Is organic chemistry difficult in 2022? (Tips for Beginners!) - willpeachMD (2023)

Organic chemistry is a great STEM subject (and a major requirement for many healthcare grads). As many students set out to master it each year, one big question always arises...

Is organic chemistry difficult?

Organic chemistry is one of the most difficult scientific disciplines. His failure and repetition rates are high and his class GPA is low. It is also time consuming, difficult to apply, and contains a lot of theoretical detail. If you didn't take a general chemistry course first, you could be in real trouble.

But just because it's hard doesn't mean you should avoid organic chemistry (O-Chem). Many students participate each year and learn to do it well. I will talk about that later in this article.

See what else we'll cover:

  • Useful things to know before starting with O-Chem
  • The most difficult/easiest of the subject.
  • How much time should you spend on this?
  • Tips for optimal preparation

As a medical student; who had to earn credit in two separate organic chemistry courses, I know what makes the subject so intimidating!

But I got over it and you can too.

Ready to learn more? Come on.

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Why is organic chemistry so difficult?

Here is a brief summary of why organic chemistry is so difficult:

  1. It is very different from other basic science courses.
  2. It is mainly based on symbols and visualizations (rather than language)
  3. It is conceptually challenging (with many similar reaction mechanisms and difficult to distinguish)
  4. Very little guesswork required (most tests are not in a multiple-choice format)

Now let's move on to what you can do to alleviate all of the above...

Useful things to know before starting an organic chemistry course

First, if you've never taken an organic chemistry course, expect a lot of your first courses and reading to be confusing. O-Chem has something of a visual language of its own, in which molecules and compounds etc. They are represented by symbols and pictures. Preparing ahead of time to know how this all works (even if only briefly) can go a long way toward making you feel more comfortable in class.

I highly recommend all newbies to watch the Khan Academy introductory series first. Especially this video...

This helped me tremendously when I started explaining what the images mean in a super simplified way.

With that being said, here is what I think you should know before embarking on an organic chemistry class:

  1. Don't get carried away early. There are many ways to learn organic chemistry.
  2. Take the time to casually look through various learning resources (YouTube channels, books, etc.) first. Find something you like and stick with it.
  3. Expect to make mistakes and have trouble understanding things. However, do not give up on the concept. Look for a better explanation!
  4. Before you do, familiarize yourself with some of the basics of general chemistry (Lewis structures, bonding, Ka and pKa values, pH and atomic orbitals, etc.). You will use a lot of this knowledge.

With the right mindset, all the difficulties of organic chemistry can be easily overcome.

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The more resistant, persistent and constant you are with your studies, the easier it will be for you. And this applies to all levels of the course; High school, college and beyond!

What to expect from an organic chemistry course

Probably the most important thing expected of organic chemistry, apart from visual representation, is the use ofNomenclature(Specific language of O-Chem).

For a new student, this can seem confusing and intimidating. But it really doesn't have to be that way.

Spending a little time learning how it works before getting started will show you that there is nothing to worry about. Practicing with him early (even just listening and watching) can help him learn first.

The Crash Course series on YouTube explains very well the following nomenclature...

But those niceties aside, you probably want to know what makes organic chemistry unique, which may not be the case in other disciplines.

So this is what I think you should expect:

  • Problem-based questions that cannot be answered by brute force memorization
  • Visualization: in 2D and 3D (yes, modeling can help!)
  • Familiarize yourself with the mechanics (how reactions work)
  • Spend a lot of time on practical matters.

Of course, all organic chemistry will be different and taught in different styles, but the vast majority of its content (think 80-90%) will be the same.

I personally found O-Chem much more fun compared to general chemistry.

Although my hands ached from drawing skeletal structures during the exercises, it was a nice break from difficult calculations in chemistry and physics in general!

What do you learn in organic chemistry?

Organic chemistry requires you to learn many reactions and mechanisms. Records them, recognizes patterns, and applies them to practical problems. Repeated.

A typical 101 (or introductory course) goes something like this...

  • general chemistry review
    • atomic structures
    • periodic table
    • orbitals and electrons
    • Lewis dot plot
  • Fundamentals
    • Learn to draw skeletal structures
    • Connection, loads and geometry
    • functional groups
    • Structures and Nomenclature (Nomenclature)
  • Kern
    • Acids and bases
    • Stereochemistry and Molecular Analysis
    • mechanisms and reactions
    • synthesis

Advanced courses may also cover aspects such as spectroscopy, redox reactions, and protecting groups.

Something that can make your course easier is to obtain a copy of the syllabus in advance.

If you take a little more time to Google some of these weird topics (and watch some videos about them), you can do a lot for your confidence.

You'll see that even advanced stuff can be slowly broken down and explained step by step.

What is difficult about organic chemistry?

1. Rules

There are lots of rules and lots of exceptions (you'll need to memorize a solid set of them before you can start spotting patterns).

2nd language

You must first learn the "language" of the subject (both the nomenclature and the visual representations). You can't just dive in and expect to know what's going on!

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3. Sequential

It is iterative. You can easily get frustrated if you learn all the possible reactions first before they make more intuitive sense later on (when you start learning the mechanics).

4. Logic instead of memorization

It involves reasoning and logic. Memorizing red will only get you so far that you will always have to wonder why things happen the way they do.

Organic chemistry cannot be learned like biology, for example. All the questions you receive depend much more on applied logic than on objective memory.

Related:Is biology difficult? (tips for beginners!)

What is easy in organic chemistry?

1. Pattern recognition

Once you start learning reactions, you'll find that you can apply similar reactions to different scenarios (thus reducing the amount of memorization required).

2. Minimal math

Almost no calculations, equations or mathematical calculations are required. Organic chemistry is much more "visual" than other subject areas.

Personally, I think there are fewer things that make O-Chem easy than difficult. The fact that there isn't much "typical math" can be misleading. Much depends on problem solving and applied knowledge.

You must persistently work through the exercises!

How much time do you need to successfully spend in Organic Chemistry?

You will need at least5-10 extra hours per week, plus your classroom and class time to really progress in organic chemistry.

It's a few hours for review, one for reading aloud/topic preparation and the rest for working on practice problems.

Your priority should always be to try as many questions/exercises as possible.

In this way, you will recognize the need for action, topics you are already familiar with, and will benefit from recalling concepts and facts.

Asking the wrong questions (and knowing why you failed) is probably one of the best ways to progress in organic chemistry (something documented in this document).

Organic Chemistry Error Rate

O-Chem has a notoriously high failure rate compared to many other degree programs.

Relying on memorization -- strategies that worked in high school -- won't cut it in O-Chem, according to academics.

To overcome the error rate, it is recommended that you visit the professors, show the work on your problem, and get as much feedback as possible on where you are going wrong.

Dedicated practice (and constant exposure), rereading, is absolutely crucial.

And if you need to redo the O-Chem, don't worry. Adcoms for health degrees (including medical degrees) won't blame him for retaking the exams, as long as he shows a willingness to adjust his strategy and do better next time.

What is the best way to prepare (and facilitate organic chemistry)?

In addition to being disciplined in your studies, putting in the hours, and focusing on solving as many practical problems as possible, choosing good resources will help make organic chemistry even easier to succeed.

Due to the popularity of the subject, there are many good ones out there, and some to suit your preferred learning style.

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I'll review some of the best (in my opinion) here...

YouTube channels

In addition to Khan Academy and the Crash Course I mentioned above, here are some other great channels for learning organic chemistry via YouTube.

The Organic Chemistry Tutor

One of the most comprehensive organic chemistry learning resources (182 videos on the O-Chem playlist alone), this channel is similar in style to Khan Academy, but with much more content.

Eliot Rintoul

Eliot Rintoul is a professor of organic chemistry who specializes in teaching the subject to British students. I greatly benefited from the explanations of practice problems and tutorials on test questions as I prepared to earn my high school chemistry diploma.


Leah teaches medical students who want to take the MCAT. The channel playlists are very clear, separated by individual topics (and reactions), as well as courses structured according to Orgo 1 and 2.


These sites are particularly good for tutorials and practice questions:

And, of course, I wholeheartedly recommend the extraordinary and freeKhan Academy organic chemistry course🇧🇷 The articles and quizzes embedded between the videos are great for reinforcing key concepts and getting the most out of your study sessions.

Is organic chemistry difficult in high school?

Sometimes organic chemistry is offered in one or two semesters in high school. At this level, it's fairly easy and designed for keen science students (or those thinking of studying medicine) who are already getting good grades.

Expect more memorization than problem solving at this level, which can make things a bit easier.

Similar to AP Biology.

Is organic chemistry harder than med school?

O-Chem is certainly a difficult subject, but compared to medical school and the amount of information you are expected to learn and master at this level, it could be a bit easier.

However, medical school certainly requires more memorization, and typical test questions focus on clinical cases rather than solving chemistry-based problems.

There is more room for error on a typical medical school exam than on a specific organic chemistry test. You can also get many of the answers through a process of deletion.

Organic chemistry doesn't work like that.

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Related questions

Is organic chemistry more difficult than general chemistry?

It is essential that you have studied general chemistry before starting organic chemistry. Without them, O-Chem will seem much more difficult.

General chemistry, especially with its early topics, is easier to understand than organic chemistry. The concepts that you will learn, especially in topics related to atomic structure, electrons and orbitals, etc., are extremely important to understand many of the mechanisms and reactions of organic chemistry.

Is inorganic chemistry difficult?

Inorganic chemistry is difficult. For people who have never studied before, some of the concepts can be difficult to understand.

Another thing that makes it difficult is math. To really understand chemistry, he must be familiar with equations, basic math, and calculus.

Is organic chemistry more difficult than biochemistry?

Yes, organic chemistry is more difficult than biochemistry. Most biochemistry courses require minimal problem solving and increased recall of facts. There are also fewer learning mechanisms in biochemistry and more cycles.

A good knowledge of organic chemistry can really help you in biochemistry. You will be able to think about what happens in cycles (in terms of reactions) and you will be better equipped to "visualize" what happens to these molecules in the body.

Is organic chemistry more difficult than physics?

Both are difficult questions. However, physics is more dependent on mathematics and can therefore pose problems for students who are uncomfortable handling formulas and calculations.

Organic chemistry may require more memorization but a similar level of problem solving.

final thoughts

Organic chemistry is definitely not easy and requires time, discipline and perseverance to master.

Unlike many other scientific disciplines, it is something of an anomaly. There isn't much math and you can't rely on memorization, but you need logical thinking and lots of practice problems to progress.

Yes, the error rates are high, so don't make the mistake of thinking you can memorize the solutions to the answers and thousands of different reactions and mechanisms.

There is no better substitute than asking why and applying that to every question that comes up.

Work hard and you will surely succeed!

If you found this article helpful, you may be interested in the following:

  • Best Online Organic Chemistry Courses For College Credit

Is organic chemistry difficult in 2022? (Tips for Beginners!) - willpeachMD (1)


Born and raised in the UK, Will turned to medicine late (31) after a career as a journalist. He is interested in soccer, he learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain and published his work on the internet.keep reading.



Is organic chemistry really that hard? ›

If you know the chemistry them, you can characterize most reactions just by your own knowledge, with little memorization at all. Organic chemistry is not as difficult as its reputation makes it out to be. I enjoyed the course and personally found it to be significantly easier than general chemistry.

Why is organic chemistry so difficult? ›

Organic Chemistry requires you to THINK!

They expect to find a formula, work it out and be done. Organic chemistry is all about the mechanisms, the how and why of reactions and perhaps even the interpretation of a mysterious graph or two. THAT is why organic chemistry is just so darn difficult!

Is organic chemistry the hardest class? ›

It shouldn't surprise you that organic chemistry takes the No. 1 spot as the hardest college course. This course is often referred to as the “pre-med killer” because it actually has caused many pre-med majors to switch their major.

How common is it to fail organic chemistry? ›

One survey ranks organic chemistry as the hardest class in college. By some studies, nearly one in every two organic chemistry students fail or drop the class.

Do most people fail organic chemistry? ›

Organic chemistry is a college level course that, "Weeds Out" many pre-med and STEM degree seeking students. It is also notorious for being one of the most difficult courses on every college campus. The average failure rate for the course is roughly 50% across the nation.


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