Chemistry is a subject that is often considered difficult. This can be for any number of reasons, from being improperly taught to having underlying difficulties with other subjects. Chemistry can be seen as a combination of different subjects (Math, English, Physics). It is perhaps this that makes it appear difficult. Here we’re sharing some tips we’ve come across which should help for a wide variety of complications with chemistry.
Consider whether your problem with chemistry is due to the inability to do the math that is needed for the problem. We often have students who understand the concepts in chemistry, but when it comes to completing the questions, they can only bring the problem to a certain point because of their math skills. In this case, it is often better to focus more on improving the math skills than on the chemistry side. This is because chemistry is just a consequence of the lack of math ability. Believe it or not, this is one of the most common problems we encounter with technical subjects like math, physics and chemistry. It is not the individual subject the student has trouble with, but one that the original subject strongly relies on.
It might be clichéd, but an underutilized resource is your textbook and the homework your teacher/TA/professor assigns. The questions at the end of every chapter are there to help you solidify the knowledge that you had just gone over. Do not just complete the first few problems, think you understand the whole chapter and move on. Most textbooks are written to have the easiest problems first and then they get progressively harder. By doing all of the homework questions, you can be pretty sure that the knowledge has been retained, and that you can complete the problems on your test/exam. If you get stuck somewhere in the homework, there is a good chance that the same thing will happen on your test. So, if you get to that point, ask your teacher, tutor, professor, or TA for help in how to solve it. Even if you can complete all of the assigned problems, it can be a good exercise to try some of the ones that were not assigned to see if you can complete them as well. Most textbooks have a few questions which require thinking outside of the box and completing these is a good sign that you understand the content and have mastered the skill described in the chapter.
One tip we haven’t talked about yet is forming study groups. This can be a very effective method of studying, if done correctly. There are a few versions of study groups. One type is where a few students each learn a section of the chapter (or whole chapters) and then teach it to the rest of the group. This way, every student has, at least, parts of the course they are very familiar with. Another kind of study group has a few students who try to solve the homework questions together and use their own knowledge to work towards the solution. In this type, no one prepares any material beforehand, it is just as a method of completing problems together and helping your peers. Another popular type is where students will get together and work quietly on their own, until someone has a problem. Then, either everyone will pitch in to help, or someone will explain what is needed to solve the problem. There is no “one best type” of study group. It all depends on the people who are part of the group, and the way that works best for them.
Whether through figuring out the underlying problem with chemistry, doing the homework problems or forming study groups, whichever tip is selected (or a combination of all three), with enough work, your skills in chemistry should increase. Trying different strategies until you find the one that works best for you is a long and difficult journey, but once you find the one(s) that work for you, every new subject or idea will be that much easier to learn.