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Why is Organic Chem so hard?

kayleealiakayleealia Posts: 454Registered User Member
edited December 2008 in Pre-Med Topics
I've heard so many people talk about how organic chemistry is so difficult. Why? Is it the content itself, or is it just a general rule of thumb that the class is taught in a difficult manner?
Post edited by kayleealia on

Replies to: Why is Organic Chem so hard?

  • SteelerSteeler Posts: 398Registered User Member
    It's not something you can do well in through a ton of memorization. Of the four main subjects tested on the MCAT, it requires the most application. From knowing general basic principles, you should be able to apply them to almost any problem. Sometimes this requires some creative thinking in deciding what to use and when to use it.

    I always thought of organic problems as puzzles. I prefer that sort of stuff, some people don't. Either way, getting comfortable with the approach is going to be hard for most people, compared to the other classes.
  • arez10arez10 Posts: 151Registered User Junior Member
    Aside from whatever you were exposed to in Gen Chem (which is nothing like real Organic), Orgo is probably unlike anything you've ever experienced. It's not like bio, where you can pay attention in lecture and read the textbook you'll understand it. It's not like Physics, where if you understand the concepts and know the equations you'll do well. There's actually little to no math involved in Orgo. It's a combination of knowing your foundations REALLY well and doing a lot of practice problems. Like Steeler said, you're taught some basic concepts but then are expected to apply them to 100s of different mechanisms. And don't try to memorize these mechanisms, you have to fully understand why each step happens. In retrospect, Orgo I is a lot easier than the second half of the course, but don't take it lightly. If you don't know your stuff from the first semester you'll probably do poorly in Orgo II. Just some advice for ya.
  • ginnyvereginnyvere Posts: 929Registered User Member
    And it's not something that you can reason out because of experience. You can reason out a lot of physics (at least Physics I) because you've been around for 20ish years and you have a basic understanding of what's going to happen when you drop something versus when you throw something. And you can tell when you get an answer that's completely outside of the realm of possibility and know that you probably need to go back and find what you did wrong. Similarly, with biology, even if you're in an intro class, you have a basic idea of what's reasonable and what isn't. In organic chem, it's not as natural. There are basic rules that will nearly always apply just as there are in bio and physics, but they're not rules that you have internalized without realizing it. You have to start from truly the beginning.
  • GoldShadowGoldShadow Posts: 6,160Registered User Senior Member
    What everyone else said.
  • ysk1ysk1 Posts: 740Registered User Member
    Orgo is art.
  • parishaparisha Posts: 44Registered User Junior Member
    Organic is easy for me. And I took it from a real hell of a teacher. (Meanwhile, my friend at another school got it easy and lazy - and currently I am tutoring next year's organic class at my school, with a different prof, and they are getting it a LOT easier... but they're still complaining, of course).

    How well you do and how much you learn is all about how much you put in. To some degree, also, that has to do with how much you have to put in to do well. Pray you have a hard but fair teacher like I did for organic.
  • AH11AH11 Posts: 92Registered User Junior Member
    Dunno but this is brutal trying to remember all the reagents and solvents
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    or is it just a general rule of thumb that the class is taught in a difficult manner?

    I think that's the reason, and specifically, that the grading is usually hard. OChem is usually the class where schools try to weed people out by deliberately using harsh curves in which most people will get mediocre grades, or worse.

    I personally don't think that has anything to do with the inherent content of the course, as I don't think OChem is any more difficult than other courses that premeds take. For example, take calculus. Calculus can be a fiendishly difficult course, depending on how rigorously it is taught. For example, in the Real Analysis course that math majors take, they actually formally prove all of the tenets in calculus, including the eponymous Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, as well as rigorously proving what derivatives and integrals truly are, and how to formally prove the convergence of series.

    But, most premeds will never need to know that stuff. The calculus courses that premeds usually take generally require few if any proofs. Hence, many premeds would probably flunk a Real Analysis course. (I too would probably not have done well.) But it has been arbitrarily decided that premeds don't need to know that stuff, because they will never use it as physicians.. Similarly, it has been arbitrarily decided that premeds do need to know OChem reactions, even though they won't need to know many of them as physicians either.


    Consider the following article:

    When Patti Van Leer took organic chemistry in college, she found herself dreaming about carbon molecules and chemical reactions. But as she continued her medical education, she couldn't see why she had been forced to slog through the course, a tormentor of young souls that has persuaded countless would-be physicians to consider careers in law.

    "I have yet to see anything related to organic chemistry in medicine," says Dr. Van Leer, who graduated from medical school earlier this year. "I'm not sure why it's still a requirement."

    Neither are some leading medical educators, who are now re-examining the premed curriculum, largely unchanged for decades. The year-long introductory course in "orgo" -- the shorthand lingo muttered on campus with fear and loathing -- may soon be pared back to make room for other subjects.

    The Diels-Alder reaction, an organic-chemistry classic, helps explain the impetus for change. The reaction comes in handy if you are into chemical manufacturing. But, do doctors really need to know a bunch of different ways to combine two molecules to form a ring of six carbon atoms?

    "In my many years of medicine, I have never heard the Diels-Alder reaction mentioned once," says Robert Alpern, dean of the Yale School of Medicine.

    During her second semester of orgo, Kara Naber, an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota Duluth, found herself sketching chemical reactions in the steam on her shower door. Facebook members can vent in an Organic Chemistry Victims Support Group, as well as in groups with more vivid names.

    At the same time, some subjects that are central to modern medicine aren't part of the standard pre-med curriculum. "All the fascinating things that are happening in biochemistry, in genetics -- they don't have to take that," Dr. Alpern says.

    Organic chemistry is unlikely to vanish from the premed universe. Doctors do need a basic understanding of the subject, which deals with the behavior of carbon molecules, the building blocks of life.

    And orgo does thin the premed herd by weeding out those who can't keep up. "That kind of learning, where you have to learn tons of things in your head at once and make stupid mnemonics, is like a summary of medical school," Dr. Van Leer allows.

    But momentum is gathering behind a more relevant curriculum that would neither sacrifice rigor nor drive away students who would make good doctors.

    In a recent essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, Jules Dienstag, dean for medical education at Harvard Medical School, suggested integrating organic chemistry with biochemistry for undergraduates interested in medicine and biology. Indeed, Harvard College already offers a course along those lines, Dr. Dienstag says.

    The Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have convened a committee to create guidelines for the basic science all entering medical students should know, as well as what science should be taught in medical school. The committee's recommendations for pre-meds are likely to include subjects such as biochemistry and genetics. Another likely addition is statistics, which is essential for making sense of the studies published in medical journals, says Dr. Alpern, who is co-chairman of the committee.

    Current admission requirements vary slightly among medical schools, but applicants are typically required to have taken one or two semesters of calculus and a year each of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics.

    Rather than create a new list of course requirements to replace the old list, the committee will describe subject areas students should be familiar with. The aim is to give colleges latitude to experiment with interdisciplinary classes.

    It will take several years for the changes to be phased in. Individual medical schools have to change their admission requirements, and students who have already started college won't be forced to change course in midstream, or be tested on the Medical College Admission Test in subjects they haven't studied. The MCAT will ultimately need tweaks, and the group responsible for writing it is "following the issue closely," Karen Mitchell, director of the MCAT, said in a statement.

    But over time, the changes are likely to be significant. And if Darrell G. Kirch, chief executive of the Association of American Medical Colleges, has his way, the shift will ultimately go beyond which science courses pre-meds take. Dr. Kirch, a philosophy major who went on to became a psychiatrist, hopes medical schools will push applicants to pursue more coursework in the humanities and social sciences to improve bedside manner, among other things -- "soft skills" some say have been overlooked as the profession has shifted toward specialization and technical expertise.

    "There are far too many people who would be superb doctors who somehow imagine that, because they don't see themselves as organic-chemistry experts, they should not pursue medicine as a career," Dr. Kirch says."


    This Class Is Certified Organic: Indigestible, and Perhaps Perishable - WSJ.com
  • gd016gd016 Posts: 373Registered User Member
    Personally, I find orgo to be a lot of fun. Solving problems, doing syntheses, deducing reaction mechanisms, these things require a lot of thinking and tackling in many directions. Sure, it is tough, unlike any other science I'd say, it's a lot like solving puzzles. Fun stuff.
  • ParadyciaParadycia Posts: 389Registered User Member
    ^ I think Orgo is fun too. Granted, it's hard, but it's great.
    I got a B in orgo I, but I'm looking forward to II, should be a challenge!
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