HOW TO REMEMBER COMMON TERMS IN CHEMISTRY, PHYSICS & BIOLOGY
HOW TO REMEMBER SCIENTIFIC TERMS
In science subjects like chemistry, physics and biology you will need to spend some of your revision time before an exam. The trouble is that most of the terminology you will have come across may not be intrinsically memorable. With a little mental inventiveness, however, you’ll soon be able to understand the language of chemistry, biology or physics.
It is easy to create highly memorable images in your mind for just about any technical terms you might encounter. Take a little time (it doesn’t take long) to make yourself a list of memory aids for the key terms you will need in the exam. To get you started, here are a few chemistry examples:
• ElementsElements contain only one type of atom. They cannot be chemically broken down into simpler substances.
• CompoundsThese are substances which contain more than one type of atom, chemically joined. Compounds can be chemically split into simpler substances. Think of an animal compound containing several species.
1 turn blue litmus paper red: imagine a police officer and the “boys in blue” turning red with anger
2 have a sour taste: think of the taste of vinegar (ethanoic acid)
3 react with metals to form salts: visualise members of a heavy metal rock band at an acid house
party turning into pillars of salt
4 neutralise bases: the bass guitar is neutralised.
• AlloysAlloys are mixtures of metals formed by melting together two or more different metals and allowing the mixture to solidify. Brass, for example, is made up of copper and zinc. Think of allies joined together to form a solid front.
• DeliquescenceThis is when a substance absorbs water from the air and dissolves in it to form a solution. To remind you, imagine walking into your local delicatessen and seeing a lemon sorbet that has been left out in the air too long and is turning into a runny liquid.
• EfflorescenceThis is when a crystalline substance turns to fine powder on exposure to air, or when salts come to the surface of a substance and crystallise. Imagine an effluent containing dissolved detergent crystals drying out in the air, and the crystals turning into a powder.
• AlcoholsAlcohols are compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. You’ll always remember this if you think of alcohol as “causing hang-overs”. Ethanol, C2H5OH, is the alcohol found in drinks and produced by the fermentation of sugars from yeast.
• AnionsThese are ions that have a negative charge. Imagine somebody called Ann ironing a piece of negative film.
• CationsThese are ions that carry a positive charge. Think of cations as pussy-tive.
• Exothermic reactionsThese are reactions that produce energy in the form of heat. Think of energy or heat exiting.
• Endothermic reactionsReactions in which energy, as heat, is absorbed. Think of heat entering.
• AllotropeAn allotrope is one of a number of forms that one element can take. Carbon, for example, has several markedly different allotropic forms, including graphite and diamond. Think of making different shapes or forms out of the same piece of rope – a lot of rope tricks. This is a good example of how to create very individual associations when faced with a term or phrase that has no obvious connection with its own meaning or definition.
You can see how easy it is to invent ridiculous images that will remain memorable in an exam so that instead of breaking your flow of thought by agonising over a definition you’ll be able to recall the information easily and get on with your answer to the question. The same techniques can be applied to biological terms just as easily. Take the terms phenotype and genotype. It’s easy to fix in your mind that phenotype refers to the physical signs of genotype – our genetic composition. Physics, too, with all its complex equations, can be made visual and therefore memorable.