How to Survive Basic Chemistry

In many high schools and colleges the basic chemistry course is the one that causes most concern among students. With everything going right, chemistry can be a fun but challenging course. Under poor conditions, your first chemistry course can be a real nightmare. The study of chemistry may be different from anything else you have ever done.

Basic chemistry is a survey course in chemistry (that is, it covers a little bit of everything) with emphasis on common chemicals and study techniques. The aim is to give you some chemical and general scientific literacy rather than train you to be a chemist. This outline is to: (a) tell you what to expect in most courses, (b) show you some methods of study for the course, and (c) show you some directions you can turn to for help, if you need it.

The most useful advice is to stay up with or ahead of the class. As the Red Queen said to Alice, "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" If you fall significantly behind in basic chemistry, it is hard to catch up, but catching up is the only way to continue. The material "snowballs" in this course. By that I mean that the basic facts that need to be learned or memorized at the beginning are going to be used later in the course. Fluency in the basic material is necessary for you to be able to understand and learn the more complex ideas in the course.

Act as if you will have a quiz every class period. These quizzes would either ask you to memorize some basic material or to use some of the material in a math process or a basic idea about chemistry. Designing and giving yourself quizzes to help you schedule your studying will prepare you for the major tests. There are quick quizzes on the web for many of the rote memory items in chemistry.

If you are studying with someone, teach it to each other. The teacher always learns more than the student. (If you have it together sufficiently well to present it to someone else, you know it a lot better.)

Many students find studying with others from the same class is a lot of help. If you get together in a group of three or four, you will always have someone to study with. If you study with other students, it is easier to contact them for missed assignments if you must be out.

General Chemistry Information

This page contains a LOT of information that you'll need for general chemistry. Everything from an ion list to solubility rules, and more! That's right, we've put all the important info on one page, easy for you to access.

Basic Units of Measure

What I'm Measuring What Units I Use
Length Meter
Mass Kilogram
Time Second
Temperature Kelvin
Amount of Substance Mole
Electrical Current Ampere
Luminous Intensity Candela

Solubility Rules

1. Salts containing Group I elements are soluble (Li+, Na+, K+, Cs+, Rb+). Exceptions to this rule are rare. Salts containing the ammonium ion (NH4+) are also soluble.

2. Salts containing nitrate ion (NO3-) are generally soluble.

3. Salts containing Cl-, Br-, I- are generally soluble. Important exceptions to this rule are halide salts of Ag+, Pb2+, and (Hg2)2+. Thus, AgCl, PbBr2, and Hg2Cl2 are all insoluble.

4. Most silver salts are insoluble. AgNO3 and Ag(C2H3O2) are common soluble salts of silver; virtually anything else is insoluble.

5. Most sulfate salts are soluble. Important exceptions to this rule include BaSO4, PbSO4, Ag2SO4 and SrSO4 .

6. Most hydroxide salts are only slightly soluble. Hydroxide salts of Group I elements are soluble. Hydroxide salts of Group II elements (Ca, Sr, and Ba) are slightly soluble. Hydroxide salts of transition metals and Al3+ are insoluble. Thus, Fe(OH)3, Al(OH)3, Co(OH)2 are not soluble.

7. Most sulfides of transition metals are highly insoluble. Thus, CdS, FeS, ZnS, Ag2S are all insoluble. Arsenic, antimony, bismuth, and lead sulfides are also insoluble.

8. Carbonates are frequently insoluble. Group II carbonates (Ca, Sr, and Ba) are insoluble. Some other insoluble carbonates include FeCO3 and PbCO3.

9. Chromates are frequently insoluble. Examples: PbCrO4, BaCrO4

10. Phosphates are frequently insoluble. Examples: Ca3(PO4)2, Ag3PO4

11. Fluorides are frequently insoluble. Examples: BaF2, MgF2 PbF2.

Types of Reactions

The following is a list of general types of reactions that occur in chemistry.

1. Single Displacement reactions

Form: AB + C --> A + CB

2. Double Displacement reactions

Form: AB + CD --> AD + BC

3. Precipitation reactions

Form: can be single or double displacement reactions (see above) that produce a solid. Sample forms are:
AB + C --> A (s) + CB or AB + C --> A + CB (s) (single displacement)
AB + CD --> AD + BC (s) or AB + CD --> AD (s) + BC (double displacement)

4. Combustion

Form: CxHy + O2 --> CO2 + H2O + energy

5. Acid/base reactions

Form: acid+ + base- --> salt + water

6. Redox reactions (Oxidation-reduction reactions)

Form: X --> X+ + e- (oxidation)
Y + e- --> Y- (reduction)

Ion List

Monatomic Ions

Symbol Name Alternate Name (for variable ions)
Al3+ Aluminum ion
Ba2+ Barium ion
Be2+ Beryllium ion
Ca2+ Calcium ion
Cs+ Cesium ion
Cr2+ Chromium(II) ion Chromous
Cr3+ Chromium(III) ion Chromic
Co2+ Cobalt(II) ion Cobaltous
Co3+ Cobalt(III) ion Cobaltic
Cu+ Copper(I) ion Cuprous
Cu2+ Copper(II) ion Cupric
Au+ Gold(I) ion Aurous
H+ Hydrogen ion
Fe2+ Iron(II) ion Ferrous
Fe3+ Iron(III) ion Ferric
Pb2+ Lead(II) ion Plumbous
Pb4+ Lead(IV) ion Plumbic
Li+ Lithium ion
Mg2+ Magnesium ion
Mn2+ Manganese(II) ion Manganous
Mn3+ Manganese(III) ion Manganic
Hg22+ Mercury(I) ion Mercurous
Hg2+ Mercury(II) ion Mercuric
Ni2+ Nickel(II) ion Nickelous
Ni4+ Nickel(IV) ion Nickelic
K+ Potassium ion
Ra2+ Radium ion
Rb+ Rubidium ion
Ag+ Silver ion
Na+ Sodium ion
Sr2+ Strontium ion
Sn2+ Tin(II) ion Stannous
Sn4+ Tin(IV) ion Stannic
Zn2+ Zinc ion

Polyatomic Ions

Element Symbol Name
Boron ions BO33- Borate
-- B4O72- Tetraborate
Bromine ions BrO3- Bromate
-- BrO- Hypobromite
Carbon ions CO32- Carbonate
-- HCO3- Hydrogen carbonate or bicarbonate
-- C2H3O2- or CH3OO- Acetate
-- C4H4O62- Tartrate
Chlorine ions ClO3- Chlorate
-- ClO2- Chlorite
-- ClO- Hypochlorite
-- ClO4- Perchlorate
Chromium ions CrO42- Chromate
-- Cr2O72- Dichromate
Iodine ions IO4- Periodate
-- IO3- Iodate
-- IO- Hypoiodite
Magnesium ion MnO4- Permanganate
Nitrogen ions CN- Cyanide
-- NO3- Nitrate
-- NO2- Nitrite
-- NH2- Amide
-- NH4+ Ammonium
Oxygen ions OH- Hydroxide
-- O22- Peroxide
-- C2O42- Oxalate
-- HC2O4- Hydrogen oxalate or Binoxalate
Phosphorous ions PO43- Phosphate
-- PO33- Phosphite
-- HPO42- Hydrogen phosphate
-- H2PO4- Dihydrogen phosphate
Sulfur ions SO32- Sulfite
-- SO42- Sulfate
-- HS- Hydrogen sulfide
-- HSO4- Hydrogen sulfate or Bisulfate
-- HSO3- Hydrogen sulfite or Bisulfite
-- S2O32- Thiosulfate
-- SCN- Thiocyanate
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