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Is Organic Chemistry Harder Than Calculus?

Advanced math and science courses are some of the most difficult courses available, and organic chemistry is no exception. But is organic chemistry harder than calculus? And how can you pass organic chemistry?

Most students find organic chemistry to be harder than calculus but it depends heavily on your aptitude and interests. Organic chemistry requires more memorization than calculus, but calculus requires more computation. Both necessitate learning about abstract, advanced theories.

Read on to learn more about how hard organic chemistry is and how it compares to calculus. This article will also cover tips for doing well in organic chemistry.

Organic Chemistry vs Calculus - which is harder?

How Hard Is Organic Chemistry?

Organic chemistry is one of the hardest sciences on average, with high failure and retake rates and a low-grade average. It requires extensive background knowledge in chemistry and is based mostly on theory rather than practical work.

That said, it is not impossible to do well in organic chemistry. Many students succeed every year. You just need to strategize about how you’ll conquer this difficult subject.

What Organic Chemistry Covers

A first-year organic chemistry class typically covers core concepts such as: 

  • Atomic structures 
  • The periodic table
  • Lewis-Dot diagrams 

It then builds on these concepts with an understanding of acids, bases, and stereochemistry. You’ll also learn about bonding and charges and nomenclature, which is the way structures are named. 

What Organic Chemistry Prepares You For

Organic chemistry is foundational to biochemistry and pharmacology, and it is a prerequisite for going to medical school. It is also necessary for food scientists, forensic analysts, and environmental scientists. 

Most of these professions require a bachelor’s degree, and some require a master’s degree. You’ll also need relevant experience in the field.

Sources: NYTimes, and Indeed

How Does Organic Chemistry Compare to Calculus?

Organic chemistry requires more memorization than calculus, requiring students to memorize thousands of patterns of chemical reactions and accurately identify them. Calculus requires some memorization but is more procedural, focused on knowing and taking the correct steps in solving a problem. 

Roughly 80% of students find organic chemistry one of the hardest classes they’ve ever taken. 

That said, many students struggle with calculus as well. The difference in how students do comes mostly from background knowledge, aptitude, and interest, and there is no direct way to compare the absolute difficulty of the two disciplines. 

Which STEM Courses Are the Hardest?

Chemistry and chemical engineering are among the hardest STEM courses you can take in college. Majoring in either requires about 20 hours per week in outside-of-class time spent studying and preparing for class. Aerospace engineering is also extremely difficult, as is biomedical engineering. 

Biology, physics, astronomy, and biochemistry are also quite difficult, requiring at least 18 hours of outside-of-class time to prepare for each class. 

However, each of these courses has levels, and you should do well as long as you take the appropriate class for your level and for the amount of time you have to give.

How To Prepare for a Course in Organic Chemistry

Before taking organic chemistry, you’ll want to take a course in basic chemistry. This will familiarize you with the fundamentals so that you have an easier time moving through materials and grasping higher-level concepts. 

You can also watch educational videos about organic chemistry online to understand the kinds of topics that the course will cover. For example, see this Khan Academy video here:

Representing structures of organic molecules | Biology | Khan Academy

Organic chemistry lies at the intersection of biology and chemistry, so having background knowledge in both is very helpful. It also helps to have a system for memorizing information, as you’ll need to remember a lot of information to do well in organic chemistry. 

Tips for Passing Organic Chemistry

Consider the following as you head into a course in organic chemistry:

  • Find your own pace. Don’t rush yourself, if possible, and give yourself enough time to read and study the materials.
  • Use a variety of study materials. There are many routes you can take to learn organic chemistry. You might find books, videos, or something else to help you outside of your official course materials.
  • Don’t give up if you struggle. This is part of the process, and it doesn’t mean that you aren’t learning. Just keep with it and stick to remembering the core concepts. 
  • Review study materials from general chemistry. Many of the concepts are the same, and studying the fundamentals will help you when you’re building onto them later.
  • Spend time learning the nomenclature. This will make it easier for you to understand what’s going on and derive more meaning from names.
  • Find and create good visuals. Since organic chemistry deals with atoms and subatomic particles, you’ll need good visualization skills to see what’s going on. Models and drawings are key to understanding organic chemistry.

Source: WillPeachMD

Should You Take Calculus Before Organic Chemistry?

You should take Calculus before Organic Chemistry because Calculus is a prerequisite for many chemistry courses. For example, Clark University requires that students take a course in calculus before completing Organic, Analytical, and Physical Chemistry. 

They recommend taking calculus as early as possible because it is fundamental to your understanding of the sciences (source).

If you plan to major in chemistry, chances are you’ll be required to take calculus anyways. It’s a good idea to sign up for a calculus class if you want to major in any science, including chemistry. 


Organic chemistry is harder than calculus for some people, but others find that calculus is harder. How hard it is might depend on your background knowledge and interest in the subject and your relevant skills. If you’re great with memorization, for example, you might have an easier time with organic chemistry than someone who is not.