Why Is Organic Chemistry So Hard? (9 Reasons Why)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

Organic chemistry studies organic compounds, which ultimately leads to the creation of medications, gasoline, dyes, and a myriad of other products that we use daily.

The concept of organic chemistry can be incredibly challenging. Not just anyone is going to understand how it works. Take a look at these reasons why it is so hard.

Why Is Organic Chemistry So Hard?

1. Memorization Doesn’t Help Much

Growing up in school, you probably did a lot of memorization to pass classes. You memorized facts, formulas, and concepts so that you could take your test and pass successfully.

The problem with organic chemistry is memorization doesn’t help you here. You might need some memorization but the challenge is going to be that you will struggle to memorize this.

You will need some sort of plan to help you with memorizing stuff as you go because it’s complicated memory. This isn’t your normal facts and formulas but rather letters and symbols.

Rather than memorizing data and formulas, you are more likely to memorize rules that you will put to use in different scenarios. This makes it challenging and complicated.

2. This Is Not Tangible

When you think of science, and even chemistry, most of the results and processes are tangible. But with organic chemistry that is not the case.

With certain concepts, you can fully visualize what might happen and it makes sense that way. In the lab, you have reactions and when you study reactions, there are things you see.

But with organic chemistry, it’s not so easy. You can’t visualize the results or even the testing in the same way because there is nothing to visualize just yet.

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You can attempt to visualize the results but what you are studying is how organic compounds can come together and what will happen when they do.

3. Symbolic Science

Perhaps one of the most common reasons that organic chemistry is so hard is that it is based on symbols, letters, and numbers. With other forms of chemistry, you have terms or formulas.

Here, you have the parts of the compound and it’s written out in symbols and letters of the compound. You bring them together to structure them, creating organic compounds.

But did you know that there are at least 15 million compounds out there? How does an organic chemist even know where to begin with so many choices?

4. Limited Software Options

Another reason that organic chemistry is complicated is that you can’t just plug it into fancy software. You have to manually conceptualize and create almost everything.

Sure, there are some programs and software out there but most of it is lackluster. The creators of the software haven’t quite figured out how to make it work well for organic chemistry.

There are too many variables and so many times the rules of the compounds have exceptions or don’t apply. This makes it nearly impossible to create accurate software.

People who work in this field do a lot of manual work and the lack of software makes it far more challenging to conceptualize and visualize.

5. Not Your Normal Study Group

Not Your Normal Study Group

Someone who is studying organic chemistry or trying to pass a class, has to learn a new way to study. Remember that memorization doesn’t work so well here.

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You can memorize rules but even those have caveats. This means that your studying has to go beyond memorization and you need to fully understand the concepts more deeply.

If you can’t grasp the concepts and work beyond memorization, then it is likely you won’t make it.

6. Extensive Data

When it comes to organic chemistry, it is far more than just memorizing your periodic table. You do need to know that of course, but you have to be able to link compounds together.

Organic chemistry does work mostly with hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous but it is not exclusive to these compounds. Even these few things can be paired in many ways.

When you start creating or studying, the chains of compounds can become very lengthy. Working or studying in this field, you have to be able to track the long chains of data.

7. There Won’t Be Guessing

If you remember much about science curriculums and chemistry labs, you know there is a lot of guessing. You create a hypothesis and then you test, right?

That’s not the case with organic chemistry. It goes against everything you know of science-based on those experiences. Guessing isn’t welcome here and you have to know the content.

When it comes to taking the chapter test, being able to clearly demonstrate the concepts is critical. Even when you are experimenting, you need absolute certainty of these concepts.

8. Reactions May Vary

Organic chemistry is largely based on how compounds react and what that reaction might cause. It’s the reaction that may create something needed.

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The challenge is that reactions can vary greatly across the board. Different techniques and approaches will lead to different reactions. Yet, you need to anticipate the reaction.

The goal of teaching is to help you understand the concepts so that you can both conceptualize and visualize the intended results of the pairing.

9. Understand Chemistry Basics

The good news is that you can often build on chemistry basics to help you understand organic chemistry. The bad news is that if you struggle with basic chemistry, it’s likely a no-go.

Organic chemistry does attach to many of the basic concepts of general chemistry. And as you progress, it challenges your knowledge and becomes increasingly difficult.

If your intent is to study organic chemistry, it’s pertinent that you first grasp basic chemistry. If that is challenging for you, organic chemistry will be impossible.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why chemistry is so boring, why social studies is so boring, and why English class is so boring.


Organic chemistry is one very challenging class and profession for many reasons. It’s not your average chemistry lab for sure. It will challenge even the best minds in many ways.

It is important to understand the basics of Chemistry first. From there, if you can grasp concepts on a deeper level, you can potentially change the world.


  • Jean Richardson

    Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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