How to Succeed in Organic Chemistry


Welcome back.  If this is the beginning of your organic chemistry experience, congratulations.  Most student take organic chemistry because they want to go to medical school, because it is a requirement for their degree in a science, or because they are interested in the topic.  (By the way, the last group of students is by far the smallest).  Whichever group you are in, organic chemistry can be an exciting, fast paced, wild ride.  OK, it is not an attraction at Six Flags, but it can be interesting and challenging, depending on your instructor.


However, lets get to the meat of this post.  How do we study for this course?  Here is our official five-step guide for how to study for organic chemistry.


Step 1: Keep calm and just study.  Nobody but the gifted and boring can get an A in organic chemistry without studying.  Gosh darn it, you have to commit to this class if you want a good grade.  That doesn’t mean that you need to freak out over it, but you will need to bear down and take this monster seriously.


Step 2: Learn the language.  Organic chem is a different language for most people.  Literally.  And if you don’t know that language or are slow in its translation, you will be behind everyone else who is fluent.  Think about it this way: If your professor rattles off a long thought and uses a lot of organic terminology, how long would it take you to decipher it?  Might the professor already have moved  on to the next thought by the time you have decoded the previous one?  Make sure you know the language so you can learn the skills.


Step 3: Know the easy reactions cold.  What are the easy reactions?  E1, E2, SN1, SN2, and alkene reactions are the first places that you need to start without even thinking about it.  Don’t waste time on an exam struggling through the easy reactions.


free organic chem study guide


Step 4: Learn the basic premise of organic chemistry mechanisms, which is that electrons always flow from nucleophile to electrophile.  If you can identify which is the nucleophilic site and which is the electrophilic site, you will be well on your way to figuring out the answer to that problem.



Step 5: Do 50 billion practice problems.  And once you have done that many, try to get to 60 billion.  Do all of the problems in your textbook.  Buy or make your own flashcards.  You cannot do too many of these.  Not only will it help you to learn how to do the problems, it will also help ensure that you are not surprised by a problem you have not seen before.


So that is it.  Five simple steps to a good grade in organic chemistry.  Do you have anything to add to the list?  What has been helpful for you?  Email us at and tell us what works for you.