Why does chemistry seem so difficult?

academic integrity academics AP exams chemistry

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.


academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT college admissions expository writing English MD/PhD admissions strategy writing LSAT GMAT GRE physics chemistry math biology graduate admissions academic advice ACT interview prep law school admissions test anxiety language learning career advice premed MBA admissions personal statements homework help AP exams creative writing MD study schedules test prep computer science Common Application summer activities history mathematics philosophy organic chemistry secondary applications economics supplements research 1L PSAT admissions coaching grammar law psychology statistics & probability legal studies ESL dental admissions CARS SSAT covid-19 logic games reading comprehension engineering USMLE calculus mentorship PhD admissions Spanish parents Latin biochemistry case coaching verbal reasoning DAT English literature STEM excel medical school political science skills AMCAS French Linguistics MBA coursework Tutoring Approaches academic integrity chinese letters of recommendation mechanical engineering Anki DO Social Advocacy admissions advice algebra art history artificial intelligence astrophysics business careers cell biology classics dental school diversity statement gap year genetics geometry kinematics linear algebra mental health presentations quantitative reasoning study abroad tech industry technical interviews time management work and activities 2L DMD IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs Sentence Correction adjusting to college algorithms amino acids analysis essay athletics business skills cold emails data science finance first generation student functions graphing information sessions international students internships logic networking poetry resume revising science social sciences software engineering trigonometry writer's block 3L AAMC Academic Interest EMT FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Health Professional Shortage Area Italian Lagrange multipliers London MD vs PhD MMI Montessori National Health Service Corps Pythagorean Theorem Python Shakespeare Step 2 TMDSAS Taylor Series Truss Analysis Zoom acids and bases active learning architecture argumentative writing art art and design schools art portfolios bacteriology bibliographies biomedicine brain teaser campus visits cantonese capacitors capital markets central limit theorem centrifugal force chemical engineering chess chromatography class participation climate change clinical experience community service constitutional law consulting cover letters curriculum dementia demonstrated interest dimensional analysis distance learning econometrics electric engineering electricity and magnetism escape velocity evolution executive function fellowships freewriting genomics harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science hybrid vehicles hydrophobic effect ideal gas law immunology induction infinite institutional actions integrated reasoning intermolecular forces intern investing investment banking lab reports linear maps mandarin chinese matrices mba medical physics meiosis microeconomics mitosis mnemonics music music theory nervous system neurology neuroscience object-oriented programming office hours