The MCAT Tutor: To a Young Student Struggling with Orgo

Posted by Jack the MCAT Slayer on 3/24/14 8:59 AM

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Meet Orgo.  He just wants to be your friend.  Really.



Dear Young MCATer,

Organic chemistry. It’s the “weed out” class in most pre-med curriculum, with the cute nickname, “ORGO.” Orgo sounds like a troll who lives under a bridge waiting to rip your head off. Unsurprisingly, it can be one of the most stressful sections of the MCAT. Many students feel like they just made it through during undergrad or their post-bacc, and now they have to spend all this time cramming all this material back into their head. If this is you, here are four MCAT test tips for you to keep you sane as you study for the Organic Chemistry section of the MCAT, straight from an MCAT tutor.

1. It’s the smallest part of the test.

Organic chemistry comprises barely one quarter of one third of the test. That’s less than 10%! Even if you only count the content knowledge portions of the test, Organic chemistry is only 1/8th of the points on the test. For that reason, you get much more bang for your buck by really doubling down and studying other material instead. For example, if I was your MCAT tutor, and you had only a couple of weeks to try to bring your score up, I would tell you to focus on biology, chemistry, and physics before we spent substantial time on organic chemistry.

2. Find a good set of practice problems.

Honestly, most MCAT books are great, and they all cover the same material. Just make sure you pick one that has a BUNCH of practice problems that you can go over again, and again, and again. The key to be able to test yourself to see if the material is sticking. Once you have your set of practice problems, create a schedule for yourself to get through all of them. Leave space in your schedule to go back through problems that you got wrong or that were tricky.

3. Memorization matters.

There’s no two ways about it; the MCAT organic chemistry tests how well you have memorized reactions, naming conventions, and laboratory techniques. In that way, it’s different than chemistry and physics which ask you to learn concepts and apply them to solve problems. As such, have a strategy for memorizing the material. It can be whatever works for you, but my favorite are online flash cards (Anki Cards, anyone?) because it’s easy to copy and paste pictures onto them, which is especially useful for organic chemistry. But make sure you have a strategy. Any practice problem you get wrong should have a flashcard/memorization strategy associated with it.

4. Focus on reaction intermediates.

Particularly with any of the reactions you memorize, understanding what the intermediate is will help you rationalize what happens during the reaction. Is there a planar carbocation intermediate? Then that reaction might create a racemic mixture because either side of the plane can be attached by the nucleophie. Are there important resonance structures? Going to this next level can be the difference between a good score and a great score.

Happy MCATing!





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Tags: chemistry, MCAT