3 REASONS WHY STUDENTS STRUGGLE WITH ORGANIC CHEMISTRY
A level H2 Chemistry is a struggle for many students. One of the main reasons is the vast diversity of topics listed in the syllabus. However, Cambridge or the Ministry of Education is not to be blamed.
Chemistry, itself, as a subject is a vast pool of knowledge to master.
There are 4 main aspects to H2 Chemistry for A levels.
1. Physical Chemistry
2. Analytical Chemistry
3. Inorganic Chemistry
Organic chemistry is heavily tested in the H2 syllabus. Schools dedicate the entirety of JC2 in teaching organic chemistry. There are 9 topics in total.
Table Of Content:
There are 9 topics in total under organic chemistry in the H2 Chemistry syllabus. A student will be expected to learn 9 different types of reactions for more than 10 functional groups in total. It is no surprise that students end up crying their eyeballs out on Reddit.
Many of them mistook organic chemistry for inorganic chemistry. They think that both would be memory intensive and therefore, blindly memorize and hope it would work. They are incredibly different in terms of skills required.
Inorganic chemistry, indeed, requires a lot of memory work. The concepts taught in inorganic chemistry are highly abstract and often go down to the orbital level. Many teachers do not explain the concepts in depth (neither do I) because it is very technical and is only required at a higher level.
Organic Chemistry, however, is different. Organic chemistry does require some level of memory. However, this memory work could be done much more easily by understanding the mechanism.
During my level 2 organic chemistry module in NUS, my professor said
“Organic Chemistry is like solving a puzzle. You take pieces of information and try to paint a complete coherent picture. This is what makes it interesting and difficult at the same time.”
I couldn’t agree more.
At the degree level, we deal with retro-synthesis most of the time. You’re given an organic product, and you are expected to cut it up and work backward into simple reagents and conditions that can be found in a lab. It was hell. However, when you eventually solve it, you can’t help but feel like the brightest mind in the room.
In the context of A level H2 Chemistry, your puzzle-solving skills would come into play mainly in paper 2 synthesis question and paper 3 structural elucidations.
For synthesis, students usually struggle to notice the unintended product of a certain reagent and condition which results in the wrong product as an answer.
Whereas for structural elucidation, students struggle to piece together a coherent molecule that fulfills the molecular formula and/or all the clues given to them.
Hence, it is apparent that book knowledge is insufficient to excel in organic chemistry. You require skills beyond the textbook. No doubt, organic chemistry is hard.
Overlap between topics
Many students fail to realize that organic chemistry is not something that you can study in a topical format. You cannot just study “alkanes” and expect questions to focus solely on alkane. Yes, it does happen but very rarely.
Organic chemistry, to me, is one topic on its own.
Organic chemistry is meant to be studied on a mechanism level. Functional groups, such as alkanes and alkenes, only allow for easier recognition for beginners. Very often, mechanisms occur in various functional groups. Not only that, the product that it forms usually concerns another type of functional group which can be used to further the question. You will then need to understand that functional group to proceed further in the question.
In addition, the same reagent and condition may cause an unintentional reaction due to the presence of certain functional groups. Hence, trying to study organic chemistry by isolating topics will prove to be futile for many.
Organic chemistry is hard
Your seniors have warned you about organic chemistry. For some, it is a breeze. (Like me).
For others, you struggle and despite your efforts, no improvements were made. This article has already highlighted to you the difficulty of organic chemistry. It is also stated, if not obvious by now, that raw memorizing would do little to improve your grade in organic chemistry at H2 Chemistry level.
Organic chemistry requires skills and critical thinking beyond just memory. My students would be the first to tell you, I’m the laziest when it comes to memory. So if you want to learn organic chemistry efficiently, do not hesitate to contact us. We have helped many students achieve their distinction in H2 chemistry despite the 11th hour nature.
Mr Chen welcomes a challenge.