Thursday, October 11, 2012

8 Jedi Mastery of Organic Chemistry Tips

Mostly every student I've ever tutored wanted an "A" in Organic Chemistry. What is the meaning of an "A"? It means you've mastered the subject. Like Qui-Gon Jinn, you've become a Jedi Master (of O-Chem). This takes dedication, perseverance and hard work.

Indicated are some tips I've picked up along the way to help you get that "A" you want so much!

Jedi Master of O-Chem Tips

    Learn to speed write and draw so you can take "super notes". Yes, you're notes will be messy, however everything will be OK as long as you can read them. Many times professors will tell you VERY important things about exceptions to rules and subtleties of the chemistry without writing on the board. When you write more quickly, you can then spend more time LISTENING to what your professor says. Copy these things down, and place the important "tidbits" in boxes.

    Re-copy your notes. This is a bit more work, however if done within a few hours of lecture you might be amazed at just how much more this reinforces your knowledge and understanding of the material.

    Know ALL the functional groups. Make flash cards with the groups on one side and the names (common and IUPAC) on the other side. Keep these with you wherever you go. When others are playing video games on their cell phones, whip out your flash cards and get ahead.

    Know ALL the common reactions. Grignard additions to carbonyl compounds; Michael additions to enones, enals, enenitriles; Aldol condensations; Claisen condensations; Robinson annulations, etc. Make flash cards for these too so you know them as soon as you see the starting materials and reagents.

    Learn to think in terms of mechanisms. Memorization here is insufficient. It is important to understand reactivity trends such as activating carbonyl compounds to further polarize them for nucleophilic addition, turning poor leaving groups into good ones via protonation or other "priming" strategies. Push electrons, push electrons, push electrons. The odds are good that, if you can draw a logical flow of electron pushing without breaking rules, the mechanism you come up with is a reasonable one.

    Keep the BIG PICTURE in mind. Everything you learn leads to something else upon which you will continue to build. Just like life itself, Organic Chemistry is cumulative. Continue to review as you learn more material. This makes life much easier for you when finals come around.

    Work as many problems as possible. The most fundamental way of learning the principles of Organic Chemistry is through their application. Keep in mind sometimes professors take exam questions from textbooks different from the one you're using. Use multiple textbooks when possible.

    Get a professional tutor (M.S. in O-Chem or better with experience, passion for teaching, and enthusiasm for the subject) as soon as you suspect you are having trouble. Without exception, novice tutors will give you novice results. NEVER go unprepared into any exam.

The most challenging exam you'll have in O-Chem I is SN1, SN2, E1, E2. Know this the first day of class. The most challenging exam you'll have in O-Chem II is carbonyl chemistry and reaction mechanisms. Don't be caught off guard - keep these things in mind.

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