When you study chemistry, it goes without saying that sooner or later you will come across the periodic table of elements. Chemists swear by that strange array of tiles and if science is a path you consider following, learning the table is an important part of the journey. But what exactly does it mean to learn the periodic table? Do you have to memorize it? The answer is no…and yes.
Studying the periodic table is not about the rote learning of seemingly random letters and numbers. It is about understanding what it means and why it is useful. It was named periodic table because the chemical behavior of species appears in a periodical fashion. For instance, all the alkali metals react violently with water, all the noble gases are idle. Also, when it comes to the main groups the number of the group is the same number as the valence electrons. For example, halogens are group VIIA, therefore you immediately know they all have 7 valence electrons. In a similar spirit, period number gives information about the number of shells used, consequently information about the atomic radius. All the above are necessary for the handling of chemical reactions.
Now fear not, in most cases you will be provided with a copy of the periodic table to use during tests. But it is possible that your teachers ask you to learn the first 20 elements by heart. Memorizing them can make you more secure in your knowledge, when facing exercises involving the elements. Before you start memorizing make sure you know the names and symbols of the most common elements well.
A quick search online will give you a variety of ideas and ways to memorize it. From acronyms and flash cards to songs and videos, the internet is full of mnemonic techniques for just about everything. In this case, your best bet for the long run is visual memory. Start by printing a periodic table and posting it somewhere where you can see it every day, preferably multiple times a day. You can download our printable version for free. Ideally, it should be a relatively large poster in front of your desk or somewhere around it. It’s wise to have it close by when you study and also, it pays to be in your peripheral vision. When you sit down to do your chemistry homework spend a few minutes just looking at it. Every few days examine yourself. Print a blank periodic table or simply roughly sketch the outline on a piece of paper and try to remember the letters in each box starting from hydrogen. This practice will help you create a visual map in your mind, organizing the position of elements as relative images. Know that elements below the fourth period are not worth your effort because they rarely appear in school exercises.
If you don’t have a lot of time to practice, you can try another trick. Think of a tune we all know, the ABC song. I want to you to match that tune with the first 20 elements. The table below showcases how. The first column is the regular letters of the alphabet so think of how you sing each letter. The second column is the symbols of elements. The third column is the pronunciation/mnemonic keys you can use to match the tone of the alphabet song.
Whatever way you choose for learning, always strive to make knowledge your own.