at drawing mechanisms of reactions then you ‘get’ organic chemistry.

Why does it seem like it’s harder than that?

The perfect response for any question doesn’t exist. But take your time and an answer will come. Get good at mechanism and you will have an understanding of what to focus on. Seek out questions that demand you attempt mechanism. Actually, you’ll have to draw the mechanism to do anything. Give mechanism the importance of the point, you will grow faster than if you don’t get the point. Until you gain enough knowledge, practicing when you ‘get it’ is just that

In this subject, there are numerous ways of expressing the same correct response or demonstrate an ability. The enormity of potential things that you aren’t told you can’t do in each of these is kept quiet yet is weighty, so where would one begin? The obvious place is to look where the trail disappeared during the first month.

Some people get mired in retracing their way to the beginning it costs them and they get nowhere. Use every available resource you have to avoid this delay. It’s the point where you didn’t draw the arrows for a reaction. That is where you got lost. Your grade depends on how quickly to pick up these skills, not how great you are at chemistry. Surprised? Read on.

Anything new or unfamiliar can potentially leave you shaken, decimate you, and undermine your confidence. What are the secrets and lies (oversimplifications)? We’ll start with the major ones and the list will grow.

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