General Aspects of Chemical Reactions and Equations for AP Chemistry

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 9, 2011

Practice problems for these concepts can be found at:

Balancing Chemical Equations

The authors hope that, because you are preparing to take the AP exam, you have already been exposed to the balancing of chemical equations. We will quickly review this topic and point out some specific aspects of balancing equations as the different types of chemical reactions are discussed.

A balanced chemical equation provides many types of information. It shows which chemical species are the reactants and which species are the products. It may also indicate in which state of matter the reactants and products exist. Special conditions of temperature, catalysts, etc., may be placed over or under the reaction arrow. And, very importantly, the coefficients (the integers in front of the chemical species) indicate the number of each reactant that is used and the number of each product that is formed. These coefficients may stand for individual atoms/molecules or they may represent large numbers of them called moles (see the Stoichiometry chapter for a discussion of moles). The basic idea behind the balancing of equations is the Law of Conservation of Matter, which says that in ordinary chemical reactions matter is neither created nor destroyed. The number of each type of reactant atom has to equal the number of each type of product atom. This requires adjusting the reactant and product coefficients—balancing the equation. When finished, the coefficients should be in the lowest possible whole-number ratio.

Most equations are balanced by inspection. This means basically a trial-and-error, methodical approach to adjusting the coefficients. One procedure that works well is to balance the homonuclear (same nucleus) molecule last. Chemical species that fall into this category include the diatomic elements, which you should know: H2, O2, N2, F2, Cl2, Br2, and I2. This is especially useful when balancing combustion reactions. If a problem states that oxygen gas was used, then knowing that oxygen exists as the diatomic element is absolutely necessary in balancing the equation correctly.

Periodic Relationships

The periodic table can give us many clues as to the type of reaction that is taking place. One general rule, covered in more detail in the Bonding chapter, is that nonmetals react with other nonmetals to form covalent compounds, and that metals react with nonmetals to form ionic compounds. If the reaction that is producing the ionic compound is occurring in solution, you will be expected to write the net ionic equation for the reaction. Also, because of the wonderful arrangement of the periodic table, the members of a family or group (a vertical grouping) all react essentially in the same fashion. Many times, in reactions involving the loss of electrons (oxidation), as we proceed from top to bottom in a family the reaction rate (speed) increases. Conversely, in reactions involving the gain of electrons (reduction) the reaction rate increases as we move from the bottom of a family to the top. Recall also that the noble gases (VIIIA) undergo very few reactions. Other specific periodic aspects will be discussed in the various reaction sections.

Practice problems for these concepts can be found at:

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