Organic Chem Survival Tips From a Chemistry Tutor


Is organic chemistry giving you stress? Are you frustrated with having to memorise dozens of structures? Organic chem is one of those topics that send students scrambling to a chemistry tutor to help them sort it out.

Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

We know how hard it is so we decided to ask chemistry tutor Bernard Koh for tips to survive organic chem.

Bernard has tutored both secondary school and polytechnic students in chemistry for over five years. His students all show improvements in their grades and go on to do well in the national exams. Here, he generously shares his secrets to conquering organic chem, so pay close attention!

How would you prepare your students for organic chemistry?

Organic chemistry is one of the more memory-intensive topics in chemistry. I’d advise my students to first be familiar with the basic prefixes of the homologous series (Meth- one carbon, Eth- 2 carbon, Prop- 3 carbon, But- 4 carbon).

What are some ways to remember all the groups and chemical reactions?

I will recommend my students to visualise the normal C-C and C-H bonds as the skeleton of the organic compound. The function groups would then be seen as a group that increases the reactivity of the compound. Every group has a different mechanism to increase the reactivity of the organic compound and I definitely recommend visualising these groups in models to see how the reactions can happen.

As a chemistry tutor, I recommend students to draw their own mind maps connecting the various functional groups with the reactions that inter convert them. By drawing your own mind map, you will be able to understand these reactions better.

What is the most challenging part about organic chemistry? What are some ways to overcome it?

The most challenging part of organic chemistry is to recognise the different reactions that can happen and the conditions that are used in these reactions. Drawing a mind map helps in these cases. If you need further help, you should use your own study cards and put the reactions on one side of the card and the conditions and reagents on the other. This will enable you to test your own understanding of the topics.

Finally, try to practice past year exam papers with your tutors to find out the parts you need more practice.

One final tip to understanding organic chemistry?

My main tip for organic chemistry is to build a mind map. Connect the various functional groups using the reactions that interconnect them. Draw your own mind map and you will be able to understand these reactions better.

You can do it!

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