New Release: Unit 14 Nomenclature Part B & Unit 15 Conjugation and Aromaticity are now available for purchase through the site. You can purchase the Semester 1 book for $40 at the Organic Chemistry Stores (W1-22) of the University of Alberta.

10 Tips to Efficiently Get a C in Organic Chemistry

Maximize your study efficiency for a C in Organic Chemistry with these expert-curated tips. Save time, focus on what matters, and achieve desired results.

If organic chemistry is not all that important to your future and a C would be just fine, these tips are for you. They will help you get that C with the least investment of time and effort. After many years of teaching and a couple years of tutoring, I know a few things that work and what is probably a waste of time.

  1. Make sure that you go to every class, pay as much attention as you can and take notes (especially focus on drawing molecules and reactions). What your professor says and writes in class are some of the best clues as to what they think is important and, therefore what might end up on the exams. Also, some professors actually tell you that something will (or won’t) be on the exam. Lastly, it gives you one good exposure with minimal effort. 
  2. Practice/old exams and sample questions for exams (written by your professor) are your most important resource. Most professors give these out a week or two before exams but you may be lucky and get them at the beginning of the term. Schedule time to do these and study the answer key to see what answer your professor wants. Plan to give your professor exactly that answer back. Focus on the big-point questions to optimize you performance. If you don’t understand some big-point questions go to a TA or your professor to get an explanation. Forget challenging questions especially if they are not worth much; figuring them out is a time sink.
  3. Make sure you know how to draw decent structures. If you are drawing terrible structures (e.g. too many bonds, wrong charges, wrong stereochemistry, wrong bond angles) you will constantly lose points. There is no way to get a C if you can’t even draw structures correctly. Do Unit 1 to learn or relearn this. 
  4. Make sure you understand fairly well how electron-pushing and resonance works. It is brutal to try to memorize all of the organic chemistry reactions without some basic knowledge of mechanism. You can quickly review and practice these in Section 6.1.
  5. Nomenclature is your friend. Nomenclature questions can be very easy points. Many professors (especially the old-school ones) have quite a bit of nomenclature on their exams so you could collect 10-20% baseline points just from this. If you study the rules and do the problems then you’ll get most or all of the points. Do Unit 3 (semester 1) or Unit 15 (semester 2) to get a good understanding of this. 
  6. For every hour of lecture spend 1 to 1.5 hours of time outside of class. Quickly read through the class notes again and try to clarify major concepts that doesn’t make sense (maybe by using your book). Then do assigned problems to test that you know the topics. As exams approach add time to master the practice exams and sample exam problems to perfection. Skip challenge problems (these are for A students) because they take too long to figure out.
  1. If your professor generates their own problem sets/answers, do only these. If they only assign problems from the book, then do only these. Skip the challenge problems. Do not do extra problems or look for outside problems because your professor has not generated or picked these. Looking for and doing extra problems will be a time sink. Spend that time to better know your notes, the assigned problems and most importantly practice exams.
  2. Do not under any circumstance read the book before class. If your professor supplies class notes then it may be helpful to spend 10 minutes quickly looking at them. Do not read the book unless you are trying to fill in gaps and then use it strategically. You are trying to understand the topics and approaches of your professor and not those of the textbook.
  3. Do make a “cheat sheet” list of reactions in each section and use these to help you do problems. Then make sure you learn these crucial reactions by memorizing them if necessary.
  1. Do not use online videos to learn topics. I know many of you like to find videos and use them as your primary source of information. I have spent some time looking at many popular series and I would not recommend them. Why? First, the presenter is not your professor and is not writing your exams. Second, many of them are made by students/non-experts and are shallow or even incorrect in important aspects. Third, it can take a significant amount of time to both find and watch the right video. When students tell me that they are watching videos I sometimes think they have convinced themselves that the time spent counts as genuinely working on the actual course. It is very passive and sometimes seems to me to be an avoidance technique used instead of actively learning the notes and doing assigned problems. I think videos are, for the most part, a waste of time. And time is what you are trying to save and use efficiently. 

By focusing on a few simple strategies and avoided a couple of others, you can spend less time studying and more time getting a better grade. 




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