Chemistry is undoubtedly one of the most challenging science subjects to have ever existed. Many students struggle with it, often finding it more perplexing than other subjects. From complex equations to abstract concepts, there are several reasons why chemistry tends to be a difficult subject.
In this article, we’ll take a close look at the reasons why many students find chemistry to be such a difficult subject.
Abstract Nature of Chemistry
One of the fundamental reasons why chemistry is often considered difficult is its abstract nature. It deals with the microscopic world of atoms and molecules, a realm that is imperceptible to the human senses. Unlike subjects like history or literature, where students can relate to events or characters, chemistry requires a leap of imagination.
Students must grapple with concepts such as atomic structures, chemical reactions, and molecular interactions. According to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, these details are often challenging to visualize. This abstraction can make chemistry feel disconnected from the tangible world, leaving students perplexed and overwhelmed.
To understand the abstract concepts of chemistry, students must rely on models, diagrams, and analogies. For example, let’s say a student is asked to figure out the chemical bonds in C3H4 using a figure. Studying the Lewis structure of C3H4 can help them in this regard.
According to Proprep, the carbon and hydrogen atoms in this molecule have four and one valence electrons respectively. Hence, the two can have multiple double bonds as well as single bonds between them. Following the octet rule, it’s then possible to draw the arrangement and figure out the chemical bonds between them.
Even then, understanding how electron pairs work to form these bonds can be difficult for many students. Despite understanding how the Lewis structure works, they might struggle to comprehend the nature of the bonds themselves and how valence electrons influence them.
Chemistry is laden with mathematical concepts and calculations, often requiring students to apply complex equations and perform precise measurements. From stoichiometry to thermodynamics, the subject demands a solid foundation in mathematics. This mathematical aspect can be a significant hurdle for students who struggle with mathematical concepts.
Chemistry equations can be intimidating, especially when they involve multiple variables and constants. The meticulous nature of calculations, combined with the need for accuracy, can deter many students from pursuing chemistry.
Chemistry is notorious for its vast and intricate terminology. Students are required to memorize and comprehend an extensive array of chemical terms, symbols, and nomenclature. From chemical elements and compounds to reaction mechanisms, students must navigate through a labyrinth of specialized language to excel in the subject.
This extensive terminology can be overwhelming, and it often requires a considerable amount of rote memorization. For instance, understanding the periodic table and its elements is a fundamental aspect of chemistry. Students must memorize element symbols, atomic numbers, and properties, which can be a daunting task.
Moreover, the nomenclature of chemical compounds follows specific rules that can be perplexing to newcomers. The use of prefixes, suffixes, and numerical indicators in compound names adds another layer of complexity to the subject.
Chemistry is not a monolithic subject but rather a diverse field with various subdisciplines, each having its own unique principles and challenges. These subdisciplines encompass physical chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and biochemistry, among others.
Each subdiscipline requires a distinct skill set and knowledge base. As reported by The Cold Wire, this makes it challenging for students to master all aspects of chemistry.
The transition from one subdiscipline to another can also be disorienting, as the concepts and methodologies can differ significantly. For example, the principles governing the behavior of gasses in physical chemistry may seem unrelated to the synthesis of organic compounds in organic chemistry.
This diversity necessitates adaptability and a broad understanding of the subject, adding another layer of complexity for students.
Laboratory work is an integral part of chemistry education, and it comes with its own set of challenges. While hands-on experimentation can be exciting and informative, it can also be frustrating and time-consuming.
In a laboratory, students must navigate intricate equipment, precise measurements, and chemical safety protocols. The practical nature of chemistry requires a high degree of attention to detail and a commitment to safety.
Besides, laboratory work often involves trial and error. Experiments may not yield the expected results, and students must troubleshoot and adapt their approaches. This aspect of chemistry can be both humbling and perplexing for students.
That’s because it does not always align with the theoretical concepts they have learned in class. The dissonance between theory and practice can be a source of frustration for many.
Last year, The Boston Globe reported that an NYU chemistry professor was fired after students complained that his class was too difficult. Many of his students were failing chemistry. However, chemistry is a very difficult subject in itself. It may be unjustifiable to fire a professor on the basis of his students’ failure.
This incident, and the factors discussed above, show just how challenging chemistry is. They also reveal how impactful the subject’s difficult nature can be both on students and educators.
Hence, if you’re a chemistry student, be prepared to deal with all these challenges. Unless you can do so, you might want to rethink your decision to study chemistry or pursue a career in this field.