How to get ready for organic chemistry

Dear Organic Chemistry Student,

With only a month until the fall semester begins, your professors are getting ready. We’re writing syllabi, reviewing textbooks, writing presentations, planning exam dates, compiling lab manuals, meeting, talking, and waiting for you to arrive.

What are you doing to get ready?

Likely, you’ve heard about organic chemistry and you’ve heard both sides: you have some friends who did not do well when they took the course and they try to scare you that it’s the hardest course ever and the professors all suck.  And you must also know other people who loved the course, thought it was easy, and got into medical school (0r whatever was their grad school goal). These students, however, were quieter about their success than the naysayers. They didn’t want to brag. You thought they were nerds/geeks/over-studiers anyway and didn’t care so much for their opinions. In any case, you are about to join one of these camps. Get ready! Pick your team.

The good news is that preparing for organic chemistry does not entail too much from general chemistry. You don’t need stoichiometry (except in lab). You don’t need redox or much thermochemistry or much kinetics–to start out. In the beginning, what you REALLY need to remember in order to not feel STUPID during the first week are Lewis structures and details you learned in that chapter.

Pull out your general chemistry notes and find ANY general chemistry textbook. Review these topics:

Lewis structures

Valence electrons

lone e- pairs vs bonding e- pairs

covalent bonds–single, double, triple

sigma and pi bonding


formal charge

resonance structures


bond polarity

molecular polarity

electron geometry

molecular geometry (shape)

Consider some practice particles: water, ammonia, methane, formaldehyde, ethanol, acetic acid, acetate, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydroxide…and others from your general chemistry notes and textbook.

We’ll start with these topics and review them rapidly as we jump to organic molecules which are held together by covalent bonds between carbons and other carbons, or hydrogen, or oxygen, or nitrogen, or halogens, etc. [There’s more good news: in organic chemistry we focus on only ~10 elements!]

I am so excited for the fall semester when I get to teach my favorite course to amazing students! The thinking process and the application of knowledge from organic chemistry extend to advanced biology courses, medicines, and polymer syntheses. A strong understanding of organic chemistry is a gateway to understanding LIFE all around us on our planet and the possibility of life elsewhere. Organic chemistry will open your mind.

Attend the first lecture in a prepared state with a strong foundation in the areas listed above and your confidence will carry you through the semester. Attend every lecture. Don’t get behind in this fast-paced course and you can (secretly) be a member of the successful team instead of the sad team.

Best of luck in your academic pursuits!

Dr. Lanni



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