Inorganic chemistry and periodic table

The study of inorganic chemistry and the periodic table is a substantial section of the A level and is spread over the two years of the A level course. Although aspects of the topic can be approached from a conceptual point of view, there is a great deal of material in this section that has to be learned.

The first year of the course includes a study of the chemistry of Groups 2 and 7, and in some syllabuses, also Group 1. Trends in the properties of the elements are studied and also selected compounds. For example, in the solubility of sulphates of Group 2 as the group is descended. Where Group 1 is included it is often the case that the properties of similar compounds from each group are compared, for example in comparing the thermal stabilities of Group 1 and Group 2 nitrates.

Periodic trends in the physical properties of the elements as a period is traversed or a group descended is also considered. Typically this would include trends in first ionisation enthalpy (covered in atomic structure), melting points, atomic radius (and possibly also ionic radius), and electronegativity.

Year two focuses almost exclusively on the chemistry of the transition elements. Typical properties of transition metals such as the existence of more than one oxidation state, formation of coloured compounds, complex formation, and catalytic properties are considered in some detail. Understanding of electronic configuration is extended to embrace transition elements and their ions.

Another substantial section covers the aqueous chemistry of transition metal ions. Again, there is an enormous amount of material here which simply has to be learned. There are patterns in the behaviour but much cannot be rationalised at this level.

Some syllabuses revisit periodicity, but in year two the focus is on the periodic trends seen in compounds of the elements as a period (typically period three) is traversed. A popular choice of exemplar is the trend in the oxides of the elements of period three in terms of their physical states at room temperature and their acid-base characteristics.

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