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How do you study Organic Chemistry?

  1. Sep 16, 2012 #1
    I suppose this is the right place to post this.
    I have been studying organic chemistry from more than three-four months and i can't even remember the basic reactions. There seems to be so many reactions which i need to memorize. Whenever i sit to do questions on the reactions, i always need to keep my book near me to check the reaction which is asked in the question. I can hardly solve 1 out of 10 question without looking into book and sometimes i am not confident enough about that 1 answer too. How you guys study organic? I mean there are too many reactions, how you people go about remembering them. I try to read my notes everyday so that i don't forget them but still i am never able to memorize them. I even rewrite the reactions but yet it doesn't help me. I am doing this just for the sake of examinations, i don't want to get a bad score due to organic. Physical and Inorganic Chemistry are easier than organic and i score good marks in them. Moreover, i am doing organic on my own because my teacher isn't really good at teaching this subject. My teacher doesn't really know how things work in organic chemistry, i have tried to seek help from him on the questions but he end up giving me some false logic which doesn't really work in other questions due to which i don't ask him now.

    Any opinions from your side would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 16, 2012 #2
    Problem: You cannot remember the reactions in your organic chemistry course.

    Your strategy: You revise my notes everyday. You rewrite the reactions.

    My solution:

    Count the number of days before your final exam. Subtract 14 from your answer. Divide by the number of reactions. The figure you obtain is the number of recations you must memorise every day.

    [Do not try to memorise many reactions at once. The human brain does not like to perform an activity for very long. So, your brain will not enjoy memorising many reactions in a short stretch of time. Therefore, you must memorise the minimum possible number of reactions each day.]

    Memorise one set of reactions today.

    The next day, write down the reactions (which you memorised today) without looking at your notes. Check your answers with the notes and find out where you made mistakes. Underline those mistakes and memorise those parts again.

    One week later, write down the same reactions without looking at your notes. Check your answers with the notes and find out where you have made mistakes. If you made the same mistakes, then you have not improved your retention of the reactions. Otherwise, kudos!

    Revise the same set of reactions the next week. In fact, carry forward this procedure every week until exam time.

    Do the above with all the individual sets of reactions.

    [Reading notes and rewriting them is a passive activity and does not help a student to retain information. Revision must be an active activity. Writing your notes from memory forces you to dig deep into your memory to obtain whatever info from the notes you remember. This will help you retain the information from your notes for a long period of time.]
  4. Sep 16, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the reply failexam! :smile:
    Well, how did you get that formula? :tongue2:
    Anyways, i will give that a try.
    I am going to start this from today as i am left with very less amount of time.
    My exams are going to start in a few days but in this exam, the chemistry course doesn't include much organic, especially, it doesn't include Aldehydes, Ketones and Carboxylic acids, what a relief, so i am not too much worried about this exam. The final exams will be tough because the course includes the complete organic.

    Thank you for the advice, i am sure it will help me out. :smile:
  5. Sep 16, 2012 #4
    Organic often turns into this memory game and this is usually because it is taught poorly with too much emphasis on the wrong things. You are not the only one who has had this problem. Most people seem to worry a lot more about what a reaction does when in fact we should be worrying about why it does it. If you do the former, org chem just turns into a game of dot-to-dot where you have to just remember everything. If you focus on understanding why those reactants do what they do, then you can understand the logic behind all those curly arrows and apply them to situations you haven't seen before. If you can see what the likely outcome is when you are presented with an unfamiliar question, then there is a lot less memorization involved. Unfortunately, the subject isn't always taught this way and even worse, some very speculative reaction mechanisms are presented as hard facts when in fact there is little evidence to support them.
  6. Sep 16, 2012 #5
    Well, I assumed that your exams are still a couple of months away. Then, I assumed that you will finish memorising all the reactions with 2 weeks (before the exam) to spare [in case you need extra time]. With these assumptions, you can calculate how many reactions you will need to memorise each day.

    If yours is like any course, the figure you obtain must be very much less than one, signifying that you won't have to work very hard to memorise all the reactions. This belief can boost your confidence.

    You're welcome!
  7. Sep 16, 2012 #6
    Everyone says that in Organic, you need to apply your knowledge, you don't need to memorize the reactions but i don't really think so. Yes, you need to see where the electron would go, where the bond would break but this stuff is limited to, i mean, reactions of alkene, alcohols, aldehydes etc but when it comes to Oxidation-Reduction reactions, i am helpless there, i couldn't even recognize where the bonds break, my book mentions that there are no particular mechanism for Oxidation-Reduction reactions. Do you have any tips for studying these reactions?
    One more problem is that even if you have done many questions on a particular reaction, you never know, you could be hit by surprises. Yesterday, i came across a question, Bromobenzene is subjected to Birch reduction, what is the product?
    What should be the answer if a normal student like me answers it? Since Br is an electron withdrawing group, the product would be likely 1-bromocyclohex-2,5-diene but the answer was simply cyclohex-1,4-diene, where the hell that Br go? This is the reason why i have started to hate this. Not having a good teacher and doing everything on your own requires a lot of time and unfortunately, i can't go on studying Organic chemistry the whole day, i have to do my Physics and Maths courses too. Whenever you see a new reagent in the questions, you can't be always sure that the reaction would take place by the mechanism you have drawn. For example, check out the reaction of alkene (i am not sure if it was alkene) with PdCl2 and H2O, the mechanism involves a pi-complex (if i remember correctly, see i keep forgetting this stuff). How am i supposed to know that the reaction should go like this. In the examination room, its impossible to think of such a mechanism.
    My final exams are still 5 months away, but that time period is really less for me (i won't be able explain that, you may think i still have a lot of time), just after the finals, engineering entrance exams begin and the syllabus for the entrance exams is too much as compared to the finals. But that's enough for organic. :smile:
  8. Sep 17, 2012 #7
    When I studied organic in undergrad, the way to go was not memorizing stuff. I never made flash cards.

    However, I can't give you too specific hints since I didn't take it for 3 years already. All I can say is, for redox, try to look for *patterns*. The reactions are not random. There are definitely patterns that you can generalize for yourself and they'll make sense in terms of the chemistry.
  9. Sep 17, 2012 #8


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    I don't study Chemistry (at all) but I still get decent score in Organic. Assuming you are going to tackle CET (formerly JEE) here I can give some tips:

    1.) Things you need to learn - Inductive effect series, electromeric effect series, acidic, basic strength, Oxidizing and reducing agents, solvents, misc. reagents, etc.

    2.) Some sure-shot concepts. In our course, there are some "tricks" which guarantees the answer provided we apply them where they are intended. For example, NaNH2 is an important reagent in our syllabus. You should call it "DON" as our teacher asked us, as this DON kills ANY hydrogen in the mechanism, not just acidic hydrogen. Useful in Beta-Elimination.

    3.) For practice, try solving every organic problem via mechanism. IITs like mechanisms, and trust me, most of the problems in organic are at most 1 minute long as long as you make proper structures, use proper mechanisms, rearrange carbocation if allowed, etc. You'll see, after some time, you may directly predict the product for each step of mechanism.
  10. Sep 17, 2012 #9
    I always try that, i try to classify the reagents into selective and not selective reagents. I make tables too to remember which reagent reacts with substrate to give which type of product. After that, i note down the notable exceptions. I think that's enough.

    Everyone is not smart like you who could score good marks in chemistry, i have never been lucky enough to get a decent score in that. I would see if those three points of yours help me out. :smile:
  11. Sep 17, 2012 #10


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    HAHA!! :biggrin: I fail miserably at Maths. That's why I cut my time for Maths Practice. All I ever do in Organic is to grasp the mechanism by solving some problems via mechanism.
    This was enough until now. And yes, If you separately write some points several times, you might easily rote-learn them.

    Remember, most Organic Chemistry we'd be facing is based on Mechanistic Chemistry. If you do that right, as mechanisms too may vary depending upon the reaction. For example, for many reactions having carbocation as an intermediate, carbocation may rearrange. For for some mechanism, like cleavage of Ether, this is not applicable. So, bottom line is, try to grasp all the mechanism, and try to identify the role of I-effect, M-effect, HC, reagents in the mechanism. This will allow you to tweak the mechanism, varying the products owing to different reagents, etc.

    To get the better of this, Try to make some "tricks" what our teacher say "Brahmastra", codeword, etc. Even I can provide you several if you want to know how it can make your life simpler.
  12. Sep 17, 2012 #11
    I would try to make tricks from whatever i learn. You can tell me about the relevant tricks when i post any question here. Thank you! :smile:
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