SAT Chemistry Test Strategy: How to Use the Periodic Table

Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Did you know there are many different ways to use the periodic table to learn about the makeup or properties of elements? Continue reading to discover the many uses of the periodic table.

How Is the Periodic Table Structured?

There is a wide variety of information you can find just by looking at the periodic table. When taking your SATs, you will be provided with a periodic table indicating the atomic numbers and masses of elements. This periodic table is on the back of the instruction page.

You will need to know how to properly read the periodic table to extract information from it, and this requires you to understand the structure of the periodic table. It's made up of rows, called periods, and columns, called groups. The elements are distributed across the periodic table according to their type and similar physical properties, creating a pattern in which the thee basic classifications of elements are clumped together. Let's take a look at each of the element types and their common properties:

Unique patterns in the periodic table. Metals are in blue, nonmetals are in yellow, and metalloids are in pink.

Metals represent the elements found below and to the left of the stair-step on the periodic table.

  • They are great conductors of electricity and heat.
  • They're malleable, which means you can easily form them into different shapes.
  • They're very shiny.
  • With the exception of mercury (Hg), they are all solid at room temperature.
  • Chemically, metals are more than happy to give up electrons in their outer shell, called valence electrons, to form cations.

Nonmetals are elements found above the stair-step on the right side of the periodic table.

  • They do NOT conduct electricity and heat very well.
  • They can be a solid, liquid, or gas at room temperature.
  • They are not very malleable and may break if you try to change their shape.
  • Although very colorful, they tend to have a dull color.
  • Chemically, nonmetals will happily accept valence electrons to form anions.

Metalloids, which sit between the metals and nonmetals, represent the honorable mention category. Think of these metals as a mixture between metals and nonmetals. They are also referred to as semi-metals.

Patterns Within Groups

If you look more closely at the periodic table, you'll see that there are also patterns within each type of elements, as each is distributed according to their similar characteristics. For example, the noble gases can be found in group 8A (which is eight columns over from the left), and the noble gas family are all odorless, colorless, and do not have the desire to chemically react with other elements. Other important groups to remember are alkali metals in group 1A, alkaline earth metals in group 2A, and halogens in group 7A.

What Can You Find on the Periodic Table?

Let's look at the element rubidium (Rb) to review the types of information you can find on the periodic table:

The element rubidium as displayed on the period table of elements.
periodic element

  • The atomic symbol is the abbreviation of the element name.
  • The element name is the common name for the element.
  • At the top is the atomic number, which represents the number of protons in the atomic nucleus of the element. It also represents the number of electrons in the electron cloud that circles the atomic nucleus.
  • At the bottom, below the element name, you will see the atomic mass. This is a size measurement of the atom.

Periodic Trending

The trends of the periodic table allow us to discover even more about the properties of an element, as well as how reactive it is with other elements. Let's look at a few different periodic trends:

Atomic radius is a measurement of the size of the atoms within an element. It usually presents the distance from the nucleus to the outer edge of the electron cloud. (You can also think of it as half the distance between two atoms' nuclei.) So what is the trend of atomic radius on the periodic table? Atomic radius increase when you move from right to left across the period table, as well as when you move from top to bottom.

Atomic radius increases from right to left and top to bottom.
atomic radius

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