How to Study

Chemistry has its own language. Symbols for the elements (one or two letter abbreviation of its name) can be thought of as the letters of the chemical alphabet, the metals the consonants and the non-metals the vowels. The Periodic Table, the chemist’s dictionary, defines the physical properties and chemical behaviour of elements and their compounds. Combinations of the elements create chemical formula (words) that not only depict the atomic makeup of chemical compounds, but also allow them to be named (read) in a more-or-less systematic way. Chemical compounds undergo changes and these changes are represented by chemical equations (sentences) that convey lots of information (tell a story) about the conditions and the process of change in a clear and concise manner. 

In addition to formula and equations, chemistry has an extensive vocabulary and language that categorise compounds, their properties and the different ways they interact. The language of chemistry has evolved and consequently is not always logical, or unambiguous. A sound grasp of this vocabulary and language is essential to the understanding of chemistry. Many student problems arise from not knowing the basic language. As with learning French or German it takes time and practice to acquire a good appreciation and command of it, but once you can speak a little chemistry you will realize the simplicity and logical nature of the subject and consequently you will see a dramatic improvement in your grades.

Chemistry: A Textbook provides the reader with the basic vocabulary and language through the understanding of the fundamental chemical principles and concepts to speak chemistry with confidence.  For each topic undertake the following:


Read the relevant no nonsense section of Chemistry: A Textbook and read the theory guides, watch the videos and where appropriate work through the step-by-step calculations guides. Pay particular attention to the Vital Vocabulary. Remember the more you understand the language of chemistry the easier the subject becomes.

Understand Rather Than Memorise

William James said: “The essence of genius is to know what to overlook.” We cannot agree more! You have to be selective with what you memorise. When we study, efforts should focus on understanding concepts rather than memorising every last detail.  All learning material on this site is readable, uncluttered and very much to the point. Once we have gathered the important facts, we can implement this selective memory method. But remember, under no circumstances should memorisation replace understanding.


The course is full of chemical symbols, chemical formulas and very scientific language. Interpreting all of these concepts correctly is key to your success in Chemistry. Although this may seem like an obvious point, large numbers of students fail Chemistry each year because they underestimate the importance of understanding this complex subject.

With this in mind, study sheets or Visual Chem Cards are ideal for organising and storing chemical symbols and formulas on. Once you have created a good set of flashcards containing the periodic table of the elements and formulas, memorisation will become much easier.

Take Notes

It is not enough to simply pay attention in class. In Chemistry, it is necessary to write down everything and understand what you taking notes on. Formulas and equations are far easier to understand once written down and presented in the right way. When notes are compiled and stored in an organised fashion, it is easier to determine what you do and don’t understand. 

Practice Daily

Continuing with the previous point, one of the key areas of learning to ‘speak chemistry’ is practice. Solving equations and practical problems should be a feature part of your study routine. Test your knowledge with by working through topic tests and past examination questions on a regular basis. This will prepare you for your exam and assesses your level of understanding of Chemistry to date.