Study Skills Guide: How to Memorise Chemistry Lessons Better

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April 23, 2021

Many students understand the logic of chemistry lessons but they struggle with another part of the learning process – memorising essential material. Are you one of these people? Do you find it hard to memorise chemical symbols, formulas, organic chemistry nomenclature and other vital subject components?

If the answer is yes, you’re not alone.

The academic burden of preparing for all subjects you’re taking right now can be too much. In the absence of a good learning methodology, memorisation could become a nearly impossible task.

Luckily, a number of effective learning and memorisation tips can be applied to the realm of chemistry. Choose the best approach on the basis of your own learning style and the specifics of chemistry lessons that you struggle with.

Try Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices have been a student’s best friend for decades, even centuries.

This is one of the simplest and most effective memorisation methods. It helps you tie the new information you have to internalise to something that you already know well – a phrase, a song or a poem, for example.

Mnemonics are very useful for memorising long lists. Let’s say you have to memorise the elements in the periodic table in order. The first 20 are hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and fluorine, neon, sodium, magnesium, aluminium, silicon, phosphorus, sulphur, chlorine, argon, potassium and calcium. A mnemonic that students have long been using to memorise the elements in the correct order takes the first letter of each to create a new word. The sentence resulting from all these words is Happy Henry Lives Beside Boron Cottage, Near Our Friend Nelly Nancy MgAllen. Silly Patrick Stays Close. Arthur Kisses Carrie.

That’s just a basic example but it shows you how you can teach the brain to find logic in stuff that’s seemingly devoid of such. You can always create a little poem, a sentence or a song that you can remember in place of a chemistry list.

The Method of Loci (Memory Palace Technique)

The method of loci is another well-known memorisation technique that can be applied to chemistry lessons.

Again, the aim here is to turn unfamiliar concepts into something familiar you can visualise effortlessly.

The method of loci uses associations and visualisation to transform numbers, formulas and other abstract concepts into something easier for the mind to grasp. If you do a quick Google search on it, you’ll come across YouTube videos that have people using the method to memorise entire pages of numbers and complex mathematical sequences.

You can associate chemical elements to everyday items that you know well. The same applies to numbers, formulas, chemical bonds, states of matter and many other important chemistry principles.

The method of loci is especially beneficial for memorising organic chemistry reactions.

A very popular example of this device is the following statement that can provoke powerful visualisation: Throw a magic wand and a bottle of beer into a well on a hill and reel up the bucket from the well to find a pair of angel wings.

This particular memory palace refers to Williamson ether synthesis – a reaction that’s contained in the following formula:

Source: https://www.chemistrylearner.com/williamson-ether-synthesis.html

In this example, the magic wand represents an organohalide, the bottle of pair is an alcohol and the pair of angel wings represents an ether. Now, this particular association may not work so well for you but it’s just an idea of what students have come up with in order to give some meaning to a rather complex organic chemistry formula.

The method of loci is deemed one of the most favourite memorisation tools that Sherlock Holmes used. For you to employ it effectively, you’ll need to come up with associations and visualisation that work every single time. Some students find this process way too time-consuming. If you’re one of them, move on to the following suggestions!

Use Mind Maps

Mind maps allow you to structure and organise information in a visual way so that they’re easier to remember later on.

Here’s an example of a chemistry mind map created by a student:

Source: https://www.learningfundamentals.com.au/

If you like creating diagrams and you find visual information easier to grasp, a mind map or a diagram could transform chemical elements into something more approachable.

There are no universal rules when it comes to the creation of mind maps. Order and structure the connections between elements or chemical principles in a way that makes sense. Those who become good at the technique can turn an entire lesson into a mind map for easier memorisation.

Seek Logic and Try to Understand What You’re Looking at

The final technique to be mentioned is the easiest and simultaneously the hardest of them all. Mastering this technique will give you the best results in the long run because it involves understanding and not just memorising.

If a chemistry formula doesn’t mean anything when you look at it, chances are that it will be difficult to remember down the line.

Trying to understand what each element stands for, however, is going to increase comprehension and the recalling of vital data later on.

Mindless memorisation isn’t proactive because you’re not using logic this way. Instead, see what each symbol in a reaction represents. When you have this kind of knowledge, you can recreate the formula later on because you understand what it involves and what the final outcome is going to be.

To employ this final technique, you need a good chemistry tutor from a reputable chemistry tuition center and a learning approach that’s tailored to your needs. Having information presented in a way that makes sense (especially when considering your learning style) is the best way to retain and recall lots of the details in the future.