How to Succeed in the UCD CHE 118 Series

Many CBS students get panic-stricken at the thought of being required to enroll in three quarters of Organic Chemistry here at UC Davis. However, in my personal experience, doing well in the 118 series is not a far-fetched goal in hindsight (many of my peers will agree with me).

Before we get into a specific plan-of-attack for O-Chem at UC Davis, I want to quickly discuss the importance of the study of carbon. The majority of students who have to take Organic Chemistry for Health and Life Sciences tend to have aspirations for graduate school or a career in a health profession. Simply put, many of the biological reactions that take place in the human body, i.e. metabolism, are processes that involve organic molecules.  In addition, organic compounds play a critical part in diverse fields ranging from genetics, materials science, nutrition, and kinesiology, to consumer products development. Each of these fields depends on producing organic compounds either naturally or synthetically. Thus, the reactions you will be studying certainly goes beyond the classroom and  is more closely intertwined with our daily lives than you may have previously thought.


Let us get back on track with a quick breakdown of the three classes of this series:

CHE 118A: This class will provide the student with an introduction to the basic principles of arrow-pushing mechanisms, sterics, conformations, spectroscopy, and fundamental reactions. CHE 118A comes attached with a mandatory discussion. Don’t underestimate CHE 118A, as mastering the material in this class will build a solid foundation for the courses that follow in the series.

CHE 118B: The second class in the series builds heavily on CHE 118A and is more rigorous as students will be expected to memorize a plethora of more complicated reactions and understand the various types of spectroscopy in more detail. Learning mechanisms will undoubtedly comprise a large role of the class. Instead of the discussion hour, students will be expected to attend a laboratory section designed for hands-on learning of both reactions and spectroscopy.

CHE 118C: The last class in the series will put heavy emphasis on carboxylic acid derivatives and will also serve as an introduction to the fundamentals of biochemistry. The class also comes with a laboratory requirement.


Ask around, and you will hear from most students that organic chemistry is a game of pure memorization. This is simply NOT the case because memorization can only get you so far. In Organic Chemistry as a Second Language, David Klein compares the topic to a long movie that will ultimately make sense if you consistently pay attention and strive to understand the plot.  He stresses the importance of fully grasping principles and then learning to apply that knowledge via problem solving. The principles will be in your textbook and your lecture notes, but it is up to you to discover how to solve problems. That being said, let us dive into some tips that may help you reach your goal:

1. Do not miss lecture and take diligent notes. From personal experience, a majority of material that will show up on examination day was discussed in lecture at some point in time.

2. Attend office hours: If you hear something once in lecture and don’t understand, give it another try by asking your professor or TA to clarify or reiterate the topic. This helps greatly if you develop the habit to ask the right questions. For example, if you showed up at a doctor’s office with a stomach pain, he will most likely ask the “right” questions, such as “where is the pain” and “when did the pain first appear”.

3. Make your own flashcards! I hand-wrote every single, non-redundant, reaction/fact from my lecture notes onto a 5×8 flashcard and carried them around with me. When I got bored or was on the bus, I would pull them out to practice. This method will speed up the reviewing process and help tremendously with the memorization aspect of organic chemistry.

4. Practice, practice, and more practice! Practice problems from the textbook and exams can expose you to novel questions that can test your application of knowledge in new and different ways. This will mentally prepare you to think outside of the box for your midterms and finals. If you have trouble remembering mechanisms, get a whiteboard so that you can make the mistakes at home and not on test day.

5. Access additional resources to supplement your textbook, if possible. The textbook that is extremely detailed and thus can be difficult to skim through. Here are some that I suggest:

  • Try a shorter read by David Klein: Organic Chemistry as a Second Language. I personally read both volumes during the time I took Orgo and attribute a large part of my success in the 118 series to Mr. Klein.
  • When you need a break from reading, you may find watching video explanations helpful. My favorite channel for organic chemistry can be found

6. Take advantage of the workshops offered by the SASC (Student Academic Success Center) that are designed specifically for the 118 series. For more information, please visit:

7. Lastly, get study partners or form study groups! Topics may be better engrained in your head when you hear about them from your peers’ own perspectives. Remember, there is more than one correct way to learn organic chemistry! Furthermore, take turns to “teach” each other the material, which can help check if you have truly grasped the topics or not. Holding each other accountable to keeping up with the material is an additional plus.

Stay motivated and remember that doing well is always possible,

Wilson Ng
BASC Peer Adviser 2014-2015

Mythbusters: UC Davis Edition

Between university, college, and major requirements, plus prerequisites for graduate and professional school programs, it can become slightly difficult to keep the seemingly endless amounts of information straight. Incorrect information can often be disguised to seem true, and it’s easy to be misled or overwhelmed by a million different sources. Here are a few common myths that are in need of debunking – test yourself and see how well you know your stuff!




It’s impossible to graduate in four years.

It is absolutely possible to graduate in four years. In order to stay on track, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your major requirements, plan your course schedules ahead of time, and meet with a peer adviser or your major adviser if you need help. However, although it is entirely possible to finish your degree in four years, it is absolutely normal to take more than four years to graduate. It’s difficult to know exactly what you want to study right away – fear not; you’re not alone! Most students change their major at least once before they graduate. If you change your major within the College of Biological Sciences, a majority of the lower division prep courses overlap between majors, so you won’t necessarily be behind on prerequisite courses. Be proactive about planning ahead and taking advantage of the resources available to you!


All preparatory courses in series, such as CHE2ABC, must be taken consecutively and must be finished within the first two years before moving on to upper division courses.

Although a majority of the lower division preparatory courses are in series – MAT17ABC, CHE2ABC, BIS2ABC, CHE118ABC or CHE8AB, and PHY7ABC, these courses do not necessarily have to be taken three quarters in a row. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to take MAT17A during Fall, take a break from calculus in the Winter, and continue with MAT17B in the Spring. It just depends on the rest of your course schedule for that quarter and when you plan to finish the series. However, it’s important to pay attention to when each course is offered – for example, CHE2B is only offered during Winter and Spring. Therefore, plan accordingly! Continue reading “Mythbusters: UC Davis Edition”