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Organic Chemistry for GAMSAT: where to start?

An area of GAMSAT Section III that people tend to get a little worried (or let’s just be honest, completely freak out!) about is Organic Chemistry.

In my opinion, with a good knowledge of the language of O-Chem, and good use of pattern recognition skills there’s no reason why most candidates can’t do really well on these questions. In fact, I’ve often said that organic chemistry gives you your best bang-for-buck when it comes to study to increase in GAMSAT score ratio.

So, here’s my three steps to getting a good start on Organic Chemistry questions.

1. Learn some basic functional groups.

I’m not a big fan of learning by rote, but having a small repertoire of functional groups at your disposal will definitely help with Organic Chemistry questions, in particular the speed at which you can digest and deconstruct the stimulus.

Check out these online functional groups flash cards to really nail it!

 Functional Groups Flashcards
Click to use the flashcards


It would be helpful if you knew how to draw and recognise the following functional groups: alkane, alkene, alcohol, aldehyde, ketone, carboxylic acid, ester, halide/haloalkane, amine, amide, benzene/aromatic ring. Those taking the cbsquared Chemistry course will find a summary of these functional groups including structural formula, condensed structural formula, name/common name, prefix/suffix and an example as a resource document.


2. Be able to name molecules using IUPAC nomenclature

Again, not a fan of rote learning, but you must be able to apply IUPAC nomenclature to name and draw molecules in order to answer questions quickly and effectively. The Organic Molecule Game (OMG) will really scare you into naming organic compounds quick smart. There’s a mad professor and a zombie to really increase the sense of urgency. Bonus.

Click to play
OMG mad professor
Click to get scared


3. Understand reaction maps and pathways to solve chemical reactions

This is where rote learning chemical reactions WILL NOT HELP YOU. You WILL receive a reaction that you’ve never seen before in the GAMSAT, probably with functional groups you’ve never seen before either. The trick is to be able to use pattern recognition skills to deconstruct the reaction given in the stimulus, and then apply to your particular example to get the answer.

For example, you’ll probably be given a general reaction sequence in the stimulus, then you’ll be asked to give the products of a similar reaction, with the same functional groups involved. You should then rewrite the general equation given, using your specific molecules, to ascertain the structure of the product. The basic backbone of the compound (or functional group) will be the same, here’s when you use your pattern recognition skills to recognise where the key functional group is, and how it has changed as a result of the reaction taking place.

Check out the “Master Organic Chemistry” site for a great blog post with some examples and work through. Below is a reaction pathways map from their blog, similar to what is included in the cbsquared Chemistry for GAMSAT course, in the resources section.

Click to read the blog post


Please note: You will not be given a reaction pathways map in the GAMSAT. BUT you will be given a general reaction, or a few reactions, as part of the stimulus for the question. If you know how to use a reaction pathway map, you will also know how to use and interpret a reaction given to you in GAMSAT stimuli.

Good luck! If you need more practice, the cbsquared GAMSAT for Chemistry attendance or online course could be for you.

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