If you want to be the best in organic chemistry over the summer, but cringe at the prospect of not getting ridiculously tanned on the Beach , then follow the Golden Orgo Success Rules below.
The power of routine
Choose specific study hours. I’d suggest the two hours before class, and the hours before dinner: 2pm – 6pm. By working the same hours, and the same amount every day, you’ll prevent your brain from overloading. As a bonus, you will start to associate the study hours with work, which will make it easier for your mind to slide into focus. Adopting this schedule should eliminate all guilt you may have when you’re not studying. It helped me a lot to hear from the top student in orgo the previous year – he was a TA when I took the class – that he put in these consistent hours every day. High focus spread out evenly over the week is the key; there’s only so much hard thinking you can do on any given day.
Selectively read the textbook
Read chapter 2 “Molecular representations” and do all of the end-of-chapter exercises before class starts. I can hear you thinking: why on earth would I start reading the textbook before the class hasn’t even started yet? Firstly, this is one of those rare science classes where reading the book actually pays off big-time. Secondly, Chapter 2 contains the tools and fundamental principles you’ll rely on every day for the coming 2 months. Mastering these skills will giving you a distinct advantage that will carry through till the end. Thirdly, reading ahead will you give you a buffer to get used to the “Orgo Rhythm” – most students mess up on the first exam (which is already in the second week).
When the class is on its way, read the textbook selectively. Ideally, you’d read/skim enough of a chapter to be able to do the end-of-chapter exercises. Remember that your ultimate goal in any science class should be to successfully solve problems similar to exam questions. The exam questions are very much the same (read: some are copied verbatim from the textbook) as the end-of-chapter problems. Now what does “reading enough to do the exercises” amount to? Skip all of the material he’s covered in class, and skim the stuff he’s told you to read paying particular attention to the example problems. The exercises you’ll do will reveal the gaps in knowledge you need to plug – so don’t obsess about reading every word. Here’s a rule of thumb for what you shouldn’t read: if professor Klein does not cover the reading in class nor tells you to go over the reading outside of class, forget about that textbook section.
Focus on the stuff you don’t want to study. That is, mechanisms and problems
Mechanisms are to organic chemistry, what proofs are to math. They provide the understanding behind organic reactions. Mechanisms show you the chemical reactions steps – including arrows symbolizing electron movement – to get from one compound to the other e.g. from theobromine to caffeine. Asking professor Klein what I should prioritize, “mastery of mechanisms” is what he mentioned first. Try to understand why each step of the mechanism makes sense. Then close the book and try to reproduce the mechanisms on paper – or better, on blackboard – explaining out loud why the reaction proceeds the way it does. Here’s a simple example: HCl donates a proton to H2O because this reduces the free energy. Why does this reduce free energy? – HCl is a strong acid and the resulting Cl- is very stable – has a low free energy – since Cl- has gained a filled outer electron shell. Thinking about mechanisms in this way will eliminate your craving to memorize. For easy reference I suggest making a bundle with all mechanisms you encounter. Take a fresh piece of paper, write at the top to which REACTION TYPE, STEREOCHEMISTRY, and REGIOCHEMISTRY the mechanism belongs, and write out the mechanism in full.
Working problems is the other crucial part in preparing for exams. Get the solution manual, and correct your answers immediately after every page or so of the end-of-chapter problems you complete. Reference the specific textbook section or your mechanism reference bundle if you have trouble.
1. Choose specific work hours
2. Read chapter 2 before the class starts. Read the other chapters enough to do the problems at the end of the chapter
3. Prioritize mechanisms, and then end-of-chapter problems