how to learn organic chemistry

Passport to Organic Chemistry-How to Pass Organic Chemistry with ease!

There are basic steps required to be taken in your quest to learn organic chemistry, in fact,, this will help guide you on how to Pass organic chemistry.

I have been teaching Chemistry for more than a decade now and there is one difficulty students have complained to me and that is the challenge in learning the organic aspect of chemistry.

A lot of things are basics on your journey to learning organic chemistry- right from the nomenclature of compounds, drawing of structures, writing basic reactions, and even understanding the mechanism of reactions.

However, there are principles, steps, and ways you need to adhere to while taking your baby steps in organic chemistry.

10 Steps on How To Pass Organic Chemistry

1.Master how to deduce the formula of members of homologous series:

Organic Chemistry is broken down into families called homologous series.

Every homologous series has a unique formula that can be easily be used to write the formula of every member of that series.

Your ability to deduce the particular homologous series that an organic compound belongs is a critical skill in your quest for perfection in organic chemistry.

I want you to understand this; organic chemistry is the easiest section in chemistry. You can easily get an A or A* in the organic section of chemistry.

However, it becomes a mystery when you don/t follow principles and rules guiding this part of chemistry.

So let’s use an example to illustrate what I was trying to say here

I’m going to use three different families (homologous series) to illustrate this:


Alkanes have a general formula of CnH2n+2

The implication is that every member of alkane must follow this trend, that’s the effect of belonging to the same family.

Examples;      Methane   CH4  

                       Butane     C4H10

                       Pentane    C5H12

They all follow the pattern CnH2n+2


Another example I can talk about here is Alkanols. They have the general formula of CnH2n+1OH or ROH.

Examples   Methanol  CH3OH

                   Ethanol    C2H5OH /CH3CH2OH

                   Propanol  C3H7OH / CH3CH2CH2OH

There are other examples I can talk about here but I will not go very deep in other examples so I can talk about other steps.

However, I wrote a full detailed post on how to facts and principles of organic chemistry.

Another way to trace the homologous series an organic compound belongs to is by looking at their ending.

Alkanes will always end with ane  Alkenes will always end with ene. Alkynes and alkanols will end with yne and ol respectively.

2. Ability to recall the functional groups of families with ease

A very important step in learning organic chemistry is the ability to deduce the functional group of organic compounds.

Every homologous series is determined based on the functional group. Please remember without the name of the functional group, it may be impossible to properly name the structure or formula of an organic compound.

As a matter of fact, it is the functional group that will show the actual name of the homologous series.

Example  Alkanoic acid/carboxylic acids  have the carboxyl (COOH)

                Butanoic acid, ethanoic acid, pentanoic acid , methanoic acid

                They all end possess this carboxyl functional group.

     Summary of the Homologous Series and their Functional groups

Families of organic compoundsGeneral formula 
Alkanoic acid/carboxylic acidCn-1H2n-1COOH/RCOOH
Alkanoates /EstersCnH2n+1COOCnH2n+1/RCOOR
EthersCnH2n+1O CnH2n+1/ROR

3. Understanding Catenation of Carbon is Key

Organic chemistry is the Chemistry of Carbon and its compounds.

Carbon atoms can come together and form long chains, the ability of carbon atoms to form long chains is called Catenation.


This may look primary and inconsequential but please believe this, it is key to a world of organic chemistry.

Ultimately, the number of carbon atoms in the chain determines the name of the alkane.

4.Learn how to determine the member of a homologous series

Now another important thing that looks irrelevant is the knowledge of the members of the homologous series.

Take note of the trend of these members

 MembersNo of Carbon atoms

5. Cultivate how to write structures of compounds

The first thing I want to emphasize is that Carbon is tetravalent i.e Carbon has four valence electrons and these electrons are used up in bond formation in organic chemistry.

This will help a lot in drawing structures of organic compounds. A structure will definitely be incorrect when the valence electrons are not fully bonded to other elements.

Please be careful also in compounds that contain double bonds because the bonds will be counted twice i.e there will be two bonds.

Examples  take a look at these structures


  2 methyl butane


6. Practice writing equations of organic reactions

This is another skill very important in organic chemistry. Writing equations is a skill we all learn based on the knowledge of what we already know in Chemistry.

For example, I already know that incomplete combustion reactions, carbon IV oxide, and water are usually produced.

While in incomplete combustion reactions, carbon monoxide and water are produced instead.

So if I want to write any combustion reaction and an excess supply of air is used.

Carbon IV oxide and water will always be produced.

  2C2H6 + 7O2  –>         4CO2 + 6H2O

  C2H4 + 3O2    –>       2CO2 + 2H2O

  2C2H2 + 5O2   –>       4CO2 + 2H2O

  C2H5OH + 3O2 –>    2CO2 + 3H2O

However, in incomplete combustion, carbon monoxide is formed.

  C2H6 +5/2 O2   –>            2CO + 3H2O

  C2H4 + 2O2   –>       2CO + 2H2O

  C2H2 + 2O2   –>       2CO + H2O

  C2H5OH + 2O2  –>   2CO + 3H2O

I want to also illustrate the hydrogenation reaction. The hydrogenation reaction is an example of an addition reaction in which hydrogen is added to alkenes or alkynes to either make them saturated or decrease their degree of unsaturation.

Addition of hydrogen to alkenes

  C2H4  +  H2  –>        C2H6

   C2H2  +  H2 –>        C2H4

So it actually depends on what is being formed.

7. Understand the mechanism of reaction

Please do not cram the reactions in organic chemistry; it will not be beneficial in the long run.

You need to understand the underlying principles behind every reaction; this will ease a lot of stress for you.

Mechanisms are profitable to guide you and help you even predict the formula of products you have never encountered before.

I will illustrate the mechanism of the substitution of alkanes.

8.Cultivate the habit of naming organic compounds

The nomenclature of organic compounds has some basic rules that should be taken so you don’t make mistakes.

The basic rules include the following ;

  1. Take the longest carbon chain
  2. Identify the functional group
  3. Identify the substituent
  4. Take the numbering from the end the functional group is closest to
  5. In alkanes, take the numbering from the end the substituent is closest to

         Then practice naming different and even weird organic compounds, you will see yourself

         soaring high and becoming better.

         Organic Chemistry has to do with a lot of structures and equations. You should practice       

         writing these structures by yourself. The common mistake many students make is that they

           feel or think they can just write the structure of any organic compound or product

          without practicing it. It doesn’t work like that. You must simulate these reactions, imagine,

          draw them yourself, understand the trend and pattern of reactions.

9. Master the products of organic reactions

        If you want to become very proficient in organic chemistry, you need to learn how to write

        the equations and products involved.

       It calls for practice; a lot of practice on writing equations will not be helpful but expedient

       for mastery in organic chemistry.

10. Practice organic chemistry questions

The difference between a consultant surgeon and someone that just finished medical school is the experience. 

Experience comes from practice, you will have to solve a lot of past papers from different examination boards. For example IGCSE, IB, even online quizzes in organic chemistry.

This will help you a great deal in learning and excelling in organic chemistry. The different ways treated here should be adhered to if you really want to pass college chemistry.

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