Why Organic Chemistry is So Darn Difficult

Why Organic Chemistry Is So Darn DifficultIf you ask any student who has completed their science, chemistry, or pre-med requirements which course they found to be the most difficult, the answer will be almost unanimously: organic chemistry.

Why Is Organic Chemistry So Darn Difficult?

Organic chemistry is the most dreaded of all science classes. It has the highest failure rate, lowest class average and more retakes than any other science course.
Yet most schools weigh organic chemistry about the same as general chemistry or physics.

Let’s compare the other standard “HARD” classes

  • Biology can be mastered by continuous reading, review and memorization. You may need help understanding the concepts, but once you get it, you’ve got it for good!
  • General chemistry and physics are all about grasping a concept, learning how to apply a formula, and then manipulating the formula in just the right way so that the numbers fall into place and your answer easily emerges. They contain a TON of math and many formulas to memorize and apply, but once you get it, you’ve got it!

In other words, biology, chemistry, physics (even math) all have a very clear study process:

Learn the information
Memorize key terms or formulas
Learn how to apply the terms/formulas to a question
If you follow the simple steps above, you will know clearly when you have finished ‘studying’ for these classes. You will also typically be able to tell if you’ve answered a homework or exam question correctly.

So why is organic chemistry so much more difficult?

I do have my suspicions, but let me interject by telling you that organic chemistry was actually one of my favorite courses in college. After I completed organic chemistry as a biology degree requirement, I chose to double major in chemistry as well!

And that is because I realized this: Organic Chemistry IS Different!

You certainly have vocabulary words to memorize and you may even be given 3-5 math equations to memorize, but that is it!

The rest of organic chemistry is just ONE GIANT PUZZLE. This course doesn’t expect you to memorize and spit back information. In fact, if that is your approach you are probably destined for failure. This course doesn’t have a set of ‘steps’ you can use to answer a question and be done with it. Instead, organic chemistry asks you to do something your other classes probably don’t.

Organic Chemistry requires you to THINK!

As silly as it sounds, too many students are simply not used to this method. They expect to find a formula, work it out and be done.

Organic chemistry is all about the mechanisms, the how and why of reactions and perhaps even the interpretation of a mysterious graph or two.

THAT is why organic chemistry is just so darn difficult!

How can you use this information to your advantage?

If the course is different, then your approach must be different too. You have to approach your studies with the desire to understand what is happening and why.
Toss the idea of memorization right out the window and get ready to:

Constantly ask yourself WHY each electron attacks the way it does.
Why a double bond is attracted to a particular electrophile.
Be able to understand, intuitively, which atom or molecule is more reactive.
Why a particular functional group will show up on a graph one way or another.

How do you study that way? Get started right away by learning how to practice with active writing.

Hopefully I’ve shocked you into rethinking your entire organic chemistry approach, but I don’t want to alarm you without offering any support.

You may already be familiar with my video tutorial series. If not, check them out HERE. They are free and revolve around one core concept: UNDERSTANDING.

When I explain a topic, I don’t say “A reacts with B, now go memorize that.”
I will tell you why A is reactive, why B is susceptible to the attack, and how the combination of these two effects leads to a reaction.

And speaking of reactions, what is YOUR reaction to this information? Let me know by leaving a comment below.


  1. Klndy sent me a book for organic chemistry please

  2. So I just transferred from a community college to george Mason university and got last pick when it came to professors. I was extremely worried about organic chemistry because of all the negativity around the subject, but I find this subject so fun to try and understand every step. All my friends right now are having to retake this class and they blame it on the professor, but I think it’s cause they just don’t take the time to understand it! Granted, I work extremely hard at it because I want to be a doctor one day and know the importance of this class. But I’m happy people like you see the beauty in it too.

    • Thank you! I truly love it and helping students learn. Organic is a challenge and can be overwhelming but once you take the time and understand the reasons ‘why!’ It becomes exciting! Great to hear from you Laura!

  3. veanna st. rose says

    I am a final year student pursing my bachelor’s degree in biology and i am currently doing organic chemistry part 1 and i need to do part 2 in order to graduate next but in order for ne to do part 2 i needs to passed organic chemistry 1… I am really understanding a little bit now from watching your videos.

    • Glad to help, Veanna! Keep working through it! The key is to not just memorize, but ask questions and really work to understand.

  4. ladyerednunez says

    I’m midway through my first ochem (west coaster, lol) semester and I still feel like I’m walking on oil. In lecture I think I get what’s going on, until I see a blank page in front of me asking the questions I was just answering with the prof. In lab I’m doing fine – well, was until some outside stuff got in the way, now little mistakes and misunderstandings are piling up. I cannot fail, I don’t have the room. I’m grateful that memorization won’t carry me, I can’t memorize worth anything. Dyslexia rears it’s head some days, but most I keep it under wraps. I’m just so worried now that it’s too far gone for anything to be done.
    Also, the live workshop about the e2 & e3 reactions etc is taking place when I’m in class. Is there anyway I can get a transcript or a recording somehow?

    Thanks so much 🙂

  5. I’m writing my final exams in two weeks time I’ve struggling 2 understand this module but now after watching some of yo videos there’s a different

    Thnx a lot Leah

  6. Paul Sinjani says

    I did organic chem last year. Wrote exams I failed. I need to pass it as it is a requirement for me as a biology major. I need a lot of help. You seem to make it look so simple and easy. Want to learn the secret.

  7. Hi, I’m taking organic 2 right now and life is sad.

  8. Hi leah, thank you a lot for good idea & helpful things

  9. Very big thanks to you LEACH. Your stereo chemistry videos had been of great help to me. Kudos for good work.You’re the best ever.

  10. Rupal Jhajhria says

    Hi Lean…..I am Rupal presently in class 11 will be in 12th in around 2 months
    I’ve just started with the organic and found your videos on your YouTube channel extremely helpful…..thnx

  11. I’d love to learn more of Orgo especially that sooner I’ll be a teacher teaching Chemistry in middle school 🙂 I hope that this page could always offer a helping hnd☺

  12. I am in organic chemistry I and your videos have been a life saver. Thank you!!!

  13. I am doing this for my daughter. She is taking organic chemistry I. However, she thinks this class is very confusing and not doing good in the class. I know she is trying very hard.
    I have a BS in chemistry 30 years ago. I try to help her. But I have start over because the timing. Thanks for the videos. I have brain tumor and go thru the surgery in September this year while I was laid off on the same month. I will try to watch you video before her third test. Hopefully, she will make a good one this time. Again, many thanks.

    • You are one dedicated parent to learn all of this while recovering just to help your daughter. Please have her email me and I’ll see what I can do to help

  14. I am in Organic Chemistry I class

  15. organic chemistry is too easy if you try to understand instead of just memorizing the equations….

  16. I love the way you explain things leah continue with the same spirit

  17. just took my first exam and i have a very bad feeling about that.i think i didn’t do well i really want to pass this class so as i can transfer.

    • If you failed one exam you must must must ensure that you ace every upcoming exam to bring your grade back up. I recommend joining the organic chemistry study hall for help. Leah4sci.com/join

  18. I’m in Organic Chemistry now and I am not doing well starting off at all. Everything seems just about new to me.

    • That’s pretty normal. your goal should be to study and get ahead of the syllabus so that you have time to absorb and understand before your exam.

  19. Canaan Mekonnen says

    I am in organic I class right now.

  20. I’m very excited for my organic chemistry 1 class this fall!!

    • Leah4sci says

      What have you done to start preparing so far?

      • I’ve gotten to chapter four of my organic chemistry book (I asked the chemistry department which book it would be and got it early). I’ve only been reading though, I sometimes try the problems in the back, however, my goal is to get through all the reading before class starts. I’ve also begun studying the nomenclature. Further, I’ve written some notes from what I read every once in a while. What would you do if you were preparing for Orgo 1 a few months before the class starts?

  21. The puzzle concept implies you have to think, understand and apply. So as long as you are studying concepts instead of memorizing reactions you should be ok with the orgo puzzle.

  22. I agree. Organic is hard not for the information. It is hard because Professors don’t enlighten you on how to solve puzzles. They resent the information, usually death by powerpoint, and expect you to instantaneously understand the puzzles. It makes since because puzzles are something no one can really teach. The best way to approach orgo is to read each chapter about 5 times. Then you can really start making connections in your head. You need to know each chapter so well that you can outline the actual chapter in your head and know what was stated in each section. That is how I do it. Memorizing the mechanisms is only the first part. You really need to know the nuances of the mechanisms so that you can determine the stereo-chemistry, minor/major products, kinetics/thermodynamics, etc. for each reaction. Otherwise you will struggle.

    • Leah4sci says

      You are certainly on the right track, but you mentioned ‘memorizing the mechanisms is only the first part’ and I will caution against that. I like your puzzle analogy. If you memorize a puzzle you can solve THAT ONE quickly, but how will you solve the next one? If you UNDERSTAND the puzzle you will be able to apply the tactics to any form of puzzle you are faced with

  23. i am taking organic 2 this summer. i believe it all depends on teacher.
    if you have a teacher with a power point and knows how to make the subject intersting then the course is okay.

    • Assuming you have a good teacher then that’s ok. However, if you don’t have a good teacher don’t let that excuse result in a poor grade. Make sure you take every necessary step to study on your own and learn outside the classroom if you have to.

  24. Leon Duminiak says

    Why don’t students live in fear of physical chemistry? Thermodynamics and quantum mechanics aren’t a stroll in the park. Maybe those who survive just don’t want to talk about the horror.

  25. Leon Duminiak says

    When I was an undergrad I was fortunate to have had an organic chemist as the lecturer for general chemistry. He used the hydrazine molecule to talk about chemical bonding, reaction mechanisms, and stereo chemistry. We all learned to think about and understand chemistry rather than just memorize isolated facts. From this experience I came to realize that the way general chemistry has been traditionally taught is not adequate for the chemistry major. Your approach emphasizes understanding rather than memorizing. You also have a style that appeals to young people although you are saying the same things that we old curmudgeons try to get across to our students. Keep up the great work! I still wonder why organic is so feared. There are only four elements that make up the majority of organic materials. Pity the inorganic chemists who have to worry about the rest of the periodic table!

    • Leah4sci says

      You are too funny and so correct. My general chemistry professor used to tell us how boring organic chemists must be in lab dealing with boring colors and few atoms. (he studied transition metals)

  26. Organic chemistry seemed like my number one nemesis at first, but then I started to read again and again some concepts, think them over when I eat, before I sleep and I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, it’s all about understanding and your videos are really well-structured. Wish my organic professor was like you. It’s a beautiful subject, but it need loads of hard work and patience.

    • Leah4sci says

      Thank you Larisa. Organic chemistry is an exciting topic, which is why I am so passionate about teaching it. When teaching orgo becomes a ‘chore’ the passion is lost and students suddenly see it as a scary burden. Glad I can help change your opinion

  27. Mayed Ahmed says

    Neat and clean way to learn organic chemistry

  28. fatima keileni says

    to me Organic Chemistry is so difficult because so many things involving for example calculation, bonding, atoms and there color etc … and its so confusing to think how the bonds are working or attach or breaking …. its a big topic …. but some i learn that once you get it its will get easy ….. but thank to you LEAH … you have help me alot …. wish you all the best with you work …. thank you thank you so much

  29. Definitly, i also feeled that org.chem is so tough. But,now i’m very interested to study & to understand them . This is bcoz of seeing your videos & mails which you have send to me. So,thank you very much Leah. I love you alot.XOXO

  30. woah,you really hit the nail on the head cos u’re so right..although i think u’ve actually made organic chemistry d simplest subject through your videos and am so greatful to u for the step by step analysis..God knows av learnt more than i could av in class thru ur videos.. i pray i get an A in this course cos am really trying my best

  31. Jesse Tamayo says

    I think you hit it right on the head. O-Chem requires you to think. In my first semester of class I learned how different it was than any other thing I have taken previously. Imagine if all your classes were like that. America would be on the cutting edge of every single subject. I love organic chemistry because its a mental challenge like a crossword puzzle.

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