Chemistry is one of those subjects that you simply cannot absorb by reading.
You must apply the principles by practicing equations and relating everything you’ve learned to something you encounter every day.
I think a lot of us have issues understanding science topics, especially chemistry because we can’t see it in our every day lives. So to help you out, I’ve devised several ways in which you can start to prepare for chemistry
1. Understand that chemistry happens all around us
The hardest thing to do when you begin studying chemistry is to apply theory to practice. If you can just begin to understand that everything that happens around you is some kind of chemical reaction, then you are able to proceed.
For example, I want you to imagine that you are sitting in your favorite restaurant waiting for your food to arrive. You see and smell so many different aromas within the restaurant that your body produces chemicals to
- identify the different smells (every fragrance is a chemical that your body perceives)
- identify the different foods by sight
- fill the brain so that it can prepare the body for the meal
Now, I want you to imagine that the waiter finally brings your food and note how you feel when you see the waiter arrive and when you take the first bite. You now have chemicals that
- fills your brain and causes you to feel happy
- fills your mouth with saliva, which also have chemicals to break down the food
- fills your taste buds and then send those same chemical messages to the brain so that you are able to taste the food
- breaks down food while it is in the stomach
So on, and so forth.
and this is just a small tidbit. Try to think of other scenarios which require chemical reactions (leave them in the comments below).
2. Understand that theories in chemistry are applicable and not invisible
After you understand that chemical reactions happen all around us every day, always remember that scientific theories are not always abstract, invisible, nor hypothetical.
For example, the atomic theory states that matter is comprised of tiny units called atoms. In the earlier years, the atom was just a philosophical concept because it was invisible to the naked eye. However, in the 20th century, the atom’s existence was proven and even smaller units of the atom could have actually been seen because of electromagnetism and radioactivity.
These smaller units were called protons, neutrons and electrons and the interaction of these smaller units is the basis of what helps us to understand different chemical reactions.
This means that scientific theories are not guesses: they are based upon factual evidence. They are only called theories because there are still some missing pieces of the puzzle that scientists have yet to uncover (God made this world quite complex).
3. Understand that chemistry has patterns
Let’s say you are studying the periodic table of elements and its trends across and down the table.
Assuming that you already understand the basics of the periodic table (if not, please leave me a comment below and I will explain), I will show you how it has a pattern.
For example, the atomic radius (which is the total distance from one end of the atom’s electron shell to another) increases as you go down the periodic table (this makes it very easy for them to give away electrons) but decreases as you go from left to right (thus more difficult to take away electrons).
Why? because as you add protons to the nucleus going across the table from left to right, the more the nucleus squeezes in itself and thus, making the entire atom smaller and the attraction of the electrons to the nucleus stronger.
And based upon these facts, it means that the ionization energy (the amount of energy needed to remove an electron) and electronegativity (the ability to gain electrons) increase going from left to right and decrease going from top to bottom.
Phew. I didn’t mean to give you a chemistry lesson but this is just to give you an idea of how to break things down and see some patterns.
4. Relate your topic to something that you see every day and actually understand.
Using the same atomic radius example above, take a picture of an atom and relate it to something you recognize, like an onion.
An onion has a lot of outer layers. The bigger the onion, the more layers it has and the longer it takes to reach to its core. It’s also very easy to peel off its top layers but the inner layers takes some work. This is easily compared to the atom. The top layer/valence shell of the electrons is the most reactive. Because the inner layers are closer to the nucleus, then its harder for them to be removed.
5. Always use visual demonstrations
This may include finding interesting videos on youtube, like this one, that has a lot of visual representation, animation, and clear and precise explanations.
Of course, if you need one-on-one help, I am available through skype sessions (if you live outside of Nassau, Bahamas).
6. Repeat after me: Cramming is WRONG!
You cannot, and I repeat, CANNOT study for a chemistry test the night of…or even the week of. you will fail. Trust me.
The only way to completely understand chemistry is to ensure that you are looking at your notes and applying them, ideally, after every lesson.
If you don’t have the time, then pay special attention to your homework. Ask questions about it when you don’t understand. Don’t just hand in crappy work to pass and ignore it. Take your time to ensure you understand what you are talking about.
Once you understand these concepts, you will be a chem whiz in no time!
Happy studying! 🙂