How To Memorize the Periodic Table

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Steps to Memorize the Periodic Table

The periodic table is one way to organize the elements.
The periodic table is one way to organize the elements according to recurring trends in their properties. Lawrence Lawry, Getty Images

Whether it's because of an assignment or simply because you want to know it, you may be faced with memorizing the entire periodic table of the elements. Yes, there are a lot of elements, but you can do it! Here are steps that explain how to memorize the table, complete with a table you can download or print and a blank table that you can fill in for practice.

  • Get a copy of the table and learn how to memorize it.
  • Print blank periodic tables to practice it.

So, as you can see, the first step is getting a table to use. Printable or online tables are nice because you can refer to them whenever you have free time. It's extremely helpful to use a blank table for practice. Yes, you could just memorize the order of the elements, but if you learn the table by actually writing it out, you'll gain an appreciation for the trends in element properties, which is really what the periodic table is all about!

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Tips To Memorize the Periodic Table

This color periodic table wallpaper has beveled crystal tiles.
This color periodic table wallpaper has beveled crystal tiles. Todd Helmenstine

First off, you're going to need at least one copy of the periodic table. It takes a while to learn the periodic table, so it's helpful to have one handy that you can carry around with you. If you print a table, you can take notes without worrying about ruining your only copy. You can download and print this table so you'll have as many copies as you need. You could also consult an online table or start with a simple list of element names and symbols.

Tips To Memorize the Periodic Table

Now that you have a table, you need to learn it. How you memorize the table depends on what works best for you, but here are some recommendations that may help:

  1. Break down the table into sections to memorize it. You could memorize elements groups (different color groups), go one row at a time, or memorize in sets of 20 elements. Rather than attempting to memorize all of the elements act once, learn one group at a time, master that group, and then learn the next group until you know the whole table.
  2. Space out the memorization process and use free time to learn the table. You'll remember the table much better if you spread out the memorization process over multiple sessions instead of cramming the entire table at once. Cramming might serve for short-term memorization, like for a test the very next day, but you won't remember anything a few days later. To truly commit the periodic table to memory, you need to access the part of your brain responsible for long term memory. This involves repeated practice and exposure. So, learn a section of the table, go off an do something else, write out what you learned in that first section and try to learn a new section, walk away, come back and review old material, add a new group, walk away, etc.
  3. Learn the elements in a song. This works well if you're better hearing information than seeing it on paper. You can make up your own song or learn one someone else made. A good example is Tom Lehrer's The Elements, which you can find on YouTube and other places online.
  4. Break up the table into nonsense words made from element symbols. This is another great way to learn the order of the elements if you do well 'hearing' over 'seeing'. For the first 36 elements, for example, you might use the chain of words HHeLiBeB (hihelibeb), CNOFNe (cannofunny) . NaMgAlSi, PSClAr etc. Make up your own pronunciations and practice filling in a blank table with the symbols.
  5. Use color to learn element groups. If you need to learn the element groups in addition to element symbols and names, practice writing the elements using different colored pencils or markers for each element group.
  6. Use a mnemonic device to help remember the order of the elements. Make a phrase you can remember using the first letters or symbols of the elements. For example, for the first nine elements, you might use:

Happy Hector Likes Beer But Could Not Obtain Food

  1. H - hydrogen
  2. He - helium
  3. Li - lithium
  4. Be - beryllium
  5. B - boron
  6. C - carbon
  7. N - nitrogen
  8. O - oxygen
  9. F - fluorine

You'll want to break up the table into groups of around 10 elements at a time to learn the whole table this way. Rather than use mnemonics for the whole table, you could make up a phrase for sections that are giving you trouble.

Print a Blank Table To Practice

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Blank Periodic Table for Practice

Blank Periodic Table
Blank Periodic Table. Todd Helmenstine

Print multiple copies of the blank periodic table to practice filling in the symbols or names of the elements. It's easiest to learn the element symbols that go with the names, write in the symbols, and then add the names.

Start small, with 1-2 rows or columns at a time. Whenever you get a chance, write out what you know and then add to it. If you get bored learning the elements sequentially, you can skip around the table, but it's harder to remember that information weeks or years down the road. If you memorize the table, it's worth committing to your long term memory, so learn it over time (days or weeks) and practice writing it out.

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