02 Jun Is Chemistry Easy?
Chemistry is a subject that many students find themselves having a love-hate relationship with. On one hand, learning about the atoms and compounds that make up our world is indeed fascinating, and you may find that you emerge with a newfound appreciation for how they interact with one another in our environment. On another hand, trying to understand the intricacies of these properties and reactions is often a Sisyphean task.
Different students will have different perceptions of the subject’s difficulty, and often make decisions about whether to pursue it based on these perceptions. In this article, we will explore some of the factors that cause students to view chemistry as “easy” or “difficult”, to help you make a more informed decision about whether chemistry is right for you.
What is chemistry?
Understanding what you will learn in the subject is a good predictor of whether students will find it easy or difficult. Chemistry is a complex and constantly changing field, and that dynamism can be a source of both fascination and confusion. Broadly speaking, chemistry is the study of the elements and compounds that make up our world, the structure, properties and behaviour of these substances and how they interact with each other.
Branches of chemistry
There are five main branches of chemistry: organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry and biochemistry. Students may enjoy learning about some of these branches more than others, and find certain branches more difficult to understand. For example, organic chemistry is widely considered to be one of the most difficult areas to master.
How to understand chemistry
The best way to ensure that you build up a good foundation in chemistry is to understand it as a series of natural processes. Concepts in chemistry frequently build upon each other and draw upon previous knowledge, so it’s important to proceed with your learning in a logical sequential order rather than jumping around different topics.
The O Level chemistry syllabus
At the O Levels, students have the option of either taking chemistry as a singular subject module – pure chemistry. If they choose not to follow this path, they can still take chemistry as part of combined science.
In pure chemistry, you study the subject on its own and subsequently learn more content, but in combined science, you study chemistry with another science subject such as physics or biology. If you are not confident in your science abilities, combined science might be a better bet; if you want to learn about all that chemistry has to offer and do not mind covering extra topics, pure chemistry might be right for you.
Why some students find chemistry difficult
While some students find chemistry easy and do not see scoring well in it as a problem; however, there are many more who simply cannot seem to grasp the fundamentals of the subject no matter how hard they study. There are several reasons for this discrepancy that have to do with the nature of the subject as well as students’ respective approaches.
As a scientific discipline, chemistry hosts a huge repository of specialised vocabulary and technical jargon that students must familiarise themselves with in order to do well. This is because chemistry questions often require students to not just understand the terms, but retrieve the exact definitions. You won’t get very far if you don’t know what “oxidation”, “alkali” and “hydroxyl” mean!
Requires maths skills
While it is generally less reliant on maths skills than physics, chemistry still requires a good deal of calculation and mathematical reasoning. Besides the standard addition, subtraction, multiplication and division used in chemical formulas, you may also be required to apply your understanding of algebra, logarithms and more. If students have a weak foundation in maths, they will usually find that they also struggle in chemistry.
Chemistry is a highly broad subject and covers a lot of ground, involving topics that do not always seem to connect to each other at first glance. Moving from one topic to the next can be highly confusing for some students, who may find themselves unable to keep up. In such situations, it is important to ensure that you maintain strong foundations in all chemistry concepts, so that you will not be lost when the topic changes.
Practicals and labs
Although many students may be comfortable with the theory aspect of chemistry, a good deal cannot say the same for practicals and labs. These draw on a different set of skills, and test your ability to follow instructions, make logical inferences and draw on theory knowledge you previously learned. Both sets of skills are important for mastering chemistry.
Tips for doing well in chemistry
Contrary to what some students may believe, scoring well in chemistry is not an impossible task. All you have to do is take note of a few important study strategies to correct your bad habits and fill the gaps in your knowledge. These include:
Revise content frequently and consistently
One way to make the subject easier for yourself is to review the concepts frequently and consistently. Although this seems like a no-brainer, this will allow you to familiarise yourself with the background and explanation for certain topics, so that you don’t find yourself struggling to come up with an answer during the exam. It is important to remember that the aim of this strategy is not rote memorisation; rather, it is to understand the links between different topics and how these processes play out.
Understand how to answer questions the right way
Science exams in Singapore generally test for two things: the presence of keywords and understanding of the question. Not only do you have to come up with the right explanation for a particular process, you also have to include important words and phrases that demonstrate your familiarity with scientific terminology. You can practise this by revising questions you got wrong in previous exams, and taking note of the different elements that make up the correct answer.
If you implicitly believe that chemistry is too difficult for you to master, you will trick yourself into thinking you cannot do it. This is highly detrimental to your motivation to learn the material as well as your ability to do well in the subject. Instead of adopting a negative mindset and thinking it is too difficult, adopt a growth mindset and focus on how to overcome your weaknesses instead.
Ask for help
Finally, if self-study is getting you nowhere, getting external help is one of the most effective things you can do to enhance your understanding of chemistry. An experienced chemistry tutor can adapt the class for your individual learning style, and help you identify and fill gaps in your knowledge. Often, taking a tuition class is the exact boost you need to solidify your understanding of the subject.
How TSA simplifies chemistry
The Science Academy’s approach to O Level chemistry tuition has helped countless students overcome the perceived difficulty of the subject. With over 20 years of combined experience, our experienced science tutors are committed to helping our students get the most of their science education, and instilling in them a passion for general science, physics, chemistry and biology.