Studying for organic chemistry isn’t like studying for any other classes you’ve taken so far in college. It’s all about concept application, rather than the fact regurgitation of biology and physiology classes.
To efficiently study for organic chemistry, we recommend a 3-step method: learn, retain, and apply.
1. Learn (~30%)
Read the textbook and go through your notes
This time should be devoted to gaining familiarity with the concepts and putting the material into a form that is digestible for you. This could be flashcards, outlines, etc.
Many students live in this phase of studying. They read the textbook once. Read it again. Then read it again… Not a good way of studying.
2. Retain (~15%)
Review the material you’ve already covered, so it’s not forgotten
This is the time where you retain the knowledge that you have organized so nicely in the learning phase (step 1).
Flashcards are an extremely effective way to ensure fact retention as you can rapidly test yourself on information very actively. You can quickly review definitions, reactions, or other key concepts that need to be memorized for the course.
Without this step, everything you learned in step 1 will simply be forgotten.
3. Apply (~55%)
Practice problems, practice problems, and more practice problems
This is where the money is made. Organic chemistry is all about doing practice problems.
On an organic chemistry exam, you will not be asked a definition or an isolated concept. Instead, you’ll be forced to apply a concept to a practice problem that you’ve likely never seen before.
Memorizing the definition alone is not enough (step 2). Knowing the concept is not enough (step 1). You need to apply your knowledge and memorized information to the practice problem you are given on the exam. This goes one step further than many of your previous college classes.
This application step is where you can separate yourself from the class. Do TONS of practice problems, and review every single answer (both correct and incorrect). Ideally, you would use a resource that gives you a full explanation for each question.
Exhaust all the questions in your textbook, and then find more questions.
There are many reasons students struggle in organic chemistry but living in the learning and retention steps above is one of the major ones. In courses like biology and physiology, it was possible to get by or even do well by only doing step 1 and step 2.
But to succeed in organic chemistry, it’s all about practice problems.