2.5 • Tips to Memorize the Periodic Table of Elements
In March 1998, someone sent me an Email message asking for suggestions on how to memorize the periodic table of the elements — a difficult challenge because it is full of complicated numbers and symbols. Here’s a small quote from his message and my response.
“Lastly, I would like to ask you how to tackle the follow
mnemonic challenge. How could I easily memorize periodic table
data, such as the element’s number (ie 26 for iron), mass
(55.84), valence (2 or 3), electronegativity (1.83), and
position (row 4, column 8) without confusing each item?”
When memorizing things, you form a memory association between two elements. For example, you might link Calcium with 20. Peg words are useful when you want to recall something from the number alone. But if you are always going from the non-number to the number and never the reverse (e.g., always remembering a person’s phone number given their name but never looking at a phone number on a piece of paper and trying to figure out whose it is), then you don’t have to use peg words. You can use the mnemonic alphabet to create a plethora of other words which have the same numerical value.
For example, rock is my peg word for 47, but the words rake, Rook, work, York, hark and Rick also have the same numerical value. This way there are many other pictures you can use in your mind for the same number to avoid confusion with other numbers.
For the periodic table, it seems obvious that the periodic number and the element name should be a two-way thing, so you can use peg words for those. But for the other information, the valence, mass and electronegativity, you can use any words you want.
Position in the Periodic Table
I would strongly suggest you do not memorize row and column number for every element… that’s too many extra numbers to memorize.
Instead, have a way to reconstruct an element’s position after a little thought.
For example, the first row has 2 elements, the second and third have 8, the fourth and fifth have 18 and the last two have 32. The place at which the table divides is after 1 element in the first row, after 2 elements in next two rows and after 3 elements in the last two rows (rows 4 and 5 don’t divide).
The metals/nonmetals division is a predictable zig-zag (except for #85). If you memorize all these rules, you can easily reconstruct the entire table. Of course, it may take quite a while to do it in your head, and you might even have to sketch something quick on paper, but you can do it all from memory.
To expedite things, you can memorize a few additional bits of information.
For example, you can memorize which elements are inert gasses: 2, 10, 18, 36, 54, 86, 118. This will tell you what row an element is in. For example, Zinc is 30, so it must be in row four because 36 is the fourth element in the inert gasses list. Additionally, it must be 6 elements to the left of Krypton (36-30 = 6). So doing this allowed me to figure out where Zinc was more quickly than reconstructing the entire table.
But it was also less painful than memorizing row, column pairs for every element in the table. You should try to eliminate redundant information wherever possible because the more numbers you have to memorize, the longer it will take and the more likely there will be confusion with other numbers memorized. Not that it can’t be done: if you really wanted to recall the position of any element as quickly as possible, you could do the pairs, but it would take a lot more work.
To see a very helpful acronym click here.