Organic Chemistry Summer Survival Tips

surviving summer organic chemistrySo you’re taking organic chemistry over the summer? Perhaps this decision is your personal choice, or perhaps academic or life events dictate that it has to be this way. On the upside you will be getting a 12-14 week course out of the way in a span of 5-8 weeks.

On the downside, you will be required to learn 12-14 weeks of material in half the time if not less.

If you are like many of my previous summer students you are likely taking organic chemistry in the summer for one of the following reasons:

  1. You failed or withdrew from organic chemistry during the fall/spring semester, and simply cannot bear to endure another 12-14 weeks of this material.
  2. You just want to get it out of the way. Perhaps you’ve never taken organic chemistry in the past, but your friends have scared you by telling you just how difficult it can be. They’ve also hinted that if you take it in the summer you may wind up skipping some topics thus requiring you to learn less information in the long run.
  3. Your projected graduation date requires that you ‘knock it out’ over the summer so that you can proceed with additional required classes.
  4. You are worried that you will be unable to focus on organic chemistry during the fall/spring semester when distracted by the workload of your additional classes and therefore prefer to take over the summer allowing you to focus on just this one class.

There are a number of pros and cons for taking organic chemistry as a summer course. Let’s start by discussing the cons just in case you’re still in the decision-making phase and have the opportunity to wait.

(disclaimer: this is my personal opinion and you do not have to agree with me)

The organic chemistry workload is difficult any semester, but nearly impossible over the summer. Unlike general chemistry which is a course of mathematic questions and plugin-formulae, organic chemistry is a course that requires deep thinking and complex problem solving. The tools for solving the organic chemistry puzzle must be learned slowly over time. This allows you to build a proper foundation required for the complex problem solving mechanisms and multi-step synthesis

Compared to a regular semester where you typically learn 1-2 chapters per week, in a summer course you will be learning 1-2 chapters per day. In the regular semester you get a day/weekend off here and there, with time to study, practice and absorb the material before piling on more information.

Without ample time to breath and let concepts sink in you will quickly find yourself falling behind. You may resort to memorization not based on understanding, find that you cannot properly apply concepts on exams, and potentially find yourself withdrawing from summer school in the happy anticipation of a properly drawn out fall semester

And lastly, admission boards for medical and related programs realize that students take organic chemistry in the summer to ‘get it out of the way’. They WILL confront you about it during your interview.

You may find yourself faced with the following question during your (insert your grad school title) interview: “You took organic chemistry in the summer, if it’s because you couldn’t handle the workload in the regular semester, how can we be sure that you will be able to handle the intense workload of our graduate program?

Perhaps you disagree with me, or perhaps you have no choice and still have to take orgo in the summer.

Pros for taking organic chemistry over the summer

Organic Chemistry is a long and intensive process. Let’s face it, 12-14 weeks is a LONG TIME to learn a single topic. True you will have more study time, but a lot can happen in 14 weeks including family events, distractions, emergencies … and you may find yourself getting burned out by week 10. Taking this course over the summer allows you to start in ‘sprint mode’ study like there’s no tomorrow, and have it over with in a matter of weeks

If you are taking organic chemistry for the second time, perhaps due to failing/withdrawing or achieving a low score the first time around, you are no longer considered a ‘newbie’ to organic chemistry. Regardless of how poorly you did the first time around, you will find that you already have a foundation in the course. You will still have to apply maximum effort, but you may find that the material is easier to learn and understand the second time around. If you are properly motivated you should be able to go full force, study like there’s no tomorrow, and pull a decent grade in the summer program.

Now that we’ve gotten the ‘do’s and don’ts’ out of the way, let’s talk tactics for surviving your summer course.

Pre-Survival Tips for students who KNOW they are taking summer orgo, but haven’t started yet

If you have a day, week, or month before your course starts, utilize your time wisely.

Survival Tips For Students Already Taking Summer Organic Chemistry

  • Prepare as much as possible for every single class. You will gain so much more from each lecture if you have been pre-exposed to the material and have at minimum a vague understanding of what’s going on. This includes, but is certainly not limited to:
    • Reading the textbook ahead of class
    • Doing practice problems and homework questions AHEAD of class
    • Watching my tutorial videos on the topic with a focus of understand what’s going on (Orgo Video Library)
  • Be sure to set aside at least 3-5 hours to study orgo EVERY SINGLE DAY. I realize that with daily labs and all-day lecture this will be difficult, but you CANNOT skip even a single day of review. You must view the entire course as a ‘cram’ session from day 1 and study accordingly.
    You too can benefit from this guide on how to create a balanced study schedule and reading How To Avoid Organic Chemistry Study Burnout.
  • Give yourself a break. While crazy-hectic is a given, you want to prevent burn-out as much as you can. Plan study breaks, ‘fun’ and minimal social hangouts throughout your summer course. This can be anything from watching an episode of your favorite TV show on Netflix, to ‘meeting up with the girls/guys’ once a week. Give your brain a chance to recharge so that you can continue cramming away.
  • If you find yourself overwhelmed and falling behind SEEK HELP. Utilize the resources provided by your school’s peer tutors and professor/TA office hours. If you cannot make their time/schedules or if the help is simply ‘not enough’ consider hiring a private tutor.

You can find a local tutor through (affiliate link) or work with me directly.

Here’s my question to you:

Are you taking Organic Chemistry this summer? If so I’d love to read your comment below telling me when the course starts/ends, and any additional suggestions you have for students taking summer classes.


  1. Yasmine C says

    Leah, It’s Yasmine from Norfolk State. over the past few weeks, I’ve become somewhat obsess with Ochem have been online reading everything about including blogs on why people fail. I just read all of the comments about O chem in the summer and how difficult it is for many. I’m truly encouraged and reading those comments reminded me that I ‘m not stupid. I should not have enrolled in that class in the summer. I get my final grade on Monday. Whatever happens, I’ll stop beating myself up and move on.

  2. I am currently in week 3 of a 7 week Organic Chemistry 2 summer class. We just had our first exam today over alkynes and alcohols and their reactions and mechanisms. It was over 3 chapters. I am finding it hard to organize all the information in the book that I need to know for the tests. I am wondering what the best approach to learning this information is. I made flashcards and practiced writing out the reactions and mechanisms on my white board at home. I just hope that I am getting every reaction. It gets pretty confusing when I look at all the resources on the internet. I figured if I googled alcohol reactions, that there would be a list of all of them. But there is so much information that varies from one internet site to the next, that I get confused. My problem is not in learning the information, it is in knowing what all I need to study. What do I need to put my focus on and how do I make sure that I am studying all the reactions that I need to know? I also do the homework and practice exams. But, I find that it takes me a while to cover the information and then I end up not getting through all of the chapters. I basically need to know the best way to approach this so that I can make the most out of my time. I am also a mom of 2 and busy wife with yard and house to take care of and cooking and cleaning to do. Any help would be greatly appreciated. And lastly, this is my final class, the lecture and lab, and I graduate with my Bachelor’s degree. So, I am pretty excited!!!! I really do love this subject and would even like to tutor others. I just need help in how to organize the study time more efficiently. Thank you so much!

  3. I just finished Orgo 1 and at my university, the summer orgo class is actually 7 weeks long. They fit orgo 1 and orgo 2 into one semester.

    The TWO things I recommend to students taking orgo regardless of whether it is a typical semester or an accelerated term, are to PREPARE & ORGANIZE.

    1. Prepare: literally and mentally
    The first few chapters of any orgo course will be review (lewis structures, resonance, orbitals, etc.) It’s best to hash out those topics before you start class so that you can be studying ahead of the material. Trust me. I had about 2 weeks off between spring and summer and I didn’t take that time off. I bought a workbook called “Pushing Electrons” and downloaded a pdf version of “Organic Chemistry as a Second Language.” Work through those books as far as you can. The class is progressive and comprehensive, you continuously use every topic that is covered and build upon them.
    It is going to be one of the hardest courses you will ever take. Be prepared to lose sleep and work your butt off. I saw orgo chew up and spit out half of my class…Do NOT expect to get an A unless you literally “practice” a few hours a day and comprehend everything. I say practice because Orgo is a learned by doing. You cannot memorize this course. You are NOT in high school anymore ladies and gentlemen!

    2. Organize
    Buy a 3″ binder (trust me…you’ll be taking that many notes). Fill it with tabs to organize by chapters, exam topics, or mechanisms (I did by exam topics). Buy a multicolored pen or multiple colored pens. Sounds cheesy but looking back through your notes at mechanisms, it is much easier to distinguish between text and structures and arrows if they are in different colors.

    Side note: Do not try to memorize. You MUST comprehend WHY certain reagents react the way that they do or else you will fail. If you know WHY HBr performs an anti markovnikov addition when combined with Peroxide, you don’t have to memorize it.

    I am expecting to have either a B+ or an A- in the course. I also worked 40hrs a week and commuted 2.5 hours a day. So if you’re taking orgo in the summer by itself, not working, and think you don’t have time…remember me…No Excuses.

  4. I just want to preface my comment by saying that this is my opinion; furthermore, everyone learns and retains information differently and what may be hard to someone may be cake to another.

    I am finishing my last week of a 5 week summer orgo 1 course. Due to the schedule and holidays, it was essentially a 4 week course. Naturally I had heard all of the horror stories of o chem prior to the start of the course, so about a month before enrolling in the course I started reading on entry level material such as basic functional groups and reactions, looking at any course syllabus to get a general idea of what I will be up against etc. It helped bridge the gap for a few chapters but quickly escalated. Chapters were shoved down our throats throughout a 4 and a half hour lecture 3 days a week. Half of one of those days were dedicated to a lab. Realistically, sitting in one place learning complicated material in a 4 hour lecture is unrealistic, but you gotta do what ya gotta do.

    Unless you NEED to take the course for whatever your reason, after my experience I would recommend NOT taking this course over a summer…especially if a high grade is essential and you want to actually LEARN something and not just remember it long enough to regurgitate it onto an exam. Try to find as many practice problems that go through the mechanisms of reactions step by step. This may be the most crucial point of advice I or anyone else on this board can give. Unfortunately, our book has practice problems in the back but no intermediate steps…just answers. It is a tad useless considering we were rarely asked product prediction questions and ALWAYS asked to list the mechanisms and reagents needed to get a desired product. Youtube became one of my best friends…particularly Khan Academy videos…look them up. Good luck.

  5. Brittany says

    Leah, I am in the middle of my Orgo1 summer session, Ending on the 26th and part 2 starting on the 29th. Do you have any study tips/tricks for moms? I have 15 month old and a lot of help (my in laws live with us) but my husband is gone, well most of the time, and I am really feeling the late nights now. I don’t feel like I am falling behind per say, just not doing as well as I’d like. I have a 100 in lab, because that’s my thing, but I’m averaging high C’s on my tests. It almost makes me sick, I’d love an A, but feel like maybe I’m going about it wrong.

    • You’ve inspired me to write a very lengthy group email. Sent it in the last hour let me know if you don’t see it

  6. I recently started Organic 1 at Lipscomb University in Nashville. It is a 5 week course that leads into organic course which is another 5 week course. Being two weeks into this thing, I gotta say that I find it infinitely easier than General Chemistry (this is because I love the critical thinking and application rather than stoichiometry). The labs are very long, and OP is absolutely right that you have to study your tail off. This is my first experience with Organic, and after two tests I’ve managed to get an A on both of them (the class average is about a 70 right now). I read the chapters before class and attempt to do at least half of the practice problems before the class as well. Another thing that I would like to throw in there for anybody reading this is to focus on lecture and let lab follow. Lab is time consuming, but not difficult. Devote one day a week to prepare and fix lab reports before you turn them in, but the rest of the time needs to be devoted to studying and doing practice problems. All of your advice has worked great for me so far OP, thanks a ton.

    • *leads into an organic 2 course

    • Leah4sci says

      Nate, I’m glad you’re finding organic chemistry fun. If and when you recognize the nature of this course – critical thinking and strategy – it falls into place 🙂

  7. I’m taking ochem 1 as a 5 week course. Although I’m freaking out, I am a little exited! My class begins on June 8th. I’m ready for the challenge. I’m taking it in the summer because I’m a little older than most premeds so I don’t have as much time as others.

  8. I start a summer Orgo 1 in 2 days. I’m a premed, and I really really need to get that A. I was pretty confident I could cram my butt off and do it, but your post got me a bit scared tbh. Highly rethinking my decisions..

    • Leah4sci says

      Have you taken orgo 1 before Iman? what is your rush to get it over with in a summer course? Have you started preparing?

  9. I actually just finished up O Chem 2 this semester and will be taking only the lab portion over summer. I’m not stressing too hard over this. I love chem lab 😀

    • Leah4sci says

      Lab is less ‘scary’ and more tedious when compared to lecture. But since you’ve already learned the concepts it should be quite doable over a short summer course

  10. Skierface says

    Perhaps I’m a weirdo but I took summer organic to get ahead and because my organic 1 professor was excellent and teaching organic 2 in the summer. I took organic 1 second semester of freshman year and organic 2 immediately afterwards that summer. It was great. It was an 8 week course without lab and having lecture every day and two discussions per week really made it not bad. You certainly had to study a lot but it was worth it. I’m not premed but I don’t see why the class would be looked down on. I learned a ton from my summer class, it was equivalent to the class as it’s taught in the fall/spring. Anyways, because I took the summer class, I was able to take advanced organic electives and organic grad classes starting as a sophomore which was great. Organic 2 in the summer was honestly one of the best classes I’ve ever taken.

    • Leah4sci says

      It sounds like you were really lucky in your experience and I wish everyone was able to see/enjoy it the way you described. Unfortunately many of my summer students have previously struggled with the material, can’t learn it as fast as the summer class requires, and/or have really bad teachers. All of this together is the formula for disaster. But yes, every now and then I have a student who thrives on the challenge and works hard to keep up. They come out of it with comments like yours, happy to have survived and ready to face additional challenges.

  11. I’m in the midst of taking O Chem 2 during a 4 week summer session due to scheduling conflicts. Unless you are retaking the course or have already taken the lab (and don’t have to retake in the summer) I strongly recommend AGAINST doing this. There are only 9 people left in the class, most of whom are retaking, because class average on exams has been in the low 40s. It’s not that the material is terribly difficult, but way too much to cram into 4 weeks, especially with 4 hour labs twice a week and lab reports. I actually love orgo and got an A in organic 1, but cramming nearly 100 reactions into one month is a joke. I’ve gotten low C’s on first two tests.

    But if you have no other options, spend a few days beforehand reviewing reactions and concepts from o chem 1 (especially resonance) and you’ll be off to a good start!

  12. myron wasilewski says

    I would do the lab in the fall

  13. myron wasilewski says

    I am thinking about just taking lecture because it will work with my work schedule. I work 20 hours a week and the lecture is 8 weeks long. I wanted to do calculus, but the class times don’t work with my work schedule.

    • Leah4sci says

      Orgo lecture is difficult, especially when taken over a shorter period of time. If you do take it in the summer try to prelearn as much of it as you can. This way you won’t be learning it for the first time in ‘rush mode’

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