Wednesday, August 1, 2012

9 Golden Rules for Success in Organic Chemistry

Many times at larger universities professors do not review proper study skills for success in Organic Chemistry. The presumption is that the student has made it past general chemistry, and thus has learned the proper skills. This is not always so. Statistically, professors at smaller universities place a much higher emphasis upon teaching vs. research, and are more likely to review such skills. My years of experience teaching and tutoring have led me to develop a set of 9 Golden Rules for Success in Organic Chemistry.

9 Golden Rules for Success in Organic Chemistry

    The Rules are non-negotiable.
    When in doubt, go back to Rule #1.
    Take copious notes in class, and re-copy them if necessary afterward.
    Review your notes < 6h after class, preferably < 3h.
    For every 1 h of lecture, spend a minimum of 3 h of time studying (working problems) to prevent falling behind.
    Work as many problems as possible. Plan to do this 18-20 h per week for optimal performance.
    Reinforce all stereochemical concepts with models.
    Use compound and reaction flash cards.
    Do not fall behind, not ever!

Recopying the notes has more benefits than immediately apparent, and aids success in Organic Chemistry substantially. The obvious advantage is a cleaner, more organized set of notes. More importantly, however, certain perceptual and cognitive centers in the brain are engaged, and the hand-eye task helps the memories proceed from short-term to long-term storage.

When you recopy your notes, the information goes from the paper to your eyes to the part of your brain related to perception (occipital lobes). The information is then processed and made "active". Next, the cognitive centers (cerebral cortex) become engaged in thought. You may even find yourself asking questions at this point. Information then travels to the part of your brain responsible for motor coordination (cerebellum) so you can once again write the material down onto paper. This entire process reinforces what was "experienced" in lecture, and facilitates long-term storage of the memories.

Challenge yourself for two weeks. Make the re-copying of notes happen. Notice I didn't say "try". A famous man once said, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try."

Organic Chemistry can be deceptive. Many times students trick themselves into believing they understand the material by not working the most challenging problems, i.e. exam type questions. This hinders success in Organic Chemistry. Should you find yourself struggling, seek help from a professional tutor as soon as possible. Contracting a tutor is not a weakness. It can quite literally lead to a stronger understanding of the subject matter than most others in the class will achieve. True strength requires one to first know his weaknesses. Only then may they be addressed.

It's important to never underestimate the necessity for sleep when studying. Experiments have unambiguously proven that short-term memories do not become stored long-term unless we get adequate sleep. In fact, you will benefit more from studying six hours, then sleeping 8 hours, vs studying 12 hours and sleeping 2 hours. Quite literally, your 12 hours of study time will be wasted without sleep due to minimal long-term memory storage. Furthermore, you stand a much better chance of rationalizing your way through a problem never seen before if you're well rested vs. exhausted.

Think you can "fake out" the system by taking Adderall? Think again. Adderall is for treatment of the "mythical organic disorder ADHD," for which absolutely no direct gene has been isolated, expressed or cloned. Most current evidence indicates ADHD is behavioral, not organic.

Two of the most common symptoms of Adderall use are (1) insomnia and (2) short-term memory loss. If the short-term memories are lost, then how do they make it to long-term storage? You can't fake out the system, however you CAN fake out your brain. Psychotropic drugs modify brain chemistry and hence they modify thought patterns. You can convince yourself that you're Superman when on Adderall, however this is simply a drug-induced alteration of perception (not to mention some assistance from placebo effect) augmented by sleep-deprivation induced delusion. Some people believe the ill-perceived "Adderall advantage" comes at the expense of creativity, something much needed for success in Organic Chemistry.

One last thing, and quite important. Approximately 1 in 5 college students report sleeping disorders including chronic insomnia. Lack of sleep inhibits normal cognitive function. Some students requesting prescription medication from family practitioners might be given Ambien (zolpidem) or Klonipin (chlonazepam). Important to note is that Ambien and Klonipin often cause short-term memory loss, and interfere with memories proceeding from short to long-term storage. If you find yourself in this category, please be advised to talk with your physician about finding an alternative treatment.

No comments:

Post a Comment