So you’re enrolled in Organic Chemistry. You’ve heard the horror stories and sat down on the first day in shock and awe as some older, mumbling professor talked about chemicals with long names and their properties. It’s going to be a long year.
Organic Chemistry lecture can certainly be overwhelming—from the material itself to the sheer number of science and pre-medical students in one place. With that being said, making the most of this crucial class time gives you a leg up on both learning the material and beating the curve. Simply put, class time is both valuable and limited so the following tips are here to help you squeeze every last benefit out of it.
1. Grab that Coffee!
First things first, pay attention! This probably goes without saying but we all know how incredibly easy it is to walk in sleepily, zone out, or tell yourself you’ll just shut your eyes for a few seconds and go back over what you missed later. To combat this, try to get yourself into a routine where you are ready to go by the time your class starts. If it’s early in the morning, make sure you’re mentally (and physically) awake by then. If it’s later in the day, grab a bite to eat, drink some coffee, or listen to pump up music to give yourself a little boost beforehand. You could even have your friend in the class pinch you every two minutes—anything that isn’t bad for you and helps you stay alert and attentive.
2. Pre-Read the Material
In line with this, come to class prepared. This goes beyond bringing a pen and a notebook. Coming to class with a general understanding of what is going to be talked about helps in a variety of ways. For one, having seen the material once before means you have an idea of what you are having trouble with and what you understand well. Focusing on strengthening your knowledge in this way not only serves to help you learn, but it gives you a goal for a class that may provide more of an impetus to pay attention—see the paragraph before. Additionally, you’ll be able to confidently ask informed questions that can fill in the gaps in your understanding. Not to mention, this simultaneously shows your professor that you mean business. Can you say letters of rec, anyone? Flock of birds. Meet stone.
Regardless of your preferred class preparation method, you’ll need to find a study routine that works for you that makes the best use of your class time. For me, it was try to read about the subject before class, reinforce that material in lecture, and do practice problems after those two pass-throughs, but keep in mind that you know how you learn best.
3. Take notes– the right way
Now for the nitty gritty: note taking. If you’re one of those people who don’t need to take notes, you can skip over this paragraph. Since I believe there are very few people who honestly function best this way, keep reading. Hopefully, you’ve developed your own personal note-taking system over your years in school: format, abbreviations, organization techniques, etc. Hang on to those. Within your own framework, I have a few recommendations.
To start, learning science has shown that taking notes by hand may lead to better learning than taking notes on a laptop or tablet. This means ditch the tablet and pick up a pen, pencil, or quill and ink to boost those brain gains.
4. Summarize only the important details in a way that makes sense to YOU
Since you listened to my suggestion and already briefed yourself on the lecture material—see how all of these tips come together—you’ll have at least a vague sense of what the meat of the lecture will be. Critically thinking in this way helps better digest those more salient points.
How do you do this in a way that makes sense to you? For example:
The thermodynamics of the disconcerted SN1 mechanism depends on the stabilization of the carbocation in solution, which is inversely proportional to its reactivity”
SN1 more likely when intermediate (+) charge more stable. Steps not simultaneous.
For me, the latter would help me understand SN1 more but, again, find ways that work for you. This also forces you to understand the material rather than regurgitate it, giving you genuine questions to ask when you can’t do so.
5. For the love of Galileo, keep your notes organized!
Knowing what topic, reaction, or example you’re talking about matters tremendously in order to keep everything straight, especially once you start doing tons of different reactions. If you want to go above and beyond, start each lecture on a new page (the trees will understand), date and number the pages, and use more than one colored pen for maximum organization.
While I can’t claim my notetaking method is perfect or always looked like this, something like this should be sufficient. Feel free to go above and beyond this though! Whatever works for you
6. There is no substitute for going to class
If your class offers any lecture capture or audio recordings, use them as needed; however, know they are NOT the same as going to class. Sure, they help when you are in a pinch but they aren’t as interactive and relying on them too much can send you spiraling into a cycle of skipping class, which is by far your most valuable resource for learning the material (to put a number on how valuable, see your tuition bill).
So how do you make the most of your organic chemistry lectures? Here’s the simple answer:
- Find a way to be at your peak attentiveness and alertness for class time
- Read the chapters/material before class so you can be engaged and ask good questions to foster understanding
- Find a study routine that works best for your and incorporates the valuable class time
- Take good notes by hand while using your own method to keep them concise, understandable, and organized
- Don’t rely too much on the videos of the lecture and certainly do not let it replace in-person class time
Now you’re ready to tackle Orgo lecture. Go forth with confidence and happy studying.