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Microbiology vs. Chemistry Which Is Harder?

Students often find themselves deciding between the fields of Microbiology and Chemistry. Both Chemistry and Microbiology have great scope and opportunities for employment and reveal the underlying truths of our world and existence unseen by the naked eye. Both courses offer students a challenge, yet Chemistry seems to top the ranks of all-time college difficulty. 

Chemistry is harder than Microbiology because it is a field with specialized symbols and grammar that are hard to master. Chemistry relies on math at its core and deals in a high level of abstraction that requires problem-solving abilities. You can easily get left behind if you miss a concept. 

Often high school students who excelled in Chemistry found that rote memorization is only part of the requirements to succeed in college Chemistry. The consensus seems to put Chemistry above Microbiology in difficulty, and here are some reasons why this may be true, so let’s get started.

Which course is harder - Microbiology or Chemistry?

Why Chemistry Is Harder Than Microbiology

Among many other institutions, the Oxford Royale Academy lists Chemistry as the most challenging degree subject in 2021. Subjects such as Organic chemistry offer such a broad scope that involves millions of compounds and an almost infinite list of organic chemical reactions. 

The specialized symbols and grammar and the math-heavy orientation of Chemistry make the subject challenging. Not only does one demand a prodigious memory, but one needs to apply one’s knowledge across a broad field or dynamic molecules at a subatomic level. 

Microbiology is no walk in the park either and also demands great feats of memorization. However, the field is easier to navigate through its successive tiers and is less abstracted than many of the concepts faced by Chemistry students. 

The fact that Microbiology rests, in most part, on the interactions of microorganisms in living bodies makes it a more engaging subject than, let’s say, modeling dynamic subatomic particles’ behavior in a vacuum. 

Let’s take a closer look at the intricacies of Chemistry and why it’s more difficult than Microbiology.

Chemistry Often Involves Abstract Concepts

Students of Chemistry have the challenge of dealing with particles that they cannot see with their naked eyes. These particles may behave as solid or hard, or immutable objects in the process of chemical reactions. 

Even their shape and dimensions are abstracted and usually portrayed as small circles or even dots. 

To explain chemical reactions, students need developmental models of these abstract submicroscopic particles that undergo changes to produce observable change. Not only that but often particle theory is challenging in that it concerns modeling dynamic particles that exist in a vacuum. 

These concepts may often prove counterintuitive for students to comprehend, and they may struggle to integrate new information with the picture they have in their minds of the explained process. The difficulty in grasping dynamic models may discourage students who may become frustrated with their lack of understanding.

Yet often, chemistry offers three levels of understanding and representing matter, but instruction in this science is based predominantly on the abstract and symbolic levels. This heavy focus on the abstract has raised questions about the role of teaching as a primary barrier to understanding the chemistry field and not the nature of the science itself (source).

Chemistry Makes Use of a Specialized Language

Understanding the nature of Chemical processes is somewhat like having to learn an entirely new language. Because of the abstract nature of the subject matter, Chemistry adopts a large number of highly technical and specialized terms entirely outside the realms of everyday language (source). 

It is even more challenging because Chemistry uses its symbols and grammar connected to its basic abstract principles that learners must incorporate into their knowledge base. 

Essentially students need to deal daily with subject matter that they cannot see in a specialized language that they must learn. It is no wonder that students of this scene may often find themselves confused and adrift. 

The abstract nature of the concepts is difficult to link to their reference points in everyday life, playing out as they do on a subatomic stage. 

Chemistry Is Math Heavy

The world of chemistry involves the creation of molecules from atoms that occur in our world. Although experts debate the exact amount, 118 such elements appear on the Periodic Table. Each of these 94 natural elements has complex properties, and some vary between gas and liquid and whether they are solid at room temperature. 

From the dim origins of chemistry, chemists have used mathematics to create qualitative and quantitative models of the abstract concepts put forward by this science. 

Elements typically have a mass and charge (or lack thereof) that one might measure. 

Mathematics measures the mass and patterns of atomic particles to understand better the nature of atoms and the molecules these atoms may form. Chemists use math to calculate the energy in reactions, such as the grams needed to add to a solution to reach specific concentrations and the amount of the reactants required to achieve the desired outcome (source). 

Chemistry students need a solid grasp of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and advanced calculus. Even a good understanding of the basic concepts of chemistry is impossible without the mathematical skills necessary to solve first and second-order differential equations.

Chemistry Involves a Lot of Exceptions

Exceptions seem to be the rule when it comes to Chemistry. Although introductory classes may focus on the basic rules of chemistry, at the higher levels, exceptions are the norm.

For example, Lewis Structures are concurrent with Lewis Exceptions and ionization energies form the base of the exceptions formed in energy levels and filled or half-filled orbitals. So in tandem with a large syncope of new information, calculations, and processes, students need to learn the corresponding exceptions. 

When mastering the basic concepts is a challenge at best, some students may feel overwhelmed when each concept comes with a series of counter-information. 

Chemistry Learning Is a Linear Process

Understanding of Chemistry as science builds on itself in a linear fashion. Each concept rests on an underlying idea, and if a student fails to keep up with the linear progression, the whole deck of cards will tend to come down. 

For example, a failure to grasp the fundamentals of proper vehicle formulas will prevent a student from balancing their equations. If you cannot correctly balance equations, you will not master stoichiometry which involves the quantitative relationships of combining elements.

If a Chemistry student falls behind, it is a great challenge to recover, especially mid-year. Often Chemistry students may drop out of a chemistry course due to an oversight at an underlying area of study crucial to the linear understanding of Chemistry at a higher level (source).

Chemistry Involves Problem-Solving

Many students who excelled in chemistry on the school level find difficulty in college Chemistry. 

Often students use rote memorization at lower levels of chemistry and flounder when college chemistry requires them to apply problem-solving in their courses. 

While high school chemistry involves the basics of understanding this science, students must learn to apply these concepts to new and challenging problems on higher levels. They need to move from knowing what the basic concepts are and then how to apply the concepts in dynamic interactions. 

Initially, the change from rote to application may be a barrier to students pursuing Chemistry on higher levels. Combined with an accelerated learning curve and an abundance of new information, students often find themselves adrift. 

Why Microbiology Is Easier Than Chemistry

Microbiology is a challenging subject, to say the least, and touches on several other fields, including Chemistry. Compared to Chemistry, the “central science,” the consensus seems to be that Microbiology is the more accessible course. 

Source: Department of Energy

There are several reasons why students of Microbiology feel this way. 

Microbiology Is Less Math Intensive Than Chemistry

Chemistry tends to be more math-heavy than microbiology, although you need a good grounding in math to succeed at either science. Microbiology requires skills in both calculus and statistics.

Although mathematics is not as pervasive in Microbiology, students will need a solid grasp of mathematical concepts to:

  • Conduct metric unit conversions.
  • Bacterial cell population calculations.
  • How to prepare solutions.
  • Serial dilutions and plate counts.
  • Reporting numbers in scientific notation.
  • Solving and tracking units.
  • Heat kill calculations and decimal reduction times.

However, Chemistry is closely interwoven with mathematics on a fundamental level and requires the mathematical skills necessary to engage with dynamic subatomic particles. 

Furthermore, chemistry requires applied knowledge of mathematics at almost every level, whereas Microbiology is more tolerant of memorization as a successful study practice.

Microbiology Relies on Memorization

Microbiology is a challenging course, as many aspiring medical students can attest. The process is daunting due to the sheer volume of technical terms and the vast and sometimes confusing variety of microorganisms.

Microbiology requires advanced memorization skills to succeed, while Chemistry requires advanced application abilities and relies heavily on mathematics. 

Memorization is key to success in Microbiology, and there are several ways to aid the memorization process, including:

  • One could use visual aids such as bacterial gram stains, which aid the memorization process.
  • Students may use chart systems to organize bacteria/viruses by the body part that is host to the organism.
  • Flashcards such as the Lippincott Flashcards (link to Amazon) are a great memory aid. With over 200 cards, this flashcard system maximizes fast content absorption. 
  • Flow charts help identify gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria.

Microbiology Offers Great Real World Interest

Unlike many extreme abstractions of learning atoms and molecules on a subatomic level, Microbiology explores the fascinating world of living microorganisms that impact almost every level of our existence. 

Microbiologists can use the information they learn on these microorganisms to prevent and treat diseases and improve human life in general. It has never been more evident since the COVID 19 outbreak that microbiologists play a pivotal part in the survival of the human species. 

There are more accessible and fascinating links between the human body and the microbes that work with us and against than the often dry abstractions of Chemistry.

That is not to say that chemistry is not just a vital part of our reality as biochemistry. It just occupies a further realm of abstraction. The interactions between microbes and the human body are fascinating, and fields such as Biochemistry spend more time on molecular biology than the disease process itself. 

The Differences Between Chemistry and Microbiology

Chemistry involves studying elements and compounds, while microbiology deals with microorganisms and their effect on living things. Chemistry focuses on the study of the atomic composition and structure of substances and their varied interactions that often lead to sudden and often violent reactions. 

Microbiology or “small (micro) Life (bios) science (logos)” studies organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and algae. 

They study living organisms impossible to see with the naked eye. These microorganisms significantly impact our health and lives and comprise over half the living matter on earth. 

Does Chemistry or Microbiology Offer Greater Scope?

Both chemistry and Microbiology are great courses with excellent prospects and scope. A master in Chemistry, you may pursue careers in fields such as:

  • Agro-Chemical fields
  • Pharmaceutical Industries
  • Petrochemicals
  • Metallurgical

An MSc in Microbiology offers employment in a variety of fields such as:

  • Microbiotechnology
  • Research laborites
  • Hospitals 
  • Environmental engineering
  • Ecology

Both degrees offer students a broad scope of application, and one should ensure one’s preferences and aptitudes when considering the choice between these two fields.


Both Chemistry and Microbiology are fascinating fields with great scope for employment and future prospects. However, Chemistry is more suited to those with a mathematical aptitude and a high degree of problem-solving ability.

Ultimately your choice depends on where you envision yourself in your future career and which science holds the most interest and suits your native abilities.

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