Why does chemistry seem so difficult?

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I have greeted over 1,000 students to my classroom throughout the 20+ years of teaching AP  Chemistry, and the number one question I hear is “Why is chemistry so hard?” I have several responses to that question that I have offered to my students.  But first, I want you to read each bullet below and notice which one resonates with you:

  • Are you trying to learn chemistry with old ways of studying?  Are you feeling that the study methods that always worked for you before, are just not working for chemistry?   
  • Are you memorizing chemistry facts for hours and hours only to get to the assessment and have no clue what the question is even asking?
  • Are you working through chemistry problems as if they are “stand alone” entities, or are you looking for links between questions and concepts?
  • Do you see chemistry questions as “real life examples” of a concept or are questions just words on the page?

Chances are, you see yourself in at least one of these scenarios (and maybe even a bit in all of them).  The good news is, there are concrete and effective techniques that can be practiced that can ease some of these situations and help you be confident in problem-solving.  Learning something like chemistry is like learning a new language in that once some basic vocab or problem-solving methods are part of your repertoire, subsequent chemistry concepts can fall into place.  In my upcoming blog series,  I will provide strategies to make chemistry a good experience and strategies you may even use in other courses to gain control over your success. 

Phyllis has 25 years of high school chemistry teaching experience. She holds a PhD in Environmental Chemistry. Previously, she earned her MS in Soil Chemistry from the University of Missouri and a BS in Agronomy from the University of Georgia.

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