How Reading Your Organic Chemistry Textbook Prior To Lecture Can Save You Hours Of Study Time

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read your organic chemistry textbookProper study habits take time to develop as a college student. Even the most conscientious students may not be aware of all that is required to properly succeed. As for reading your organic chemistry textbook? eh, that’s something you do the night before exams, right?



Think about it what they told you during freshman orientation:

  • Attend all your classes
  • Take good notes
  • Study every day after class
  • Do all your homework problems

Great! But what if you don’t understand the material??

Organic chemistry is more difficult that then average college course. Sitting there during lecture trying to learn and absorb new information for the very first time is not practical. There is so much to learn and understand that you may find yourself falling behind within the first few minutes of lecture. The remainder of the lecture will continue to build on the topics you’ve already missed, and by the time your orgo professor packs up his or her notes, your head is spinning.

If you are a diligent student, and you get lost, you will likely continue taking notes and plowing on with the intention of dissecting the information after class to clarify the difficult concepts

So you copy every reaction mechanism, and continue writing down every little detail mentioned by your professor

Not understanding a word of it

After class you find yourself reading and studying, pulling out your hair, and reading some more

Some of it will start to make sense, but it may be a long and tedious process. Every concept that clicks will give rise to additional questions. After all, to ask questions, you have to have some understanding of the material. And now that you get it, NOW you know enough to ask

So you have the option to study as much as you can, if you haven’t already closed your organic chemistry textbook in frustration

Perhaps tomorrow you will ask your study partners to explain what you still don’t get, or seek out your professor during office hours

Rinse and repeat

The problem with this method of study is that you waste so much valuable time with this incorrect sequence of learning events.

But what if instead you had the means to actually get the information ahead of time?

Your study hours after class will not be wasted trying to make sense of the information

Instead you can use those valuable after-class hours to simply study your notes and start working on homework questions


By Reading Your Organic Chemistry Textbook Prior To Lecture

Let’s face it, the first time you are exposed to the material you will be partially lost

Doesn’t matter if it’s your textbook or professor teaching you the information

But as you read the textbook you will find that you do grasp some of the concepts. And while it may not all be crystal clear, it will still make some sense. This is your initial foundation

Even if the information is not crystal clear, you will still have some idea of what’s going on. You will grasp part of the material. And best of all, you will KNOW what you don’t know, and understand enough to start asking questions. You’ll have an idea of which topics trouble you the most, and which specific topics are difficult for you

When your professor delves into the information during lecture, you will be able to follow along. Unlike the rest of your unprepared classmates, you will be able to bank on that initial foundation of concepts to really grasp the deeper meaning behind reactions, mechanisms and concepts.

Instead of focusing on the overall ideas being taught, you will be able to recognize the specific emphasis on reactions types and important mechanisms.

You will find that the topics you had difficulty with during your readings now make sense.

Any doubts you had during your readings will be clarified, and tricky concepts will start to click

And if you still have questions, hey at least you understand enough to even ask questions. Asking questions during lecture provides you with further clarification on topics you struggled with, at the time when you are learning the material

(And as you ask your question, look around your classroom and notice the confused looks on the faces of your classmates who have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about)

Let’s go back to note-taking for a moment

Taking notes during lecture is important to keep you focused and to provide you with a direction of study later on. However, you still have to find a balance between taking notes and listening to your professor. If you are too busy writing down every single detail, you are actually distracting yourself from listening and absorbing the information

The lost student will grasp onto every little detail as a lifeline for future study and hopeful comprehension. The prepared student will know where to draw the line

If you have already read the material you may recognize that the professor is referring to a concept that was discussed in your textbook. Perhaps you can make a small note referencing the concepts, but you won’t have to write down EVERYTHING. If you already ‘get’ it you only need a mention of the topic.

So how does this save you hours of study?

Reading a chapter or two prior to lecture won’t take more than an hour or two. Yet trying to understand the very same information after lecture can take you hours. And let’s not forget the time it takes to hunt down your professor or TA for questions

You after-lecture study time can be devoted to skimming the information with a focus on the topics that still give you issues. The remainder of your time will be spent doing the ‘real’ studying

Doing Practice Questions

What do you think? Do you read prior to lecture? If so what do you find most valuable about this habit? Let me know by leaving a comment below


  1. I started this tip this week in my Organic Chemistry 1 class this week. This tip saved me a lot of time! I understood Chiralty and Sterochemistry when the professor conducted his lecture during class. I will keep this tip going for remainder of course.

  2. I have been a complete idiot in how I approached this course. I am in the middle of taking Organic Chemistry 1 and am very behind because I did not read ahead which lead to the consequences you discussed (especially the wasted time trying to catch up afterwards as I am trying to study for other classes as well). I am still not caught up but I am trying my best. Hopefully I can reach the point where I can start practicing the good habits. Do you have any tips for catching up?

    • Better to catch your mistakes during the course than to have regrets after. Tips for catching up will depend on how far behind you’ve fallen. Tweet me @leah4sci

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