If you’re attending college, there’s a good chance that you’re going to need to take some level of chemistry class.
Even in high school, you’re often introduced to basic concepts of chemistry.
So, whether you have a passion for science or not, you may find yourself in a situation where you need to understand chemistry or take a chemistry class.
That may make you wonder if you can expect a difficult class or an easy one.
Whether it’s due to a poor teacher, abstract concepts, or the sheer amount of memorization involved, here are 10 reasons why chemistry is hard.
Is Chemistry Hard? (10 Truths To Consider)
1. You Must Know The Periodic Table
One of the first parts involved with learning chemistry is memorizing the periodic table.
The problem with that is that the periodic table is vast.
It’s also packed full of information.
Depending on your professor, you may have to memorize the entire thing.
That includes the correct arrangement of the elements and all the information in each block.
The reason that professors have you memorize the periodic table is that you need to use the information in it a lot.
Practically everything you do requires you to reference the table.
Whether it’s recalling the atomic number of an element or its mass, the table is going to be important.
The problem with memorizing the periodic table is that you don’t have a lot of time to commit it to memory.
College courses, especially, are fast-paced.
You may have a few days in which to memorize the entire thing before you’re tested on it.
The class then moves on to the next module with the expectation that you have the periodic table entirely memorized.
It isn’t helpful, either, to only memorize the table and forget it.
You’ll need to be able to recall that information during other parts of chemistry class.
s such, it’s something you genuinely need to memorize.
With all the rest of your classes demanding your attention, too, it’s difficult to give chemistry the kind of time that it needs.
2. Requires Some Math
Science and math often go hand-in-hand.
That’s true of chemistry, too.
If you need to learn chemistry, you can expect a fair bit of math involved in the class.
At the very least, you’re going to be adding and subtracting.
As you advance into more challenging chemistry classes, you will find yourself getting involved with algebra and calculus, too.
The problem with chemistry is that a lot of the math you learn is solely for use in chemistry.
You’ll have equations or formulas that only make sense in chemistry.
They don’t make sense outside of chemistry.
Because of that, you’re not just using math, you’re also basically relearning it.
If you struggled with math, you’ll probably find yourself struggling in chemistry, too.
The subject asks you to remember the concepts of certain types of math and then tells you to forget most of it and relearn it in a specific way instead.
If math isn’t your strong suit, it can completely confuse you.
You expect certain formulas and solutions to work one way, but chemistry turns those expectations on their head.
It isn’t just that you need to use math with chemistry.
It’s that you need to learn a type of math that’s rather exclusive to chemistry.
If chemistry isn’t something you want to pursue, you might struggle to put in the effort to learn something you’re only ever going to use for that specific class.
Because chemistry continues to build on itself though, you can’t afford to forget those math equations or formulas either.
3. Heavy Memorization
Another reason chemistry is hard is because of the overall amount of memorization that it requires.
Chemistry isn’t a type of subject where you can learn something and then forget about it and move on.
You have to recall everything that you learn.
That’s because chemistry builds on itself.
The problem with this is that if you’re also taking other classes, your brain might be fit to burst.
Like other classes, chemistry is fast-paced.
Professors only have a limited amount of time to teach you everything.
They have to rush to ensure you get all the information from each module down.
There isn’t an opportunity to slow down or review earlier concepts.
Professors expect you to memorize the information, even in your own time, and then continue to learn.
This can become a problem because it can quickly lead to burnout.
Your brain becomes saturated with all the information that you’re trying to cram into it.
When your brain becomes saturated, it’s difficult to fit anything else into it for a time.
Your brain needs some time to digest everything, process it, and then store it into long-term memory.
College, in general, doesn’t do a good job of supporting students who need a bit more time to learn information.
Since chemistry requires you to memorize everything, you’re in trouble if you forget something.
You might not be able to answer a few questions on a test because you’ve forgotten the information.
If you can’t recall an equation or formula, you may even struggle with the next step of the course.
4. Lab Work
Another reason chemistry is hard is because it involves lab work.
It isn’t a subject where you merely attend lectures.
You have to learn the concepts of chemistry, then use that information to run certain experiments.
That adds a whole other level of difficulty to the subject.
Labs are often long.
Even with the extended time in the lab, you often find yourself feeling rushed.
That creates problems because you’re more focused on getting everything done in time rather than learning what you’re doing.
Labs aren’t always explained well either.
A professor might simply give you instructions on how to perform the lab without going into detail about what you’re seeing and why.
They may not even give you details.
Instead, they may require you to write the pre-lab, the steps involved in the lab, and then the results of your experiments.
While labs do a great job of introducing the scientific method, it doesn’t do much to further cement the information that you’re learning in chemistry.
Instead, it might make it even more confusing.
The good thing about labs is that many professors don’t grade the results of your lab.
They instead grade you based on whether you participated in the lab or not and your pre-lab and post-lab writeups.
As such, getting a good grade in the lab portion of chemistry isn’t too hard.
However, the fact that lab often exists outside of the classroom means you’re spending even more time with the class.
It asks a lot of you despite only being worth a few credit hours.
Even then, labs do little to further your understanding of chemistry.
At most, they teach you how to use instruments and the basics of certain chemical reactions.
5. Builds On Itself
One of the biggest reasons that chemistry is hard is because it builds on itself.
You’ll need to understand the stuff you learn in the first week of chemistry to your final day in chemistry class.
That’s why missing class can be detrimental to your understanding of the subject.
Even missing one class can make it difficult to catch up.
You end up missing out on crucial information that you’ll need to know and memorize for the next class.
Chemistry is also difficult because it means you need to memorize everything.
Since it builds on itself, you’ll need to memorize every new facet that you learn.
If you’re unable to recall something, it can hurt your ability to learn or grasp new concepts down the line.
It’s not like other classes where you can learn information, then dump it.
You have to keep everything in your head.
That can quickly lead to burnout or oversaturation of information.
You may feel that it’s difficult to cram anything else in your head.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of college, you only have so much time to absorb information before you have to absorb even more information.
Since chemistry contains tons of information, you can’t catch much of a break.
It’s a constant case where you have to study and memorize to learn each new advanced concept.
6. Organic Chemistry
While chemistry, itself, can be hard, organic chemistry is a different type of beast.
You’ll often find that people either love or hate organic chemistry.
There’s rarely any middle ground.
That’s because organic chemistry is easily one of the most difficult subjects under the wider chemistry umbrella.
Organic chemistry has everything to do with carbon compounds.
You’ll learn about their structures, properties, reactions, compositions, and how to form them.
While organic chemistry is difficult to learn, it plays an important role in society.
Biotechnology, for example, uses organic chemistry to study things like crops and biofuels.
Consumer products use organic chemistry to make their products.
Plastic is a common example.
Certain other industries, like the cosmetic industry, also uses organic chemistry to learn how certain ingredients react to human skin.
Organic chemistry is practically everywhere.
However, learning it is often a beast.
It requires a heavy dose of memorization.
You need to memorize chains of carbon compounds.
It isn’t enough to remember the name either.
You have to recall exactly how they’re linked together.
Then you need to remember how many electrons each element has.
That then goes on to learning about valance shells and how compounds interact with one another.
This is when chemistry really becomes chemistry.
The problem with organic chemistry is that it’s practically a language unto itself.
If someone struggled with basic chemistry, organic chemistry may be out of their reach.
It’s very similar to learning a new language.
Like other types of chemistry, you have a few basics that you learn.
The concepts only become more advanced and difficult from there.
What’s worse is that some things might be true for certain compounds while not at all true for others.
That then requires memorizing the certain differences between each compound.
7. Poor Teachers
One of the reasons why you might find chemistry hard is because your teacher isn’t that great.
Chemistry is a difficult subject to teach.
The teacher has to introduce concepts that are both finite and abstract.
While a teacher might be very good at explaining physical or finite things, they may struggle to teach the more abstract concepts.
That isn’t a great situation for students who are relying on the professor to help them understand the basics of chemistry.
If they’re unable to grasp the basics, learning the more advanced concepts of chemistry is going to be impossible.
This problem becomes even worse if the college has different professors teaching different tiers of chemistry.
If one professor is poor at explaining or teaching, it means those students are going to suffer in the next class.
The next professor has to work extra hard because they have to bring the students up to speed to be able to learn the class’s subject.
Some professors will also teach directly from the textbook without elaborating or breaking those concepts down further.
That doesn’t do much to help their students learn chemistry either.
Some teachers might also be great instructors but not particularly good at teaching different learning styles.
They may not have the time or ability to present the information in different ways for their various students to learn.
As such, while some students may be able to do well with the way that the professor teaches, others might not.
8. Lots Of Studying
Chemistry involves a lot of studying.
It isn’t a type of class where you can learn everything you need to know during the lecture.
You need to spend a lot of time outside of class, too.
Whether it’s preparing for a lab, doing homework, or just further studying the concepts on your own, you can expect to spend a lot of time outside of class studying the subject.
This makes chemistry difficult because it expects you to take that time.
It may be difficult to find that time if you’re working while in college or attending other classes.
Each class is often set up in a way that it seems as though it thinks it’s the only class you’re taking.
As such, it expects you to devote all, or a good portion, of your free time to it.
This can quickly lead to burnout when it comes to chemistry.
When you’re feeling burned out, you don’t have any more motivation to keep learning.
If you start slacking, however, you’re going to quickly fall behind.
Once you start falling behind in chemistry, you’re essentially doomed unless you spend a lot of time outside of the class to catch up.
9. Balancing Chemical Equations
Another reason chemistry is hard is that you have to balance chemical equations.
A good portion of organic chemistry, in particular, involves balancing chemical equations.
This is its own version of math.
Once you balance the equation, you can go on to compute certain things about the structure.
The problem is that if you don’t know how to balance a chemical equation, all your answers that come afterward are going to be incorrect.
Balancing equations is extremely difficult.
You need to remember certain structures of carbon compounds, what they look like, the number of electrons they have, what their valance shells look like, and how they interact with other compounds.
That’s information you need to memorize for each major carbon compound.
It’s a difficult concept that takes up a large portion of chemistry.
If you don’t know how to balance chemical equations, you’re not going to do well in chemistry.
A final reason that chemistry is hard is that it requires you to use abstract thinking.
While you can see certain reactions performed in the lab, the majority of chemistry requires you to think on the molecular level.
These aren’t things that you can see with your naked eye.
You have to imagine them or just accept scientific facts as being true.
For example, you can’t see electrons.
You especially can’t see electrons spinning or arranged into valence shells.
Chemistry requires you to believe that this is true, however, and then asks you to memorize and understand the various aspects of electrons and their behavior.
In most cases, you won’t ever see proof because electrons are too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Since you’re unable to see it, learning chemistry is more abstract than other types of science.
Chemistry is one of the most difficult subjects to learn in college.
Due to its heavy emphasis on memorization and the fact that it builds on itself, you have to have a firm foundation to keep learning the subject.
Learning chemistry becomes even more difficult when you have a busy schedule or a poor teacher.