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.

Final Week Prep: Ace Your Organic Chemistry Exam

Boost your Organic Chemistry exam score with my final week prep guide. From exam simulations to stress management, learn how to ace your test!

It’s a week before the exam, and you have (hopefully) budgeted some intense study time to prepare specifically for your organic chemistry exam.

Maybe you are the most prepared anyone could be (you have gone to every class, taken great notes and understood them, done every problem twice, aced the quizzes and done all possible practice exam questions).

Maybe you’re at the other end of the spectrum and have done none of these. Most likely you are somewhere in the middle.

Let’s talk about some general strategies to get you THE BEST GRADE POSSIBLE IN YOUR CIRCUMSTANCE. Then I’ll sum up what to do in these 3 cases. 

1. Practice Exams

EVERYONE’S STARTING POINT SHOULD BE DOING ANY PRACTICE EXAMS, PRACTICE EXAM PROBLEMS OR OLD EXAMS GENERATED BY YOUR PROFESSOR. Do these 1st and not last. They are by far the best information about what will be on your exam. It’s a big mistake to do these questions as the last step because you will you will have no time to rectify gaps and you have then squandered your best resource. Try to write these exams blind (i.e. as a real exam without looking at the answers ) and see how far you get. Genuinely writing them as real exams gives you a realistic and true estimation of what you know and what you don’t know.

In the case where you have entire practice or old exams, note how many points each type of problem is getting. For instance, one professor I know gives an incredibly large number of points to nomenclature in both 1st and 2nd semester so naturally you want to know nomenclature really well. Nomenclature is easy to master (and ace) so it would be insane to throw out these points by skipping nomenclature. 

2. Reverse Engineering

Once you have tried the practice exam or old exams then reverse engineer to learn how to answer the problems you didn’t get. Carefully compare your answers to the answers given by your professor in the key. If you didn’t get exactly those answers then you need to figure out why. Usually it’s because you didn’t know the material at all or not well enough. Some people have a consistent problem with reading the problem correctly and give the wrong answer because they don’t answer the question the professor asked. In this case, a strategy I recommend that really works is to underline each phrase as you carefully read it and circle the information being asked for. If it’s a list of questions, strike them out as you answer them to make sure you don’t miss anything. Also many professors have a certain answer format. For instance in reaction problems some professors want only major products and will penalize you for showing minor products too. Some professors let you use short forms for reagents but some don’t.

3. Concept Clarity

Once you identify what you don’t know, go back to your notes and any similar problems your professor did during class. If you have a decent professor this may be enough to learn/relearn the topic, reaction etc. If your professor was deficient you can use my help book as an efficient and concise way to learn almost all the topics and reactions in intro organic chemistry. Once you think you know the topic go back and do the relevant practice exam questions again so that you know you can get the right answer. Concentrate on the topics that give you the most points.

4. Quiz Rewriting

If you don’t have practice or old exams, your next best resource is to rewrite all quiz questions generated by your professor for the topics on the exam. Write the quiz blind so you can genuinely see what you know and what you don’t know. Then, reverse engineer to learn the topics or reactions you missed. Also make sure you can do all questions solved by your professor in class.

5. Reaction Lists

If you haven’t already done so, make a list of all reactions (in order) in each chapter. It’s good to list the generic reaction and perhaps a specific example that illustrates a unique feature like Markovnikov selectivity or syn addition. For a good example of reaction lists, you can look at the end of each reaction unit in my help book. 

6. Detail Mastery

You are heading into the A/A+ if you can do all the practice exams and quiz problems perfectly with all the details, like correct stereochemistry and full/correct reagents. This grade reflects an absolute knowledge of the basics and details of all the topics/reactions. Even if an unexpected, extremely hard or unfair question comes up, you will be the most prepared of anyone. You may not answer it perfectly, but you will still answer it the best.

7. Prioritize Wisely

If you have been fairly consistently going to class, taking notes and doing all the problems but not always acing the quizzes you are probably heading into the high C or B range. In that last week, make a list of all the practice exam/quiz questions you couldn’t genuinely get after doing step 1. Notice which topics/reactions appear on all exams and are worth a lot of points, and master those first. Focus on obscure, confusing or one-time questions only if you genuinely have learned the standard questions. 

8. Memorization Essentials

If you have done virtually none of the work everyone else has done then you may be in the D or even fail category. What is worth trying in the last week? Look at the exams and quizzes and identify questions that are worth the most and appear constantly. If nomenclature is covered do this first. Some professors will have 50% straight reaction questions. Make a list of all reactions in each unit covered on the exam. Then go through the practice exams/quiz questions with the list beside you i.e. open book. Next write those same questions blind without the list. If you got some wrong, try the exam questions again with the list and then without. Do not start from the first lectures and do all the assigned problems. It’s too late for that. Learn the high point value questions as well as you can. Memorize as much as you can.

9. Worry Avoidance

Train yourself not to worry no matter what your circumstance. Worry is a waste of time and energy. You are where you are in this last week and you want to use study time and effort to consolidate the knowledge you have and fill in as many gaps as you can. 

10. Balance & Breaks

Do not stay up all night before the exam. Take short breaks to do something you like as you study. If you have several exams you need to study for, then alternate studying them (also inserting short breaks for a fun and relaxing activity),  When you come back, your mind will often have unconsciously solidified the knowledge or even sorted out confusion. 

Remember that the final week before your exam isn’t just about cramming; it’s about smart, strategic review. Whether you’re polishing your expertise or learning crucial concepts for the first time, the approach is key: prioritize practice exams, understand your mistakes, review efficiently, and manage your well-being. No matter where you stand in your preparation journey, employing these strategies can significantly impact your grade. So take a deep breath, focus your efforts where they count, and walk into your exam with the confidence that comes from knowing you’ve done everything within your power to prepare. You’ve got this!




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