Succeeding in Organic Chemistry

Breaking down the definition of organic chemistry is essential to understanding what distinguishes you as one who knows organic chemistry. The aim of this document is to provide you with tools and tips to succeed in organic chemistry.

     Organic chemistry is the scientific discipline concerned with structure, properties and reactions of organic compounds and organic materials.

Chemical structure involves everything from how the atoms connect to how the bonds are arranged in space. First-year general chemistry courses help you with this information. Nevertheless, organic chemistry only uses a subset of the geometric shapes of compounds.

Chemical and physical properties of organic compounds are extremely important in determining the reactivity of a particular organic compound.

Physical properties:

  • Color
  • Boiling point
  • Melting point
  • Solubility (In water or other solvents)
  • Odor
  • Electrical conductivity

Chemical properties:

  • Reactivity
  • Flammability

The chemical properties of organic compounds influence the type of reactions it is involved in.

Type of Reactions:

  • Reduction/Oxidation (Redox)
  • Acid/Base
  • Electrophilic
  • Nucleophilic

Each reaction is broken down into steps. Each reaction can be further broken down into mechanisms, which show the transfer of electrons from one atom to another. (Arrows show movement of two electrons, Fish hooks show movement of one electron (one electron? that’s Radical Organic Chemistry!))

Synthetic organic chemistry involves the use of strategic chemical reactions to yield a molecule with specific properties and functional groups. This is helpful in producing pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food additives, polymers, plastics etc.

While you ONLY need to remember the reactions and mechanisms required of you for your course, it is important to take away the concepts behind those reactions as they will help you in your upper year biology, chemistry, biochemistry, earth science, food science and neuroscience courses.

Now that we have broken down the definition of organic chemistry, we now know exactly what to learn and study. This can also help guide the questions we can ask in class. Next, we will discuss some tips that will help you before and during your organic chemistry course.


Before you get started:

You want to review and master the Lewis dot structures as well as the theory behind it. There is a plethora of resources online here are some resources that you may find useful.

You will learn to read skeletal structures, but mastering reading and drawing the structural formula, which shows all the atoms, will help you learn skeletal structures faster.

If you are doing the lab-based course, you need to ensure that you understand how to write a lab report well. We encourage you to make use of the Chemistry Lab writing resources we have at the SSSC and resources at the Centre for Student Academic Support (CSAS) located on the 4th floor of MacOdrum Library.

Finally, review any organic chemistry notes you had from high school or first year introductory courses. This will help you significantly when learning new concepts throughout the course.


During the course:

Try to study ahead of the professor. Fortunately, Organic Chemistry relies heavily on pictures. Hence, one strategy for going ahead would be to just follow the pictures. Make note of the characteristics we resolved from the dissected definition above for each type of functional group.

Re-visit real world examples. They may appear on exams or quizzes. They are also a good way to fuel your interests in the subject.

Write out Pre-Labs in advance and watch any Lab videos in advance as well. This will help you plan for the lab day.

Communicate with your lab partner and divide the tasks for each person immediately after you have watched the video and/or have written the Pre-Lab.

Take good lab notes that include information on the physical and chemical properties of your reactions. For example, colour, odour (smell by wafting!), reaction rates, crystal shape etc.

Use your course outline to calculate the net worth of each type of assignment or at least have an idea of how much each assignment is worth. This will help you prioritize your time.

Do not hesitate to ask questions to your professor during class or office hours. Also, do not hesitate to ask course related or lab related questions to your TAs.

Don’t miss classes. Self-study and class-study can help you remember the material faster by presenting the material in a different way. Professors often drop hints about the exam material.

Group study can be fun, engaging and help you learn the material much faster. You can join or start your own Recognized Study Group. Otherwise, you can just solve problems with friends.

Be prompt for labs. Be prepared and do not be anxious. Your TAs are there to help so ask questions if you are unsure about anything.

Study a week or more in advance for exams and midterms. Aim to do very well on the midterms as well as the exams. Doing well on your midterms (usually non-cumulative) helps you prepare for the final exam (usually cumulative). Additionally, organic chemistry concepts can be used to deduce mechanisms and synthetic reaction schemes across all functional groups. Hence, the concepts you use to solve problems with one functional group can be applicable to problems concerning other functional groups (eg. The Law of Conservation of matter; a pair of electrons is neither created nor destroyed but transferred from one atom to another.)


Last updated 09/02/2020


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