Why does chemistry seem hard?

3 Answers
Jun 20, 2015

Chemistry, in my experience, actually IS hard, but I don't think it's so much subjective as it is, "how far have you gone in it?"

I'm currently juuuust past Physical Chemistry 2 (#"A"^-# on the final, YAY!), which was second semester, and boy, were those two semesters hard. So hard that I actually am glad I will never see my first semester professor again (although my second semester professor is amazing).

The things about chemistry so far (since the beginning) that are just plain hard are:

  • The Schroedinger Equation (will never be easy without computers! This still plagues chemists today. Some chemists have to set up a calculation in a program, let it run, take a 3 day lunch break, and come back when the computer finishes the calculations! And even then, their answer might not be accurate enough!)
  • Partition Functions (so much memorization and practice needed; these derive the idea that #"HCl"# exists pretty much entirely in its ground state at room temperature, for example, since its vibrational temperature is quite high!)
  • Kinetics Mechanisms (case-by-case, and to get the true representation of #k_(obs)#, some are very hard, especially radical reactions!)
  • Maxwell Relations (gets pretty easy with practice, but hard at first to get a feel for)
  • Molecular Orbital Diagrams (takes loads of practice, and the urge to derive instead of remember)
  • Organic Reaction Mechanisms (needs practice and creativity, and the urge to understand atomic/electronic behavior instead of remembering them outright)
  • Remembering a pool of Organic Reactions for O-Chem 1 and 2 (I've sat down for about an hour and listed ALL of the ones I've learned sometime before the second semester's final... I got to 80-something!)
  • Crystal Field Theory (Inorganic Chemistry; I thought it was a bit cryptic at first but it made sense eventually. I still don't know everything about it)
  • Instrumental Analysis and Design (yup, that was a class, all about Filters, Circuits, Op Amps, Analog-to-Digital Converters [ADCs], Digital-to-Analog Converters [DACs], Detectors, Mass Analyzers, Ionization Sources [Chemical Ionization, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization, Electron Impact, etc], Mass Spectroscopy [MS], Graphite Furnace Atomic Absorption [GFAA, or AAS], Flame Atomic Absorption [FAA], Far-IR/Near-IR/Mid-IR Spectroscopy, NMR Spectroscopy, UV-Vis Spectroscopy, Raman Spectroscopy, Gas Chromatography, Cyclic Voltammetry, how some of those can be coupled to give an large optimal instrument for analyzing specific compounds, ... etc. Also, what detectors to use, the virtues of each spectroscopic technique, detection limits, signal-to-noise ratios, resolving power or resolution, sources of noise, etc).

    All that wasn't even successfully crammed into a single semester. We were constantly a few weeks behind and ultimately dropped two topics!

The list goes on. #"*drops mic*"#

Jun 20, 2015

In a nuthsell, because students are intimidated by it.


Chemistry is hard to students because they are intimidated by it, sometimes even before actually taking a chemistry class.

That's a very self-limiting and anxiety-generating attitude to have, especially when going head-to-head with a very tough subject like chemistry.

The most important thing you can do to make learning chemistry easier is focus on the basics. If you don't have the basics down, anything that comes after that will seem extremely complicated and outright impossible to understand.

This is what you get with any skill that you want to learn. The more time you spend learning the basics, the easier it will be to reach advanced levels.

If you're willing to put in the time and effort needed to understand and learn chemistry, then it won't matter if it's a tough subject or not.

In fact, the tougher an obstacle, the greater the feeling you get when you conquer it. As you move through life, you'll find that the greatest satisfaction often comes from the toughes challenges.

LIfe's funny like that.

So, try to "enjoy" your troubles with chemistry, your perspective will change if you think of it like that. And never, ever, be intimidated by chemistry (or by anything else, for that matter). Take it one step at a time and even the most difficult concepts will begin to make sense.

Plus, think of the amazing tool that you have at your disposal - the internet.

You can find a concept explained in so many ways that you're bound to come across an explanation that you like/understand. This is an incredible advantage to have - you're no longer "stuck" with your classroom teacher, you have access to hundreds of teachers online :).

Bottom line, chemistry is the king of science. Top dog. The central science. That alone is enough to explain why it's so hard :).

May 11, 2017

Chemistry is not a fundamental science. It is based on physics. When you ask a question in chemistry, the answer is often outside Chemistry. Equations can only be solved with assumptions that require the answer to be justified. That gives Chemistry the image of a science of lucky guesses. Being the experimental science that it is, it should not be learned from a book but in the lab first.