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Chemistry Course Study Tips for High School

Periodic Table Trends

Students usually have to take a chemistry course in high school. Many students have a hard time with the course because it's often one of the first classes they take after middle school which demand higher level study skills. Making matters more difficult is the fact that students often find chemistry topics mysterious because, ultimately, chemistry deals with stuff you really can't see. Namely, atoms and their subatomic particles, particularly their electrons. So here are some tips to get your chem skills up to par!

1) Be a teacher's pet!...Not seriously, but kind of.

What's meant by this advice is make sure to show up to all scheduled classes on time and be prepared to take notes. As well, complete any assigned readings and watch any assigned videos before class begins. Many high school chem teachers provide note packets for students to help organize their learning and attempt practice exercises. They also often give you extra problems in these packets. I recommend doing all the problems in your packet if you are at all struggling. Star any problems or concepts you don't understand and seek help from your teacher. If you don't have the benefit of teacher-provided note packets, make sure to take good notes for each lecture and pre-lab instructions.

2) Don't worry if you don't get the big picture all at once right away. (As a back up...Remember it is all about the electron!)

Many chem courses teach discrete skills that might just seem like busy work until you get to later units. For example, balancing chemical equations is a skill that is usually learned early on in a typical course and, on its own, is similar to the skill needed to solve basic abstract algebra equations. Later on, students see how this skill folds into a deeper understanding of how chemists use chemical equations to predict the products and properties of real world chemical reactions. So don't get frustrated if you don't immediately get why you are learning a specific skill. Just try to learn the skill and let it build into a bigger set of skills and deeper understanding as you go. And remember that the basic challenge of chemistry is trying to understand what matter (stuff) is, how stuff behaves, reacts and changes, and it often comes down to understanding what the electrons in all the stuff around us are doing. You can't see electrons, so it will be understandable if you feel a little lost about what is happening sometimes. See the electrons moving around in the example below:

Where is the electron going?

3) Make drawings and tables to keep track of the invisible atomic world.

Making drawings and tables for yourself in your notes can help organize fundamental information about electrons, neutrons, and protons and all the rest of chemistry's concepts in ways that our brains can manage. Making your own tables and drawings can further aid your understanding because you have to look up and analyze information in order to place facts into proper categories and positions in diagrams and charts. For example, see the chart for subatomic particles below:

subatomic particle chart

4) Label, label, label your units when you work your problems!

Chemistry can be a very 'mathy' science and labelling your units can help you work problems correctly. You will likely be using a problem solving technique called dimensional analysis in your course. Many of these problems can be understood in terms of how units cancel as you do calculations. So label your numbers with care and you will be rewarded with a better understanding of why the problem solving techniques work the way they do.

dimensional analysis example

5) Make friends with the periodic table and your cheat sheets. Memorize what you need to!

Most teachers allow you to use a periodic table on exams and quizzes. Many also allow you to use a list of common ions and/or certain formula sheets with common constants. But most chem teachers also require some bit of memorization of a certain number of basic chem info and formulas. So don't shirk the memorization! Get whatever you have to know down by rote quickly and you will thank your self later. During the unit that introduces the periodic table of elements, perk up! Knowing the trends and patterns in the periodic table gives you a huge edge throughout your chem course. After all, it was designed to be an easily readable guide that places elements into families which have similar chemical properties. In a sense, it was designed to make chemistry easier for people new to the study of matter, including high school students of course.

Periodic Table Trends

6) Start (test prep) early!

Chemistry exams are particularly cruel to students who wait until the last minute to study. No surprise why: chemistry problem types can be very tricky and varied and require repeated attempts to master all the variety you might see on an exam. Begin prepping by outlining a plan for your study times. Make an ordered list of what sources to study and the time needed to complete each item. A typical list might look like this:

1) Review Lecture Notes from Chapters 1 and 2 (20 minutes)

2) Gather and review ionic compound worksheets. (20 minutes)

3) Memorize flashcards for reactions types (45 minutes)

4) Complete official Review Guide from teacher (25 minutes)

5) Take the practice quiz (15 minutes)

6) Go back and review any weak areas; redo tricky problems if needed. (10 minutes)

7) If needed re-watch YouTube video on ionic bonding and covalent bonding. (7 minutes)

Try to start prepping at least a week ahead of the exam. If your teacher does not provide a list of main ideas to master, try to anticipate what questions your teacher will ask and study those questions first.

Other study tips include seeking out help from your teacher, peers, tutors and and your parents.

Hope this was a helpful set of tips for your chem course work!

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