Organic chemistry help?

This is my reply to the title question posted on Yahoo Answers …


I have a question about organic chemistry (Ph D please answer it)

I really like organic chemistry 1, but I do below average on all the tests and quizzes. I read the book, do problems, but then on the tests the questions are so different. It's like what the professor teaches in class is not useful for the exams. Any help please? What should I do to improve my grade? (I go to see the T.A., but again as I said before, the exams are completely different from class material)

My reply,
I have answered this or similar a question several times. It is difficult to predict the results precisely because I see a wide variety of approaches and concentration to organic chemistry. Some professors teach organic chemistry-lite and some have questions that are very challenging.

This is what I think is generally true. While the following topics are not universally easy for everyone, nomenclature, stereochemistry, conformations, diastereomers, etc., are static in nature and most students master them without great difficulty.

Reactions are dynamic in nature. You start with something and it changes into something else. This is a much greater challenge. This is where reactions mechanisms come into play. Some professors emphasize them and require students to write them, others try to mitigate their impact on the overall grade. You can usually determine which by looking at old exams. If the exams concentrate on the mechanisms, then you need to learn the mechanisms. If the exams are multiple choice and the questions resemble the prior years, they allow a kind of superficial pattern matching - organic chemistry-lite. That is like learning the 20 most popular phrases when you travel to a foreign country and to think you speak the language because you are using the words used most often.

I think learning organic chemistry is very much like learning a foreign language. If you want to be fluent, you need to know the meanings of all of the words you are using. The more words you know, the more you can learn, in context. (Did you ever see a baby look a word up in a dictionary? They learn their entire language in context.) My experience is that if a student understands reaction mechanisms, it gives them the most ability to solve a variety of reactions, including using reagents and reactants they have never seen before. A mechanism gives students tools to solve problems.

I am planning on giving a talk on how I was able to raise my class average by 20 percentile points on the ACS organic exam. I can tell you that what I did was to concentrate on reaction mechanisms and how I made them understandable to the entire class. Because my teaching was quite different, I believe students did a lot more learning in class. My class had less of the talking-note taking and more learning in class.

You can learn more about the book I wrote for the class, "The Language of Organic Chemistry; A Guide to Organic Chemistry Mechanisms" at . If you look at the book, you can see that you can learn organic chemistry without my help. However, it is difficult to predict how effective the book can be for you and your class if your professor isn't using it. I do hear back from many students how effective it has been for them.