Organic Chemistry Learning and Studying Techniques
Organic Chemistry is the last subsection of the Survey of the Natural Sciences and there are 30 questions in this subsection. The content tested on the DAT focuses on your conceptual understanding rather than knowing many reactions and mechanisms by heart.
Organic Chemistry Content
Here is the content of the questions you are going to see in the Organic Chemistry section of DAT, the numbers in parentheses reflect how many questions are likely to be directly asked from that field on the DAT. Like General Chemistry, you need to have knowledge from more than one content area listed to answer the questions, and some questions also require knowledge from other fields like Biology, General Chemistry.
Energetics and Structure – elimination, addition, free radical, substitution mechanisms, and other mechanisms and reactions
Chemical and Physical Properties of Molecules (5)
Spectroscopy (1H NMR, 13C NMR, infrared, and multi-spectra), structure (polarity, intermolecular forces (solubility, melting/ boiling point, etc.), and laboratory theory and techniques (TLC, separations, etc.)
Stereochemistry (structure evaluation) (3)
Chirality, isomer relationships, and conformations
IUPAC rules and functional groups in molecules
Individual Reactions of the Major Functional Groups and Combinations of Reactions to Synthesize Compounds (9)
Alkene/alkyne, aromatic, substitution/elimination, aldehyde/ketone, carboxylic acids and derivatives, and other. For each area listed above, the following sub-areas apply: general, one-step, and multi-step
Acid Base Chemistry (3)
Ranking acidity/basicity (structure analysis and pH/pKa data analysis), and prediction of products and equilibria
Aromatics and Bonding (3)
Concept of aromaticity, resonance, atomic/molecular orbitals, hybridization, and bond angles/lengths
Organic Chemistry Learning and Studying Techniques
Initially, the Organic Chemistry content on the DAT may seem different from what you studied. The DAT is a multiple-choice test, so you can’t be asked to draw out complicated molecules, deduce elaborate reaction mechanisms, or synthesize specific products based on memory alone. If the test makers ask you to determine the reactant required for a certain reaction or the identity of an unknown molecule based on its IR absorption spectrum, the answer must be one of the five choices in front of you. The nature of the test dictates that the focus be more on generalizations, patterns, and critical thinking rather than straight memorization, which may seem more difficult at first but is actually easier for most students to learn in the long term!
So you must study concepts rather than memorizing a long list of specific reactions. Although it is not bad to know the mechanisms for the Wittig reaction, the Newman-Kwart rearrangement, and the Takai olefination, a basic understanding of the properties of a carbonyl and the kinds of reactions it can take part in (the carbonyl carbon is partially positive and will react with nucleophiles, and the carbonyl oxygen is partially negative and will act as a base) will be much more beneficial for Test Day.
While studying, don’t attempt to memorize every reaction initially but instead, focus on the general types of reactions each functional group can undergo. Only 30 percent (nine questions) of the Organic Chemistry subtest is about individual reactions, and the named reactions make up only a small fraction of those questions. Much more of the subtest is devoted to broader topics, such as nomenclature, physical properties, stability, and stereochemistry. Even questions that do require analyzing reactions can often be answered correctly using critical thinking based on a strong fundamental understanding of why reactions take place and a solid knowledge of General Chemistry. Learn the basics first. Only focus on memorizing specific reactions once you feel comfortable with the concepts, which yields more points on Test Day and makes memorizing the specifics easier, too.
Finally, with that understanding, don’t panic if you see a reaction or molecule that you don’t recognize on Test Day. Instead, examine the reactants and products for components you do recognize. If you see that xylitol is a reactant for a reaction-based question, you might not initially know its structure (pentane-1,2,3,4,5-pentol) or how it behaves. However, you can identify that it’s alcohol right away based on its name alone, which means you know it’s likely to be a water-soluble weak acid that can undergo deprotonation. If only one of the five answer choices shows the transfer of hydrogen, then you have a very good chance of getting that question right; no further knowledge is required. Once you have the concepts down and put them into practice, you’ll be ready to think like this on Test Day and correctly answer even the questions that seem difficult to you now.
Remember Organic chemistry is one of the subjects that you have to study the new material you learn every time you learn them or you will forget, you can’t just study it the night before the exam and expect good results whether in the undergrad or for the DAT. You need to learn the concepts and connect them rather than memorizing everything, and you also need a lot of practice and review like other sections of the DAT.
You should try different methods for memorizing and understanding the formulas and mechanisms that you want to remember like flashcards, taking notes and referring to them later, etc. so you can find out which method works best for you.
Try a sample Organic Chemistry question to get an idea of what to expect on test day! You can get practice for each question type, along with full answers and explanations in our full-length tests.
Predict the product of the following elimination reaction.
Because (I) is a better leaving group, and (H) is an apt attack that is attached to (Cl).
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