Stoichiometry.  It has brought many General Chemistry students to tears.  Like so many students, I struggled with this concept when it was first introduced to me in my sophomore year of high school.  Through my learning experiences, I will hopefully help you understand the method behind the madness of this somewhat complex word.  Simply put, stoichiometry is a concept in Chemistry that describes the amounts of substances, either reactants or products, in a given reaction.   It’s based on the Law of Conservation of Mass….mass is neither created nor destroyed.  Using stoichiometry you can determine the amount of product produced during a chemical reaction using a coefficient ratio of reactant to product.  It sounds complicated, right?  It can be, but if you have read my other posts and have mastered balancing chemical equations, then you will easily see the direct correlation between balancing equations and stoichiometry.  In order to be successful at stoichiometry, you must have an average understanding of the fundamentals of balancing chemical equations.  So, if you have supreme confidence in your balancing capabilities, let’s get started with my tips on understanding STOICHIOMETRY!

1.)  Know the Terminology

If you’re going to succeed with the mathematical calculations involved in stoichiometry, make it a point to familiarize yourself with basic terminology and various phrases used to describe a chemical reaction.  Know chemical equation, mass of reactants, mass of products, molecular weight, molar mass, formula, mole, Avagadro’s number, coefficient, standard unit (mg, g, kg, ect.), conversion factor, yield, molecule, element, and atom. By understanding these terms you will optimize your knowledge of stoichiometric calculations.  Know the terminology the lecturer is using and stoichiometry will be more enjoyable.

2.)  Know Your Algebra Rules

ALGEBRA!  I had that years….I mean decades ago.  Who needs Algebra?  Every single General Chemistry student.  Algebra rules are the core of stoichiometric calculations.  Know the rules of exponentials, cross-canceling, cross-multiplying, parentheses, scientific notation, and most importantly significant figures.  This tip is fairly straight forward….familiarize and remind yourself of the forgotten Algebra rules.  Understanding, performing, and applying the mentioned mathematical operations will make stoichiometry a breeze!

3.)  Stay Organized

Performing any calculations requires a logical thought process.  But, when doing stoichiometry it is extremely important to keep your calculations organized in a step-by-step format.  Stoichiometric calculations usually require several step before arriving at a solution.  Write down each individual step in the calculation.  If 2+2=4 is a step, write it down.  Do not do multiple steps in your head and expect to remember them later.  Calculations, especially those involving chemical equations, can get very complex.  Staying organized and allowing yourself to see the visual logic of a given calculation will enable you to recognize any mistakes before arriving at an incorrect solution.  Take the extra couple minutes and go the extra mile….write down every step.

4.)  Units, Units, Units

UNITS.  DO NOT forget your units when trying to complete a stoichiometric calculation!  Forgetting units while solving a given equation will result in many hours of mind-boggling wrong answers.  Remembering units and staying organized compliment each other in stoichiometry.  A written step-by-step thought process allows you to include units for each and every number (where applicable) in a calculation.  This simple tip will make your entire Chemistry career SO MUCH easier.  One final word….UNITS!

Are you ready to tackle stoichiometry?  Follow my tried and true tips and stoichiometry will become easier as your General Chemistry course progresses.  Preparation and organization are vital in any Chemistry course, but are especially evident in stoichiometry.  

Try the given tips mentioned in this post….they worked for me!  If you have time, read my other posts covering the basics of a General Chemistry course.  Did you find this post helpful?  Let me know by leaving a comment.  Keep me updated on your Chemistry success.  Check back often because I’m always trying to simplify General Chemistry.  Thank you and take care!  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!