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What Every Chemistry Student Should Know

This is a list of topics in chemistry.  If, at the end of the chemistry course, a high school student knows and understands at least these things, he/she has done well and is prepared for the freshman college chemistry course.  This is not a comprehensive list of a high school course set of objectives, but a list of basics upon which a student may build.   The use of  “etc” means that the needed concepts are not all listed.  They may be found in the student’s textbook.

  1. Memorize the common chemical symbols and atomic weights   The easiest way to do this is through oral drill.
  2. Know your way around the periodic table.  Why is the table designed the way it is?  What does it say about the elements, groups and periods, and the sequence of adding electrons?  Know some of the characteristics of the groups, periods and what causes them.
  3. Know the terms for the fundamental building blocks of matter.  Parts of atoms, forces of matter and energy, ions, isotopes, etc.  Be able to explain how they relate to each other.
  4. Know the electron orbital concepts and be able to discuss the ideas of electron position, energy absorption, energy and light emission, bonding, valences, energy states, etc.
  5. Know the characteristics for the three states of matter and how they relate to the kinetic theory.  Know the energy requirements of changing states.
  6. Memorize the types of reactions and be able to recognize them.  Be able to predict products given the reactants.
  7. Know the basics of acid-base reactions. pH, ions. titration, indicators, etc.
  8. Know the physical and chemical characteristics of the most common elements and compounds.  A few of these are carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine, metals, and hydrogen.
  9. Know something about the history of chemistry and how humans started discovering the complexities of  the world about us.
  10. Know about the functions of metallurgy and how elements are purified and controlled so that the environment is not damaged.
  11. Know how to produce and retain certain gases, including water-soluble gases.
  12. Know the gas laws and be able to apply them to everyday life. 
  13. Understand the concepts of the Avogadro Constant and molarity.
  14. Know the principles of heat transfer, measurement, calories, etc.  Be able to work problems using these concepts.
  15. Be able to balance chemical equations, including arrows showing direction of reaction and precipitant or gas formation, heat or light radiation or requirements.
  16. Know techniques for filtration, distillation, evaporation, and condensation.
  17. Be able to identify common laboratory equipment.  Demonstrate the proper cleaning and care of equipment.
  18. Practice observation, record-keeping and communication skills by writing a good laboratory notebook.
  19. Be able to accurately follow the instructions in the writing of the laboratory report.  The data must be written in ink for the report, or printed with the computer.
  20. Know and use good safety practices.