Concept Map of Important Chemistry Topics

Map of important ideas in Chemistry for the SAT, AP, and Regents Exams

I’ve sketched some of the most important ideas for the SAT II Subject Test in Chemistry, AP Chemistry Exam, and New York Regents Chemistry Exam in the above concept map. This is by no means an exhaustive concept map. It includes only the most important relationships and how they stem from the basic interactions of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Each box can be further subdivided into its own map, especially for college general chemistry.

In oversimplifying many ideas, there will invariably be some mistakes or some general rules that aren’t true under all circumstances. For example, it is much more intricate to determine how polar a molecule is than determining if the molecule is symmetrical and ionic/covalent. Fortunately, this will determine the vast majority of the simple cases in high school chemistry. This makes it a great starting point.

For this concept map, I wanted to include every major topic on these exams: Acids/Bases, Redox, Organic Chemistry, Ideal Gases, Kinetics/Thermodynamics, Phase Changes, and Solubility. It is important to understand how these complex phenomena stem from the basic concepts in order to ace the AP, SAT, and Regents Chemistry.

Most Important Ideas in Chemistry in a Nutshell

I focused on how many of the chemical and physical properties of compounds we see around us everyday stem from electrons fitting into positions of lowest energy. One common position of lowest energy is 8 valence electrons. This causes many implications to the atom’s attraction for other electrons, its shape, the ions they form, and other properties.

Obviously, all three subatomic particles are intimately related. The number of electrons in a neutral atom is determined by the number of protons. The ratio of protons and neutrons must form a stable nucleus otherwise it will radioactively decay. However, since electrons want (excuse the personification) to form a stable configuration, they determine the periodic trends (such as electronegativity), how certain elements react, and the shape of the molecules that these reactions form.

Polarity affects many physical properties such as boiling point and freezing point. All blue boxes and lines above have to do with polar compounds. For example, students learning acids/bases and compounds undergoing oxidation/reduction deal with a lot of polar molecules. Orange represents non-polar molecules such as organic hydrocarbons. Additionally, red is protons, green represents neutrons, gray signifies anything to do with electrons, and black denotes physical properties.

Kinetics and equilibria determine reaction rates and results (or non-results) of reactions for all types of compounds. Nearly everything can be expressed using these phenomena. First, students learn how to use Gibb’s Free Energy to calculate equilibria concentrations. Then they learn how to relate all the above ideas to Gibb’s Free Energy. This is arguably the most important idea in chemistry.

Chemistry is Physics and Biology

Intermolecular forces, pressure (from Ideal gases), and kinetics are just a couple of places from where one can expand a physics map. It is equally hard to determine from where a map of topics in biology should ideally branch. All living things that we are aware of are based on organic chemistry. We use blood as a buffer to maintain out proper acid/base levels (pH). Bananas give off enough radiation that we measure exposure in “banana equivalent doses.” It is best to look at chemistry, physics, and biology as one course. Concepts from one discipline can often be explained by phenomena in the other two.

Please let me know if you would like me to expand upon this or make similar maps as I see them. For more details and regarding chemistry tutoring in NYC, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island,

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