Skills for a successful Chemistry Student

Post date: Oct 24, 2016 12:52:24 AM

If you are looking to get bigger and better in chemistry this quarter, I encourage you to continue reading.

Below is a compilation of skills that make a "good" chemistry student.

How do you rate in each of these skills?

Remember, you have been in the class for only a few weeks. Some of these skills have not been emphasized yet. The important thing is to always have them in back of your mind.

1. Use the periodic table as the starting point for thinking.

Expert chemists know that everything eventually leads back to the periodic table -- novice chemists have yet to realize the huge role it plays, especially when approaching questions about unfamiliar substances. Suddenly faced with a question about neodymium students might complain, 'But we haven't been taught neodymium.' The periodic table is able to help students know a few things already about it.

2. Visualize physical and physical processes

The best chemists are able to visualize concepts that help them make sense of questions. They 'see' regions of high or low electron density and concepts such as gas pressure related to other concepts.

3. Switch between representations

One reason students struggle with chemistry is due to the many representations they have to navigate. An molecule may be referred to in many different ways. It may be drawn flat on a piece of paper, but can it be seen with a 3D perspective?

4. Manipulate mathematical equations

Ah, the math thing ... frustrating for all. Students tend to overestimate their skill in this area, especially if they are also studying high level math. They may be able to successfully rearrange quite advanced algebra when it is written with x, y, and z in the formula, but it can be quite another thing when the components have accompanying orders of magnitude. Sequencing of calculations can also be tricky.

5. Relate observable phenomena to underlying concepts.

This skill can relate to practical work -- what is seen, measured, and carried out in the lab can be related back to chemical concepts. Color changes, melting points, even the rationale for carrying out particular techniques in particular ways van all be linked to chemical concepts.

6. 'Chemical common sense'

A general feel for what substances look like and what their properties are. So when a student sees a reaction he/she can get a sense of the changes that is to come.

7. Write logical explanations without repetition or contradiction.

When faced with a plan space to indicate an explanation, I know students who can fill in every little tiny bit of space and still not score highly. I just want to tell some students 'stop writing now!' because I know if left to their own devices they will write something to totally contradict their great explanation. Other students are adept at writing the same thing, three times, with slightly different words.