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Chemistry

There are two ways to study Chemistry.

These two approaches become apparent following the realisation that the simple patterns first observed and learned at a lower level give way to a daunting complexity that follows new rules, breaks old rules, seems to be riddled with exceptions, and sometimes appears downright unintuitive.  Many will have experienced the frustration of the understanding they thought they had crumbling beneath a sea of counter-examples and seemingly unusual chemical behaviour.

A good example of this is the stable ions of each element; after previously being taught that Chlorine always gains one electron to form its stable negative ion, one then learns of new reactions that also produce positive Chlorine ions!  This also demands an explanation, but this explanation seems to fly in the face of the carefully learned trends from before - almost as if there is as much un-learning as learning going on.

The temptation, when faced with such apparently unpredictable behaviour, is to adjust one's learning style to more of a "case-by-case" appoach.  This approach tries to commit all the reactions annd mechanisms found within the syllabus to memory; in effect, to give the role of patterns and logic a back-seat in favour of being able to reproduce the results of each individual process by recalling it from a bank of careful memorisation.  On the surface, it seems like a reliable approach, but propels the student on their way to becoming an "exam machine" rather than a talented chemist.  And even if this satisfies you, this approach often falls flat on its face when you find that they've chosen a less orthodox way of testing your knowledge than the predictable questions you were hoping for on your paper.

Our belief is that one should continue to be satisfied by nothing less than the unweaving of all the threads that lie behind the unpredictable exterior of chemical processes.  The ever-important question, "Why", is your best guide to becoming a successful chemist, whether it's for the exam or for your future.  The patterns are there; once you are familiar with enough of them, you can use them to make proper sense of the equations, and you will be liberated to look at new reactions with a keen eye for what is going to happen.  You will also be pleasantly surprised to discover that understood principles are longer-lasting than learned case studies in the memory, which will aid you in your revision too!

Going back to our first example, once you understand that Oxygen is more electronegative than Chlorine (i.e. it has a stronger pull on electrons), and it is more stable in its double negative ion than Chlorine is in its single negative ion, you will begin to see that it actually makes sense for the Oxygen to steal two of the electrons from the Chlorine to give that unintuitive +1 state on the Chlorine.