A Student’s Dilemma: Is Chemistry Harder Than Physics?

“Physics is much, much easier than chemistry.”


“Are you kidding? Physics just makes sense and is much more intuitive to understand. Chemistry is crazy with a bunch of rules and a bunch of exceptions.” 

“But all you have to do is memorize. Physics is way too mathy it kicks my butt. I almost failed my intro physics class since was a lot of thinking and calculating, and it was nowhere near a ‘plug and chug’ course.”

Then again, the math in physics DOES make sense. The exceptions in chemistry don’t make sense at all. They are exceptions because that’s the way they are. That’s why chem is so hard to tolerate.” 

Yesterday, I came home to this argument between my two cousins. Sometimes we can’t help but shake our heads at the topics high schoolers are squabbling about. Things like which one is the best “The Office” pick-up lines or the most handsome boy in One Direction… really, the sky is the limit when it comes to silly bickerings.

This time, though, their debate piqued my interest: Is chemistry harder than physics? In fact, the question has been engaging both students and teachers alike. So, between these two challenging subjects, which one do you think would emerge victorious as the hardest science? Scroll down and find out the answer with JobandEdu

Chemistry: What Makes It So Hard To Study? 

A Student’s Dilemma: Is Chemistry Harder Than Physics?
Chemistry has always been regarded as a complex subject for students – Source: Unsplash

If you ask 10 people, “Is general chemistry hard?”, 9 of them would probably tell you, yes, it’s so damn hard. The last one would tell you about how he failed chem last semester, then pat you on the shoulders and advise you to run away from it. 

But why is chemistry so dreaded by everyone? Well, there are several reasons: 

Chemistry Involves Concepts That Are Not Easily Observed 

Everything in chem revolves around the behavior of matter. 

Here, we discuss things at the atomic or molecular level, which can’t be seen without advanced equipment. 

Even with the help of an electron-scanning microscope, we still can’t observe all the concepts covered in chemistry. Thus, students might find many of them theoretical and hard to imagine. 

The Study Of Chemistry Is Linear 

In chemistry, one concept is built on another. 

For instance, students need to understand chemical formulas to write balanced equations correctly. Without a firm grasp of formula writing, you can’t balance chemical equations. That means no hope for you when it comes to stoichiometry – the fearsome part of chem that involves the quantitative relationships of combining elements. 

In most cases, a student that falls behind at the beginning of the school year will struggle to recover mid-year. Therefore, it’s essential to understand and practice each concept thoroughly before moving on to the next. 

There Are Too Many Exceptions To Memorize 

Last but not least, we have the biggest reason that leads to a failure rate of 50% in general chemistry courses: 

The subject is all about exceptions. 

In math, we develop the skill to solve problems by plugging in numbers, and that works every time. In chemistry, however, we learn about “true” rules, but under certain conditions. 

Memorizing chemistry reactions is an arduous task for students

The list of exceptions is endless and can be found in every chemistry unit. As a result, many students are adrift in a sea of uncertainty and lose hope. 

How About Physics? 

How About Physics?
Is physics a tricky subject? – Source: Unsplash

So, yes, chemistry is undoubtedly a daunting subject. Now let’s take a look at physics.

Similar to its fella, you can see people cringe when they hear the word “physics”. The subject has the reputation of being an alien language only comprehended by the geekiest lifeforms, and here is why:  

The Amount Of Counter-Intuitive Concepts Is Overwhelming

Physics shares a common trait with science branches like chemistry and biology: It’s full of theoretical and counterintuitive concepts. 

We all know that touching a hot iron isn’t the smartest idea. However, when we have to explain it with terms like general relativity or quantum mechanics, the problem becomes much more complex. 

As the previous part mentioned, students can’t observe those concepts with their eyes. In fact, despite its ever-improving performance, modern technology still can’t tackle some of the most cutting-edge physical problems. 

The Subject Is Mathematically Rigorous

Since it’s all about counterintuitive concepts, physics forces your brain to think abstractly. But the problem doesn’t end here: You must represent abstract ideas with concrete mathematics. 

Physics is much more math-oriented than chemistry. To many, math alone is troublesome enough, so that certainly doesn’t help the reputation of physics. Majoring in this field means you have to do plenty of measurements and mathematical analysis to find quantitative physical laws for everything, from the nanoworld to the planets, solar system, and so on. 

Is Physics Hard
Without all the math, perhaps physics wouldn’t be that hard – Source: Quora

Critical Thinking Is Essential 

Finally, physics is hard because it requires a higher-order brain function: Critical thinking. Much like a mechanic, a physics major doesn’t only need to know their tools but also how to apply them to solve problems. 

Hence, to excel in physics, it’s crucial to develop problem-solving skills and reasoning. These soft skills don’t come to everyone naturally and may take a while to master. 

Is Chemistry Harder Than Physics? 

Chemistry and physics
Which is harder, chemistry or physics? – Source: Pixabay

Now that we know what gives chemistry and physics their intimidating reputations, it’s time for the everlasting debate: Is chemistry harder than physics? 

In fact, most high schoolers agree that physics is more difficult. As for me, the general physics class was the first time I used math skills in an applied manner”, Redditor ModerateDbag wrote. Since the subject requires developing new skills, students may find physics demanding and perplexing. This is especially true for those who struggle with mathematics. 

Standard-level chemistry classes focus on memorizing basic rules, so high school chem is relatively easier. 

Is it still the same in college, though? Let’s take a look at the statistics: Based on research data from PrepScholar, as of 2021, chemistry majors achieved an average GPA of 2.78. Meanwhile, the average GPA of physics students is 3.10. 

It seems that, for undergraduates, chemistry is a more rigorous degree

“That’s because upper-level chemistry courses are pretty much all about the exceptions”, says Daniel Wigersma, a chemistry graduate at Truman State University. “The deeper you go into it, you will realize that even the same formula doesn’t always mean the same chemical identity. You have to experiment and memorize all the irregularities.” 

All the exceptions and uncertainties discourage many university students, resulting in 13% of the total dropouts. According to Cherwell, it’s the highest withdrawal rate of any major. 

On the other hand, as long as students build a strong math foundation in high school, they won’t have much problem dealing with physics in college. That’s why most undergrads think the major is not as stressful. 

Still, which is harder, chemistry or physics, depends entirely on your strength and interest. If you have good memorization skills, you will find chemistry less daunting. If you find your ability to reason and solve problems to be better, you can go far in physics. While the latter is more math-oriented, both chemistry and physics require a mathematical background to a certain extent. 

An “Apple And Orange” Dilemma

Is chemistry harder than physics? You probably realize by now that there’s no definitive answer. These two subjects are very distinct from each other, requiring different sets of skills. That makes any comparison between them a real “apple and orange” dilemma. 

The most renowned chemist in the world might not be the best chemist, and vice versa. If these fields were sufficiently alike, it stands to reason that more scientists would excel in both of them. The ultimate X factor here is the unique strengths and weaknesses each student possesses. 

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