Physical Chemistry Calculations – Be Aware Where Errors Occur

Physical Chemistry Calculations

Physical Chemistry – Recently i was revising acid-base equilibrium with one of my students and i realised she has trouble getting the right answer even though the procedure is correct. We went through the process and every step was conceptually correct. Then i got her to show me how she calculated on her GC, i saw the workings and it was right. But when she pressed “=”, the answer came out wrong!

Boy, was i puzzled. We went through the steps carefully again and still we arrived at the same outcome. Finally, after i queried her on one of the steps, we both realised what’s wrong. She did not use brackets to sequence the operations, thus the calculator did not process the workings in the sequence we wanted.

A few more questions with calculations we encountered different problems, like missing out a zero or misreading a digit. I pointed out to her none of the questions we did had any mistakes conceptually, only the numerical answers were wrong. I asked her would she be discouraged and come to the conclusion physical chemistry is difficult? She said yes. And no wonder, after thinking so hard and so many calculations, the final answer always turned out to be wrong.

I taught her to carefully check through her workings when doing calculations and look out for common errors. Most importantly, not to be discouraged and come to the wrong conclusion physical chemistry is hard! Most of the calculations in physical chemistry is NOT hard, we just need to practise and look out for common errors.

Do you find physical chemistry daunting? You can do well in it!

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