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How to memorize Organic Chemistry Reactions

Remembering organic chemistry reactions and equations is no easy feat. Mainly because there are so many of them and most of them aren’t all that different from one another. We often find ourselves asking how to memorize organic chemistry reactions? Straight up mindlessly memorizing chemistry reaction isn't very helpful either. Instead knowing how to apply memory techniques in learning organic chemistry is a better idea. While developing a good memory is important, it is not THE most important thing out there.

However, if you are someone who wants to develop your memory so that you can easily recall organic chemistry equations, then you have come to the right place! This article discusses various techniques that can be implemented in the context of organic chemistry to build a better memory. A few tips and tricks that were picked up from a question-answer session with a memory expert.

Method of loci

I once watched this video where a woman memorized three pages full of random numbers in a very short amount of time. Later on in the video, her memorizing technique was discussed and it honestly is one of the easiest ways to remember things. You simply associate things you want to remember with pictures – not words – and then to mentally distribute those pictures spatially in a familiar location, such as a childhood home, school, or other familiar places.

This method of loci is also known as memory places.

With some practice, this technique will come to you readily and you will be able to implement it easily. This technique is very effective once you have mastered it. After watching that video, I had used this method to memorize everything I had to remember for A level Biology. However, after further research, I found out that this method can especially be helpful in remembering organic chemistry reactions. Here is how-

How to use the method of loci technique in organic chemistry?

I have an oddly specific example for you. This was taken from a conversation with a memory expert.

Take the Williamson-Ether synthesis. The mechanism is given below.

organic chemistry

The story associated with this reaction-

Throw a magic wand and a bottle of beer into a well on a hill, and reel up the bucket from the well to find a pair of angel wings.

  • The Well is representative of WILLiamson.
  • The magic wand is an organohalide.
  • The alcohol is represented by the bottle of beer.

You can easily develop virtual cues as such for many other organic reactions. There are so many images you can associate certain things with. Here are a few prompts of common organic chemistry elements to help you get started.

Carbon – Ninja Hydrogen – A basketball Oxygen – Hot air balloon Nitrogen – Monkey Fluorine – Flute or a Bird (like…Flappy bird) Chlorine – Tiger Bromine – Dog Iodine – Penguin

Bonds can be ropes tied between elements and little insects on that rope can be electrons.

This technique is not limited to just organic chemistry reactions. You can recall and retain many other aspects of organic chemistry and just chem

You can memorize things like pKa values or specific reactions. An easy way to do this is by using specific element symbols.

For example- HBr has a pKa of -9. So imagine a seal holding a basketball on its nose and throwing it into a hoop. As it does this, the ball makes a long and beautiful arch before the ball, finally, sinks into the hoop. The arching of the ball’s trajectory followed by the circular motion of the ball remind you of the number 9 since 9 basically looks like a circle with a curved line. Recall the scenery of this visual device, too. Add as many details as you can. Where are you playing basketball? In your backyard? On you college field? Make sure that you are familiar with the memory places that you use.

If you want to memorize the Sn2 mechanism here is a nifty trick. Imagine that five ninjas are arranged in a tetrahedral structure. They are placed on the roof of a building. One of the five ninjas is placed in the middle of the other four ninjas. They’re defending themselves against a rabid animal, which attacks the middle ninja. Frightened, the cowardly ninja in the back runs away, and the tiger remains with the ninjas.

The nucleophile is represented by the attacking animal. And the tiger remaining with the ninjas is the formation of the transition state.

An important point to note is that while I am providing you with all of these examples, you should note that everyone interprets images, cues, and words differently. For example when I say “imagine a cat” I may be imagining a panther and you may be imagining a fat tabby. So all the examples given in this article are just that- examples. Use these to get an idea of how you can create your own “memory place.”

While coming up with all of these elaborate scenes may seem slightly counterintuitive, that really isn’t the case. Memory doesn’t work like a glass of water, where the water in the glass represents everything you already know and remember. Adding more water to that glass of water causes the water to overflow and you lose all of that previously learned information. That is not how the brain works. The method of loci focuses on this very aspect. The more you try and remember the more you will be able to. That is why we say practice makes perfect. As you sit down and concoct these elaborate stories related to your study material, you learn quicker. More importantly, this is a great way to exercise your brain and keep it healthy.

Tips from a memory expert

While the method of loci is a memory technique designed to help you memorize and remember things better, there are no shortcuts to mastering it. You need to practice and at some point, it will come to you very easily. You will be able to look at study material and easily correlate it to familiar images. The rest of it is up to your brain and how well you nurture it (by maintaining your diet and getting enough sleep).

Here is a video to further explain how the method of loci works.

Tips on how to memorize organic chemistry reactions

Here are a few basic tips on how to memorize organic chemistry reactions-

1. Learn some basic structures

Organic chemistry involves many, many structures, each quite different from the other. But usually, for testing purposes, a few basic structures are used. Identify these structures and memorize them. That was when other structures are derived from them, you will be able to recall more readily. Understand how to draw structures from a name and how to identify the number of bonds, hybridization of different atoms.

2. Focus on the basics

You need to build a strong foundation to be able to memorize and understand organic chemistry. Don’t skim over or skip the initial chapters. These are essential building blocks in your understanding.

3. Try and understand then learn

Mindlessly memorizing is never proactive. Especially not for the long run. Instead, try and understand each of the reactions. Why they are progressing the way they are. What are the observations? Why are we observing these phenomenons? Ask yourself these questions when studying.

4. Use mind maps

The reactions in organic chemistry are usually interconnected. A mind map or a spider web is a great way of organizing and visualizing them. This way you can easily remember the reactions.

Hope that answers your question on how to memorize organic chemistry reactions. The most important point or tip is that you need to practice. The more you practice the better you will remember.

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