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.

During Your Exam: Navigating the Test

Watch out for these key pointers during your organic chemistry exam to navigate the test with confidence and ease.

You are sitting at your desk waiting to open the exam and start. No matter where you are starting from you want to get as many points as possible so you can move up the curve in relation to the rest of the class. Some of these tips are general exam writing tips but some are specifically for organic chemistry exams.

1. Scan First

When you first open your exam don’t immediately start answering the first question and go in sequence to the last. Take a couple of minutes to look through the exam and answer the easy and your best questions first. While you are fresh get as many sure-fire points as you can. Pick the lowest hanging fruit first. If there are 30 points on nomenclature and you mastered this, do it 1st. It is an incredible advantage to have almost 1/3 of your points in the 1st 5 or 10 minutes of the exam. If you have drilled yourself on the reactions over and over and can see them in your dreams do this next. If it’s worth 40% and you get 35% then you can have 2/3 of all possible points in a half an hour. Finally decide which of the rest of the questions you probably know and which you have no idea about. ALWAYS leave the ones you don’t know at all until the end when you are tired and time is running out. If you have time, write something down on these impossible questions. Graders sometimes (more than you might think) give mercy points for any answer. 

2. Pencil Advantage

Use a pencil if at all possible so you can erase and make your answers and structures clear and legible. If forced to use a pen, work on your answer on scrap first or leave some room in case you need to cross out the initial answer and put a new one. Confusing but partially correct organic chemistry structures will often get a zero because the grader doesn’t have time to think about anything but a perfect answer. 

3. First Instinct

As a general rule you should never change your initial answer. It is fairly common (especially if you have moderate knowledge) to put a correct answer first. Then as you get tired and time is running out, you panic and change to a wrong answer. The 1st answer when you are fresh is almost always the best. If you genuinely know you have made an error, clearly cross out your wrong answer and clearly indicate the right one (you can use an arrow and say correct answer). Just remember, if you know the material extremely well this problem doesn’t happen because the correct answer is so obvious. 

4. Blank Strategy

If you don’t know an answer at all leave it blank until you have answered everything else you know better. Put a star next to the question and on the front so you can rapidly find it if you have a little time left at the end.

5. Recheck Carefully

Recheck if you have time, but don’t change your answer at all unless you have a compelling and concrete reason to do so (like you suddenly remembered the 2nd part of a 2-step reagent)

6. Exit Early

If you have finished every question to the best of your ability and intelligently rechecked them then you should leave no matter how early this is. Sitting and continually leafing through your exam could very well result in changing good answers to bad ones. 

7. Break Briefly

If you panic or start to get confused or tired then close you exam and close your eyes or look up for a break. Think about something else (e.g. your upcoming meet-up on Friday). Then go back. Even a 1-2 minute break can do wonders. 

8. Attempt Everything

Don’t leave blanks if you have an idea. Sometimes, a 1/3 correct answer or some intelligent thought can get you partial marks. This is especially true on a very hard/unfair question that no one else put anything down for. It is also true some graders give a mercy point or 2 for any answer.

9. No Peeking

Don’t look at other people’s exams for ideas. While cheating is not commonly caught, when it is, the results can be devastating to you and your career. 

10. Ask Your Professor

If a question is confusing and you think it is incorrect then put up your hand and ask your professor about it. A fair percentage of exams have at least one unclear or incorrect question. You may be saving yourself many valuable minutes by getting the question clarified/corrected as soon as you suspect there is a problem. However, don’t try to trick your professor into giving you the answer by questioning them; it’s a waste of time and causes disruption to everyone around you. Also your professor may become annoyed and that is not good.

Remember, acing your organic chemistry exam is more about how smartly you navigate through it than just what you know. Keep calm, choose your battles wisely, and trust in the preparation you’ve done. You’ve got this—now go show that exam what you’re made of!

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Dr. B Tips

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