Chemistry: Succeeding Where Others Have Failed

Succeeding Where Others Have Failed

Even after reading this section, the big question in your mind may be, "Can I really learn chemistry?" The answer: With patience and time, anybody can learn chemistry. In my years of teaching chemistry I've never found anybody who, with a little bit of hard work and study, wasn't able to understand the basics. Of course, there are some things you can do to make this task easier on yourself:

  • Learn the vocabulary! As mentioned earlier, chemistry is full of confusing, specialized terms. It doesn't matter how well you've memorized the material—if you don't understand what the words mean, you won't understand chemistry.
  • Learn processes, not facts! A lot of people attempt to learn chemistry by memorizing the periodic table, the names and formulas of every chemical compound, and all the equations from the chemistry book. Some of these people learn chemistry, some of them don't, and some of them have heart attacks from all of that memorization. Chemistry becomes much easier if you learn how to solve problems, rather than memorizing the answers to every potential problem. In this section, we'll be discussing methods you can use to solve problems, rather than committing the atomic masses of the lanthanides to memory.
  • Slow and steady wins the race! Like most subjects, chemistry is much easier to understand if you take it in small, easily digested chunks. Remember, it took over 2,000 years to develop modern chemistry—you probably won't become a pro after a 32-hour study session.
  • Use common sense! When you solve problems in chemistry, look at the answers to make sure they're right. For example, if you've found that you're 45 meters tall after doing a unit conversion, it's fairly certain you've made a mistake (unless you're the Jolly Green Giant).
  • Enjoy the scenery! Though there are some really boring aspects to chemistry, there are also a lot of really neat things to learn. Think of chemistry as being like a long car trip—sometimes you have to endure the traffic in New Jersey before you can enjoy New York City.

When I took chemistry for the first time in high school, I barely passed after a great deal of effort. I know how you feel about chemistry and will help you get through the process as painlessly as possible (and with much better results than I had the first time through!).

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chemistry © 2003 by Ian Guch. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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