How to Memorize the Elements of the Periodic Table
If you've studied chemistry at some point in your life, the chances are that you've been asked to memorize at least some of the periodic table by an old, grumpy teacher. While memorising the elements can seem like a bit of a pointless exercise to weary students (why can't you just take a copy of it with you into the exam instead?!) it's alas necessary for school, university, and even if you decide to go into science as your career. Listed below are five fool-proof methods that I've used myself to help me learn some, and eventually all, of the periodic table. The best part is that once you've memorized the elements using one of these strategies it only takes occasional maintenance to keep all of those names, numbers and symbols in your mind.
5. Periodic Table Songs
Listening to periodic table songs is probably the most fun way to memorize the periodic table, and also the easiest. Pop in your headphones on your way to school or work and blast some tunes and by the time you get to your destination you'll probably have a few more elements under your belt. My personal favourite periodic table song is performed by ASAP Science and is visible below. Their 2018 updated version is fantastic because it doesn't leave out the most recently discovered and named elements (Nihonium, Moscovium, Tennessine, and Oganesson) like some others do. However, if you can't stand this one then there are plenty of others out there in internet-land.
4. Mnemonic Devices
If you're looking to learn all 118 elements I'd advise you to skip to the next method, because memorising a 118-part mnemonic device is almost harder than just learning the elements themselves. However, if you only have to learn a portion of the periodic table or 20 to 30 elements then mnemonic devices are perfect. Listed below are a few mnemonic devices based on the elements' chemical symbols that you could use. Alternatively, you could always come up with your own!
- Happy Henry Lives Beside Boron Cottage, Near Our Friend Nelly Nancy MgAllen. Silly Patrick Stays Close. Arthur Kisses Carrie (first 20 elements)
- How He Likes Bear By Cups Not Overflowing. Friend Nelly Nancy Mgall. Although Science Presents Some Clues, Are Kittens Cats? (first 20 elements)
- How He Lives Beggars Belief, Constantly Nicking Old Foreign Necklaces. Nathan Magee Always Sits Patiently, Seeing Clearly Around, Knowing Careless Security Titillated Very Criminal Minds. Felons Conspire Nightly. Cute Zen (first 30 elements)
My Favourite Periodic Table
When learning the elements, it's important to have a good periodic table handy. This one is my personal favourite; it's brightly coloured and has all the information you could ever want.
3. Background Research
If you know who discovered an element, where its name comes from and when it was discovered you're much more likely to remember it than if you don't know a single thing about it. This may seem like extra work, and possibly a little over the top, and for people who have no trouble remembering long and complicated names it probably is. However, for those of us who struggle retaining words like Copernicium and Livermorium, this technique works perfectly. Copernicium seems like an absurd name until you realise that it was named after the famous mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Livermorium seems impossible to remember until you understand that it was first synthesised at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Little details like that will help you cement the most difficult elements in your head and help you with spelling at the same time.
2. Memorization by Category
If you're someone who likes to sort things into categories, then this method will work wonderfully for you. The idea is to memorize the periodic table in chunks. You might start from the alkali metals (the first column) and repeat them to yourself until you're certain that you've got them, and then move onto the next column. Alternatively, you could go by periods (rows) instead, and go from the first, which is just hydrogen and helium, down to the Lanthanides and Actinides that hover below the rest of the table. Breaking the table up like this makes the elements less daunting to memorize and will help make associations between the elements to form a kind of memory-web in your mind (eg. if you remember just the first element of period two, then it will cue you to remember the others).
You'd be forgiven for thinking that it seems stupid to take a periodic table quiz until you're confident that you've already learned all of the elements, but hear me out. Taking quizzes and testing your knowledge is the single easiest way to learn the periodic table. For one, you'll find out that you know much more than you think. Even if you've never taken a chemistry class in your life you're going to know certain elements. I'll bet anything that you've heard of oxygen, gold, silver, copper, tin, and lead, and if you do then that's already six elements down! Really stretch your brain and you'll find that you probably know twenty or even thirty elements without even trying. After that, all you have to do is keep taking quizzes and try to learn a few more elements each time. This strategy allows you to use your knowledge at the same time that you're learning, which leads to better retention. By continually using this quiz, I managed to memorize the periodic table in just three days. Granted, I already knew about fifty elements all up and I took the quiz about thirty times until I memorized them all, but it's still obvious that this is a powerful method.
Which method sounds the best to you?
And there we have it; five fool-proof methods to memorize the elements of the periodic table. Whether you just have a casual interest in chemistry or a huge test on the periodic table tomorrow, I hope that these methods prove as useful for you as they did for me. Good luck and happy memorising!
Questions & Answers
Are we going to have to memorize the periodic table for chemistry?
It depends on how mean your chemistry teacher is! I wasn't made to memorize the periodic table during high school, but in University many of my lecturers and tutors strongly recommended at least learning the first 40 elements. I've found that it's really helpful to know beyond that as well because it means you don't have to always have a copy on you to answer questions. Professionally, most fully-fledged scientists that I know haven't actively memorized the entire periodic table but know most of it anyway from using it over and over again. In sum, you probably don't have to memorize all of it, but it's handy to know, and a good memory exercise to boot.Helpful 7
© 2018 K S Lane