Secrets to BALANCING chemical equations!

Ah….chemical equations and stoichiometry; the stuff dreams are made of….I mean nightmares!  Chemical equations and stoichiometry are the backbone of any General Chemistry course.  Successfully balancing chemical equations will enable you to better understand stoichiometry and thus, pass that Chemistry course.  But, how do you know which coefficients go where?  I learned from trial and error and through many failed methods.  Read on and let me share my tips for balancing chemical equations!

1.)  Know What the Equation Means

A chemical equation isn’t just random numbers and symbols put into a format to annoy students.  Each component of the equation represents part of a chemical reaction.  Periodic symbols represent the elements within the reaction; the coefficients represent the amount of element either reacting or being produced; that little arrow in the middle of the equation let’s you know that given reactants are yielding products.  Everything in a chemical equation means something.  Simply put….the reactants undergo a chemical reaction to produce products.

2.)  The Law of Conservation of Mass

Wait….what is the law of conservation of mass?  Basically, it’s a principle stating that mass is neither created nor destroyed.  That’s great, but how does this principle relate to balancing chemical equations?  If mass is neither created nor destroyed, than the mass of reactants in a chemical equation must equal the mass of products within that same equation.  Voila!  You’re welcome!  In order for a chemical equation to be balanced, it must have the same number of each element on both the reactant and product side of the equation.  The number of each element on the left-side of the arrow must equal the number of that same element on the right-side of the arrow.  

3.)  Don’t Change the Equation

I cannot stress this enough….do not change the equation.  Subscripts and superscripts included within an equation serve a purpose and should not be altered.  When balancing a chemical equation, pay attention to the small details.  Neglecting this one simple tip will make balancing equations an absolute nightmare.  The only numbers you can change in any chemical equation are the coefficients of reactants and products.  This tip sounds amateur, but many equations were never balanced because the initial chemical equation was not written correctly….I’m speaking from experience!  Hours of aggravation caused by writing the number 2 instead of 3.  Trust me….it will happen!

4.)  Leave Hydrogen and Oxygen Until Last

Is there a specific order in which to balance the atoms of elements within a chemical equation?  Not really….to each their own.  However, I have found that balancing the hydrogen and oxygen atoms last has resulted in the successful balancing of many chemical equations.  Take care of the big guys first and leave the little guys until last.  It sounds elementary, but it does work!

If you’ve had the patience to read through this entire post, success is on the horizon.  By applying these four tips, you will find that balancing chemical equations is definitely doable.  Take the knowledge you’ve learned from balancing chemical equations and apply it to stoichiometry.  You will find that you can’t do one without the other!  Understanding stoichiometry is reliant upon your ability to successfully balance equations.

Don’t forget, practice makes perfect!  Hit those textbooks and complete a few practice problems.  The more you practice, the easier it will be to identify the proper coefficients for any given chemical equation.  Again, I’m speaking from experience!

Did you find this post helpful?  Do you still have questions pertaining to balancing chemical equations?  Feel free to leave me a comment.  Take care and thank you for reading!  Good luck!

That’s all I NEED to succeed in Chemistry?

You have registered for CHEM 101 and class starts next week….what do you need to pass the Chemistry course?  What supplies are going to help you ace this class?  Words of advice, “Don’t get caught up in technology.  Don’t overthink.  More isn’t always better!”  When taking a General Chemistry course, just stick to the basics.

1.)  Textbook and Solutions Manual

If you have read my other posts, I put a lot of emphasis on note-taking and practice problems.  Therefore, it’s logical that the two most important supplies for any Chemistry course is a textbook and the supporting solutions manual.  Most, if not all, of your course study will be contained within these two supplies.  Oh, and while you’re at it, invest in a few highlighters.  For those of you who own your CHEM 101 textbook and solutions manual, feel free to highlight key aspects of each chapter during lecture.  You bought it, use it!  If you don’t own the book and manual, highlight important chapter components on your notes.  The hidden gem that most students forget about is the textbook solutions manual.  It’s vital for passing any Chemistry course.  The manual doesn’t just contain answers; it contains the logical progression of any given problem in its entirety.  This step-by-step presentation enables the student to see the method for the solution.

2.)  Periodic Chart

Yes, yes, yes….I know a periodic chart is located in either the front or back of your textbook!  But, honestly, who wants to flip back and forth while trying to read and understand the chapter or complete assigned practice problems?  And, who wants to open your textbook every time the periodic chart is referenced?  No one.  Invest in a simple and inexpensive periodic chart.  Laminate and take it with you to every Chemistry class for easy reference.  This small hassle is definitely worth it!

3.)  A Simple Calculator

Remember when I said, “Don’t get caught up in technology.  More isn’t always better!”?  This advice is extremely evident when choosing the proper calculator for General Chemistry.  When deciding the make and model of your calculator, simple is better.  Choose a device that can perform all simple mathematical operations, including logarithms and exponentials.  Technological advances have enabled calculators to perform extremely complicated tasks.  However, for General Chemistry, opt for a calculator that is simple, inexpensive, and easy to use.  Chemistry can be an intense subject.  Focus on learning the subject, not the calculator!  Oh, and please do not depend on your smartphone for a calculator.  Many teachers and professors do not allow the use of cell phones in class.  I’m speaking from experience!

4.)  Notebook and Pencil

Really….notebook and pencil?  Yes, really.  Having observed a broad range of students in my Chemistry lectures and labs, I was always in awe of how unorganized and unprepared students were during class.  A notebook and pencil seemed obvious as supplies needed for any given Chemistry course.  But, to my surprise, students would show up to lecture or lab with a permanent marker and a sticky-note pad!  Invest in a good five-subject notebook.  Dedicate that notebook to General Chemistry.  Use a pencil instead of pens and markers.  Mistakes can be erased and your notes will not consist of white-out and scribbles.  Chemistry makes a lot more sense when you have legible notes!

Stock up on these basic supplies and you will be on your way to passing that General Chemistry course.  Don’t over-complicate the subject and the supplies needed to succeed.  I hope you found this post helpful.  Leave me a comment and let me know how you’re doing in those Chemistry courses.  If you have a minute, view my other posts covering study habits and exam preparation for General Chemistry.  Happy studying!  Thank you and take care!

 

Tips and Tricks for Passing a College Science Exam

EXAM.  That horrible word that plagues so many students attending any educational institution.  Why does an educator administer an exam?  The answer is obvious….to torture and tear down the minds of their students.  Just when you’re feeling secure about the presented material, the word EXAM or TEST creates all new mayhem.  That one word alone can make the calmest person shake and quiver.  However, our disapproval will never make these awful assessments disappear.  So, if you can’t beat’em, join ’em!  As long as students and teachers exist, so will EXAMS.  The preparation a student is willing to devote to an exam directly correlates with the overall outcome of that exam.  How are you going to guarantee a passing grade for your next college science exam?

1.)  Don’t Cram for that Exam

Usually teachers or professors will let you know in advance when each test will be during the course of the semester; sometimes two weeks, sometimes one week.  The moment your teacher mentions the possibility of an upcoming exam, that’s your cue to start studying.  Whatever you do, don’t wait until the night before an exam to review and study all of the material covered in previous weeks.  DO NOT CRAM.  Use every day prior to the exam to utilize your study skills.  By reviewing the material a little each night, studying doesn’t become so overwhelming.  By allowing yourself small segments of study time, the information presented during your lectures can be understood and not memorized.  Studying in advance will also enable you to discuss any questionable material with your teacher prior to the assessment.

2.)  Know Your Notes Inside and Out

Educators give you notes for a reason….to detail the information they find important in a specific chapter or lecture.  Therefore, it’s only reasonable that the upcoming exam will cover those detailed aspects.  Having taken and successfully passed several science courses, I found the majority of any science exam is composed of questions stemming from your notes.  After all, an exam is not only an assessment of what you know, but also how successful the teacher or professor was in conveying their message.  It makes total sense that teachers will include A LOT of their lecture on an upcoming exam.  Review your notes until you can recite them by heart.  Don’t just memorize the material; understand the material.  I found that rewriting notes in my own words helped me absorb and comprehend the information given during lecture.  I couldn’t just read the notes and make sense of the material.  I had to write, write, and rewrite summaries of my notes until the material was ingrained in my brain.  For those of you who are able to just read your notes and retain the information, I’m definitely envious!!!

3.)  Practice Problems

Who’s guilty of skipping the example problems embedded in or at the end of most chapters?  I’m 100% guilty.  Who has time to stop mid-chapter and do a practice problem?  Who wants to do chapter problems that weren’t even assigned as homework?  Nobody.  However, as my education progressed and I entered more demanding courses, I began to appreciate all of those problems within the textbook chapters.  I realized the unassigned practice problems were greatly increasing my chances of acing that science exam.  Remember when I said the majority of content presented on a science exam comes from your lecture notes?  The remaining content of the exam is composed of problems very similar to those within and at the end of each textbook chapter.  I’ve found that teachers and professors will choose MANY of their exam questions from chapter practice problems.  The exam questions, while not word for word, will mimic both assigned and unassigned chapter problems.

Try these three study habits.  They’ve helped me successfully pass seemingly impossible college science exams.  What tricks help you ace your science exams?  Let me know by leaving a comment.  Please share! Thank you again and GOOD LUCK!!!

Chemistry isn’t THAT hard!

CHEMISTRY.  That dreaded subject so many of us struggle with in both high school and college.  The endless memorization of the periodic table; the intense calculations that seem to go on and on….and on.  Endless hours in the classroom, staring at an educator, hoping he/she can help you make sense of this scientific mayhem.  Taking extremely detailed notes only to find they are little to no help for the assigned homework.  Preparing for a test and hoping it is multiple choice.  Asking yourself why Chemistry is a prerequisite to your particular major.  These are all questions and struggles high school and college students have encountered at some point in their educational career.  But, like so many obstacles in life, this seeming impossible subject can be learned and conquered.  Chemistry isn’t THAT hard!

Like so many of you, I was intimidated by Chemistry when I was first introduced to it in high school.  Wow, that was 17 years ago!  Who knew I would receive my BS degree in Chemistry from an accredited university in 2008.  Yes, BS in Chemistry!  If anyone had told me in high school that my major in college would be Chemistry, I would have laughed and thought they were losing their marbles.  But, here I am, with the diploma to prove it.  So, how did I conquer Chemistry?  It wasn’t easy and there wasn’t an easy fix.  Using my own methods and materials for studying, I was able to understand this seemingly complicated subject and its application in the real world.

When asking yourself how Chemistry applies to you, just remember…..WE ARE CHEMISTRY.  Our bodies, our brains, the pencil you take illegible Chemistry notes with….it is all Chemistry.  The atoms that make up matter; the protons, neutrons, and electrons that make up the atoms.  It’s all CHEMISTRY!!

Anyway, enough about the importance of Chemistry in everyday life.  How are you supposed to learn this subject in order to graduate high school or continue your educational journey toward a major?  How can Chemistry be learned by the average student, who has no interest in becoming a nuclear physicist?  Can you conquer Chemistry even though your strongest skills do not include math or science?

Every aspect of the world today – even politics and international relations – is affected by chemistry. — Linus Pauling

Succeeding in High School/College Chemistry

1.)  Show up

Having grown up in a household dominated by educational influence (my father is a retired teacher of 35 years), one common thread among students and failure is not their inability to learn the material, but their absence from classes or lectures.  To me, it seems pretty obvious…..go to class, learn, succeed.  But apparently it isn’t that easy.  Many students lack the dedication to attend classes.  Just by showing up to class, you will absorb information provided by the lecturer.  Attending class is the most important aspect of learning Chemistry.  Every other learning technique stems from you being present for lectures.

2.)  Take Notes

You’ve looked over your high school/college requirements and see that a Chemistry course must be taken in order to graduate and receive your diploma.  At this moment two thoughts run through your mind…..Do I really need to graduate? and Let’s just do it and get it over with.  I don’t want to be in high school/college longer than needed.  Both thoughts can be reasonable, but the latter will be more successful.  Now, you have made the decision to take General Chemistry.  All of your materials, ie. books, notebook, calculator, have been gathered and you are nervously waiting in class for the start of your first Chemistry session.  The educator starts to lecture and the first thought in your mind is, “This isn’t a foreign language course, is it?  I’m already lost and he/she hasn’t even made it through attendance!”  Don’t worry, that’s how most of us feel on our first day of Chemistry.  Take a deep breath, calm yourself down, and try to focus.

Focus on today’s lecture; don’t think about how difficult the quizzes/tests may be or any what-if’s that plague a high school/college student.  Focus on the here and now.  Put all of your effort into paying attention to the lecturer.  Use your note-taking capabilities to produce the most detailed notes you’ve ever taken.  You don’t have to write down the entire lecture word-for-word, but your notes should be able to explain to you, in your own words, the most important aspects of the lecture.  Detailed note-taking is vital to passing a Chemistry course.  Your notes serve as a reference for any questions encountered during homework assignments or study sessions.  The more detailed the notes, the more successful you will be in comprehending and retaining the information presented during that day’s lecture.  Note’s are a great way to summarize key points from any Chemistry lecture.

3.)  Ask Questions

There is no such thing as a stupid question.  No words are more true, especially when trying to master Chemistry.  You’re attending every Chemistry lecture, taking amazing notes, and still some points from the covered material are unclear.  Don’t sit through class quietly, hoping the next lecture will seem more clear.  Missing key points during any lecture will jeopardize your ability to succeed and pass General Chemistry.  ASK your teacher/professor QUESTIONS!  I cannot stress this enough.  Asking questions allows the educator to explain any questionable content in a new and more detailed way, thus increasing your chances of understanding the material.  My father was a high school teacher for 35 years and for him, there is nothing more enjoyable than QUESTIONS.

4.)  Don’t Be Intimidated By Math

At the mere mention of Chemistry, the eyes of most people glaze over; they stare straight ahead and mumble, “Chemistry is a lot of math, right?”  Did you pass Algebra?  If you answered yes to that question than you can pass a General Chemistry course.  Chemistry is so often affiliated with complicated mathematical formulas.  This simply isn’t true.  While Chemistry CAN involve complicated mathematics, a General Chemistry course can be mastered with basic Algebra rules and formula solving.  If you haven’t taken Algebra in months, years, or decades, a quick review of its rules will greatly increase your chances of passing that dreaded Chemistry course.

5.)  Practice

Practice makes perfect.  It applies to most things in life so why not Chemistry.  My rule of thumb is for every one hour of time in the classroom, devote two hours reviewing and practicing at home what was learned during that day’s lecture.  Yes, it seems excessive and overwhelming, but with this practice and preparation you a greatly increasing your chances of success.  Don’t just review the assigned homework problems and complete only the questions with answers in the back of the book; take the initiative, go off the deep-end and attempt the questions that don’t have any given answers.  The answers may not be there, but the same thought process can be used for these questions as well as those containing answers within the textbook.

So….that’s it?  Show up to lecture, take some notes, ask questions, review math from a decade ago, and practice some textbook problems!  These are the essentials to passing a General Chemistry course?  The answer is YES.   Everyone is capable of processing information in their own format.  Chemistry is no different.  Chemistry involves processing theoretical and mathematical information.  Anyone can learn the basics of Chemistry as long they utilize the given information in their own way.  By applying the previously mentioned study points and making them your OWN study habits, you are on the road to successfully conquering General Chemistry.  Like I said, Chemistry isn’t THAT hard….just learn it in your own words.

Did you find this post helpful?  Let me know by commenting and asking questions.  If you get a break from studying General Chemistry, check out my new and upcoming posts covering….what else….successful completion of a Chemistry course.  Hope to hear from you!  Good luck!