5 Challenges That Students Face in Learning Chemistry

Chemistry is not an easy discipline to study, not by a long shot. If there is one point of agreement among those who have to deal with it in high school and college, it is this. However, why exactly is it so difficult? What exactly are the challenges it presents? What makes it such a time- end effort-intensive subject? In this article, we will try to answer these questions.
So, what are the main difficulties one should be ready to deal with when studying chemistry? Let’s find out!

1. A Lot of Information Is Presented in the Form of Lectures

The lecture is an age-old teaching method, still broadly used on all educational levels. Nevertheless, it has been proved time and again that it is grossly inefficient at presenting new information. In a traditional lecture, a student plays a strictly passive role and is not actively engaged in the process at all, even if s/he is very much interested in the topic. The vast majority of information imparted in this way goes over the heads of listeners, with students on average recording only about 10 percent of what is said by the lecturer. What they do record, they usually write down without properly processing it and simply repeat what they hear.

When it comes to a discipline as heavily reliant on complex terminology and specialized language to impart its meanings as chemistry, we meet further difficulties. Sometimes you may fail to recognize a term (even a familiar one) when you hear it, as opposed to seeing it printed on paper. Sometimes you simply do not know the relevant terminology and, therefore, cannot understand anything that relies on it. Sometimes, you mishear something said by the lecturer and proceed with the wrong assumptions. All this makes the prevalence of lectures a particularly daunting challenge when dealing with chemistry.

2. Chemistry Background Differs between Students

Not all students who have to study chemistry in college had this subject in high school. Even if they did, some students may have vastly greater knowledge and experience of this discipline than others, especially when it comes to practical and laboratory works. This means that students who have to study chemistry alongside one another often have dramatically different levels, require a different amount of attention from professors and tutors, and have to apply different amounts of effort to achieve the same results. Meanwhile, they all have the same 24 hours a day to complete all these tasks, which may become an insurmountable obstacle for those without sufficient pre-college chemistry knowledge.

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3. The Language of Chemistry Is Tough to Learn and Master

Quite often students face problems not with the content of what they learn, but with the language they receive this learning in. You may be more than capable of understanding the ideas and concepts the tutor is trying to explain, but if you have trouble following the language s/he uses to do so, you will not succeed. The language of chemistry is challenging for a variety of reasons:

  • Specialized, highly precise, and often completely new vocabulary. You have to learn dozens of new words to understand even the most basic concepts, and have to be completely specific in their use;
  • Many seemingly familiar words have different meanings when they are used in everyday and scientific settings (e.g., “solution”);
  • It is highly formulaic and uses a variety of logical connectives applicable in very specific circumstances (such as “since”, “although”. They cannot freely replace one another);
  • It is extremely challenging both in oral and in written forms. Writing, saying, and recognizing terms like “1,2,3-trinitroxypropane” or “phenol, 4,4′-(1-methylethylidene)bis-“ takes getting used to;
  • It heavily relies on symbols that further complicates matters;
  • It is intertwined with mathematics, requiring significant knowledge in this discipline as well.

Therefore, it would not be an exaggeration to say that before you begin to make progress in chemistry you have to be on relatively good terms with the language it uses.

4. Chemistry Is an Area of Knowledge Rife with Misconceptions

As chemistry heavily deals with many day-to-day processes and occurrences, with many students not studying it in high school (or studying it insufficiently), their knowledge in this area is heavily subject to the accumulation of misconceptions. These misconceptions may be the results of misunderstandings of explanations students heard before their own ideas or incorrect interpretations of the data found in textbooks and other written sources. These incorrect ideas are often greatly entrenched in one’s mind and are hard to get rid of. In other words, when you study chemistry, you have to be ready to question the things you may consider self-evident and look for ways to expand your knowledge in areas you believe you know well already.

5. Chemistry Is a Discipline That Benefits from Long Periods of Focus

You may have heard that the optimal amount of time one should spend on a task is about 45 to 60 minutes; after that, you start getting distracted and your efficiency plummets. Well, trying to study in short periods does not work very well with chemistry. This discipline greatly benefits from long uninterrupted periods of deep focus. This means that if you are incapable of staying concentrated on a single thing for a long time (90 minutes to 3 hours), you are going to have serious problems making any significant progress in chemistry.

As you can see, the challenges a chemistry student faces are many and diverse; if your intention to study this discipline is serious, you have to take steps to prepare for them.

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