If 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:
UNDERSTAND, THINK, and APPLY.
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.