O-Chem, A Chem Grade?

After a long weekend I’m sitting here on a cool morning rather relaxed. For the first time in 6 weeks I don’t have class today and I have to say what a long strange journey it’s been.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the prerequisites for even applying to PA School was to take Organic Chemistry, often simply called O-Chem. At the end of May I wrote about my hopes and fears.

Well, I’ll be upfront. Forget the humble brag. I’m going to outright brag. Going in, I figured “if I get at least a C, that’s good enough for the places I’m applying for.” Obviously I wanted to do a bit better than “good enough” but I was realistic. Or so I thought. I got back my first test and well, the grade was disappointing. But I reminded myself, “Well she drops the lowest of the 4 exam grades. But even with that, I’m at least on my way to a solid C.” But then she threw a curve at us. “If by tomorrow you submit the correct answer and WHY it’s correct, including the what slide it was on, or where in the book you found the answer, I’ll give you up to 1/2 the points for each answer. But, I’m allowing that for this first test only.” Well “game on!” Some quick reviewing that night and writing up corrections I submitted them and waited. When I got the test back with my submitted corrections, I now had a solid 92 on it. Now I was starting to think about a possible B in the class.

The second test came along and I studied hard for it. In some ways, to me this was the most important chapter exam. I figured if I I could do well on this one, it would set the tone for the following exams. It was also the only test where we covered 2 weeks of material instead of just 1 week. I was completely stressed about this exam because of this. And with the extra credit I got a 94. I’m still kicking myself on that 1 point I missed. (For those who care, she had given us a diagram of the Taxol molecule and we had to label all the chiral bonds. I missed one.)

Now I was starting to feel good. That B was looking pretty solid and I had glimmers of an A in my mind.

Then we hit all the various reactions, SN1, SN2, E1, E2, and more. Now my brain was really starting to fry. I tried to set up a study group at my place, but no one could make it. I was pretty stressed about the 3rd exam. It was honestly the hardest material we covered all class, even the professor agreed with this thought. I think I spent 30 hours over 3 days studying for it. I walked in confident I could pass, but not much beyond that. I walked out feeling like I had been hit by a Mack truck. I saw the eyes of my fellow classmates who had finished before me, and the eyes of those coming out after me. We all felt the same. Well, you can imagine my surprise when we got the test back the next day and I received a 95 on it (this includes the extra credit). I can’t recall the last time I was so gobsmacked. I had figured I had probably gotten a 75 with an outside chance at an 85. I swear I sat at my desk for about 1 minute just staring at the score. I started to process what this meant. Since the professor was dropping the lowest of the 4 chapter exams, it literally meant the next exam didn’t matter. Sure, I could try to get a high grade on it and bring up my average a bit, but it wasn’t critical. I walked into that 4th exam the most relaxed of the 4. And walked out with a 90. I’m still kicking myself about overthinking one of the questions (Yes, an ROOH can represent a carboxylic acid. But it can also be an ether!)

But in 6 weeks, there’s no time to lay off the brakes. We had to go right into prepping for the Final which was literally 48 hours after the 4th chapter exam. And I had to finish all my lab reports. Fortunately the lab professor had said that basically “as long as you submit them by Friday night in the format I’ve specified, you’ll get a 100.” Of the ones I submitted, I had so far gotten a 100 on each one.

Now for the final, several of us got together both after class on Tuesday and then took over the classroom on Wednesday (since there was no class that day). And here I realized something. I basically knew my shit. I was leading the study sessions. I was helping my fellow students with them. They were asking me questions. This felt good. There was one nagging feeling in the back of my mind which did prove true. I should have been asking for more help on a few of the questions myself. But again, I wasn’t overly worried. I had done the math. In theory, assuming my lab professor upheld his end of the deal, I could get a 72 on the class final and still get an A in the class. I got an 86. (had there been the standard extra credit I would have cracked 90.)

Now I’m still awaiting the official grade, but unless something went completely sideways with my lab grade, I earned an A in O-Chem. Yes. I got an A in O-Chem. The class I had feared for years. The class that just over 7 weeks ago I was dreading and hoping that I could pull off a passing grade in, I got an A in! Yeah, forget the humble brag. I’m damn proud of myself.

I’ll add something else too. At least one of my fellow students who I studied with says I probably helped her pass the final with a high enough grade that will also allow her to continue her plans to apply to PA school this year. Moreover, on the Tuesday after the 4th chapter exam, she was supposed to meet her tutor (who apparently charges as much an hour as I do for SQL consulting) and after 30 minutes together decided she was getting more from my tutoring than she did with him and cancelled her session with him and stopped using him. So I’m pretty proud of that. She’s also looking to become a PA student locally so I suspect we’ll run into each other in the future (though she’s on track to apply a year earlier than I am.)

And to top off the day, after the final exam the college was hosting a cookout that even one of the vegans in my class enjoyed.

Image shows an open plaza with two rows of tables with tablecloths and steam pans on top filled with food.
Nice way to end 6 weeks of Organic Chemistry
White disposable plate on red tabelcloth. Plate contains chicken drum leg, 1/2 cob of corn, some sliced brisket and a bit of pasta salad.
The non-vegan option (even the corn had butter on it!)

Two students in front of a whiteboard working on O-Chem.
Our Wednesday study session

O-Chem 1-Chem 2-Chem

Just a quick blog this week since I missed last week. My previous blog post was about O-Chem and that’s still on my mind. I finally received my test grade back and well, let’s say I was a bit disappointed. Though turns out two of the questions were marked wrongly because the Scantron missed my correct answers (I need better pencils!) So that helped. And I got 4 out of 5 points on the bonus (I lost a point because, despite knowing better I put an extra electron pair on the Carbon (it was a “bookkeeping” exercise I meant to erase) and as such gave the Carbon the equivalent of 5 bonds. As our Professor pointed out, any good O-Chemist would cringe at the thought of that!

But what really helped, and I appreciated, was that given how quickly the test came upon us (literally the 4th day of class, after a holiday weekend) she allowed us to submit corrections. But not simply “Oh, it should have been C” but “It should have been C, and here’s where in the notes you explained that.” If you were able to provide the correction and why, you got back half the points you lost. I think this was actually pretty fair and it also helped me because it did force me to go back and focus on my mistakes and learn what I had missed. This elevated my grade enough that I ended up being quite happy with it.

That said, she’s not doing that with the future tests, including the one I took this morning. This test was a bit different, it was on basically two weeks of material (naming, chirality, and Sn1/Sn2 reactions for those who care). I’ve got to say, in some ways I was more nervous about this one than the previous one. And honestly, 2/3rds of the material was in my mind pretty straightforward. (Small aside: yes, chemical names can get long and unwieldy, but once you “crack the code” you can draw the exact molecule pretty easily, at least for what we’re doing. Don’t ask me the chemical name for something like Tamoxifin (though honestly, it might be doable now that I’ve looked at it 🙂

But the nucleophile stuff, I still don’t 100% grasp. I mostly get the idea, but keeping the details straight is tricky. And that’s most likely where I lost points. Of course I won’t know until the end of class tomorrow!

And now we’re on to the next two chapters and another test next Tuesday. Then three chapters, a final chapter test and a final exam (the last 2 are in the same week!)

This is literally the 4th week of a 6 week class (and I’ve finished 1 of 3 days this week) so I’m officially more than 1/2-way through!

Yeah, we’re moving fast, I feel the knowledge oozing out of my brain as I try to cram it all in.

So, we’ll see how I do. I’d write more, but I have reading and practice problems to work on before tomorrow’s class and lab.

O-Chem O-My

I did something last week I hadn’t done in a while. I skipped blogging on Tuesday. I almost did so again this week, but have about 90 minutes left in my timezone to get one in. So… here goes.

As part of my ongoing quest to prepare to apply to PA School, I am again taking a class. This time it’s O-Chem. I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve dreaded this ever since I first started looking at the prereqs I have to fulfill before I can apply to the program I want.

I’ve had a… special relationship with chemistry. In high school, I waited until my Senior year to take it. This wasn’t by design. It wasn’t a requirement to graduate and I simply figured I’d skip it. That is until I started to apply to colleges, including RPI and most wanted 2 semesters of high school chemistry. Combine that with a change in the rules at my high school for senior English (basically had to take 2 electives of English, even if you were taking AP English, which I was), meant my senior year I was taking not one, but TWO more courses than I had planned. I often worked on 5 hours of sleep 6 nights a week (my private prep school had classes on Saturday). So, when something had to give, it was chemistry homework. This frustrated my teacher because it was 10% of the grade and she would remind the class that doing the homework helped a lot with the quizzes and exams. Well I was already doing very well on those, so homework was dropped. It was a trade-off.

Then college chemistry at RPI came along. Somehow I was good at it. Or rather, I was good at helping others prepare for the tests and could easily explain topics, but honestly, did poorly in the class. Oh well, it wasn’t computer science. I’d survive. And at least I didn’t have to take O-Chem! I heard horror stories.

And how here I am, 30 years taking O-Chem. But like my history with chemistry, this has a twist. Because of scheduling I’m taking the 6 week version of the class, basically class for close to 2.5 hours in the morning and then lab for 2.5 hours in the afternoon, 3 times a week.

So, last Tuesday I was prepping for class and stressing about it.

And here I am a week later, with 1 exam under my belt (we move fast) and 3 labs (first day was just safety briefing and orientation) and I’m still feeling overwhelmed and honestly, almost having fun.

My schedule goes something like this: 1-2 hours of paying work in the morning 2.5 hours of class, a break, 1-2.5 hours of lab (it varies), home, work, dinner, some more work possibly, then transcribing notes, looking up questions, and trying to get through the book. Then 1-2 hours of preparing for lab the next day. (This last part is new since I didn’t actually get my lab notebook until Friday, so I will still have to go back and do lab notes for 2 previous labs).

And then of course this past weekend, studying for my first exam. This had two additional complications. The first, I was in a remote area without great bandwidth and a flakey computer, which complicated things. The second was that, without a practice test, it was hard to know what exactly to focus on.

I was hoping to get my test grade back tonight, but will have to wait until tomorrow morning in class. I’m fairly confident I passed. But honestly, I have no idea how well I did. There were definitely a few questions I wasn’t prepared for. But, the professor has been good on making sure we focus on the why and how, rather than remote memorization, so I hope I reasoned them out correctly. If not, at least it’s good practice for the next exam (which fortunately is in two weeks.)

I’m not sure this is the hardest class I’ve taken, but it’s definitely up there and it’s even harder because of the condensed schedule. But I almost remind myself I’m just over 1/6th done!

So… we’ll see.