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C 201- Organic Chemistry I Advice
I. Philosophical Approach
Organic Chemistry requires a different thought process than most other classes. In most other classes, the sole process is "fact regurgitation." For example, in a history class, the professor will tell you that Christopher Columbus sent sail in 1492. As long as you know that fact, you will be fine on the test. They may ask, "Who set sail in 1492?" or "What did Columbus do in 1492?" or "When did Columbus set sail?" The really hards teachers might actually ask you to describe the significant events of 1492 and discuss thier impact. Regardless of the question, as long as you know that initial fact, you will be fine.
In organic, you are not only required to know the "facts" but also how to apply them in certain situations. It is usually more important to know why something happens than to know what happens. For example, I will tell you that A + B equal C and than I will show you why that happens. On the test, I will ask you what M+N equals and you will have to follow the exact same process seen in the A + B example to get the answer. For this reason, I think it is important to focus on generic examples. If a double bonds reacts with hydrogen gas and a metal catalyst to give a single bond, then all double bonds will react the same way, regardless if there are two carbons in the compound or 2000!!
DON'T TRY TO MEMORIZE!!! There is a big difference between memorizing something and learning it. It is practically impossible to memorize all the information presented in this class. When I took organic as an undergrad, I had a classmate that tried to make a note card for every reaction the teacher presented and every definition. By the end of the second semester, she had on 3000 note cards, and even though she knew all the information on those cards, she still failed. She failed because she didn't know why things happened and on the test, all the professor had to do was give us a different compound than the one in the example in class but would react the same way, and she was lost.
This is the reason that Medical Schools and other professional schools look so heavily at a students organic grade. It is one of the few classes that a) covers a vast amount of information comparable to that covered in medical school and b) requires students to apply what they know, not just know it. Think about it, would you want to go to a doctor that only knows to give an aspirian if you have a fever, or would you want to go to the doctor that can figure out why you have a fever and treat that?
II. Note Organization
This will be very important when we start covering reactions. To keep all the reactions straight, I suggest that all my students create separate pages for each class of compound. At the top of the page, you give the name for the class. In the first section, you list the general structure, bond angle, hybridization, and naming for the class. The second section is for synthesis of this class of compounds. As you go through the course, each time you learn a reaction that gives this type of compound as a product, you list the reaction in this section. The third section is for reactions of this class of compound. Everytime you learn a reaction in which this type of compound is a reactant, you list it here. Then you review these pages EVERY NIGHT!
III. Work Problems
Work problems, work problems, then work more problems!! The only way to learn organic chemistry is to do it. I have several different organic books in my office. You are more than welcome to borrow them and work problems out of those books. The different books may ask the question a little different or explain the material a little different and they may help you. You should work as many problems as possible. The old adage for most classes is that you should study 3 hours a week for every 1 hour you are in class. For organic you should triple that!!!
It is a proven fact that the more you are exposed to something, the more you understand it. Take advantage of this by reading ahead in the book the night before the lecture (exposure 1). You probably won't understand most of what you read, but you will be exposed to it. Then, in lecture, when I go over it (exposure 2), you will be better prepared to ask questions if you still don't understand. Then review your notes every night (exposure 3,4,etc). Students who do well in organic will not hesitate to tell you that they studied anywhere from 12-16 hours per week, outside of class!!
IV. Study Groups
It has been my experience that study groups definately help. I know a lot of students don't like them, but I strongly, strongly encourage you to participate in study groups. There are 3 reasons they help: 1) I give you points for participating in them, and you need to get all the points you can! 2) If you don't understand something, odds are that someone else in your group will and they can help you with it. Then they may not understand something that you do and you can help them. 3) If you can explain it to someone else, then you know it! That is the best way to test yourself to see if you actually know something, try to explain it to someone else. Your study groups should be between 3-5 people. Any more or less and it is not as effective. Once you have selected you group, you should schedule times to meet and meet at that time every week, not just when someone needs help or the night before the test. Study groups should meet for about an hour or an hour and a half about three times a week.
V. Don't get in a hole!
Organic builds on itself very fast. If you don't understand something, get help immediately. If you wait, you are going to get further and further behind. If you don't understand Tuesday's lecture until the weekend, then you probably won't understand Thursday lecture till Tuesday or Wednesday of the next week and just like that, you are a week behind.