So 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Your projected graduation date requires that you ‘knock it out’ over the summer so that you can proceed with additional required classes.
- 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.
- Create a study schedule devoted to pre-learning as much of the information as possible.
Read my Sample Organic Chemistry Preview Calendar to see how to BEST use the time between now and your upcoming course to prepare and pre-learn the material.
Read and watch here on how to create a balanced study schedule that ALSO gives you time for everything else: work, family, personal time, and life!
Equip yourself with How To Avoid Organic Chemistry Study Burnout.
- Realize that you will not have much time for a social life during your summer course.
Warn your family and friends that you will be otherwise occupied and to please respect your dreams and study plans.
- Don’t wait till the first week of class to acquire the course material.
Contact your professor or a recent graduate of the course and find out what is required. This includes but is not limited to getting hold of the course syllabus, as well as the required textbook and solutions manual.
Read the Preview Guide: What to Pre-Study for the Upcoming Orgo Semester (video also within).
(To watch just the video click here)
- I also recommend purchasing an organic chemistry model kit to help you visualize difficult structural concepts (Click HERE for my list of recommended model kits which can be purchased on Amazon.com).
- If possible, get hold of additional resources and practice guides that will provide you with additional practice problems, reactions and mechanisms.
(Click HERE for my list of recommended supplemental material)
- Rebuild your general chemistry concepts foundation. While organic chemistry does not include many math-solving problems, you will be asked conceptual questions based on the material you are expected to remember from your general chemistry course. You should be able to find most of this information in the introductory chapters of your organic chemistry textbook. If you prefer to SEE the material diagrammed and explained, check out my Intro To Orgo tutorial video series.
- Also equip yourself with balance.
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.
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.