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Atoms - Electronic Structure

Related to atomic structure, this GCSE Chemistry quiz looks specifically at the electronic structure of atoms – that is, their arrangement of electrons. This topic includes the electronic configuration of certain elements and their ions, the energy levels or electron shells and the maximum number of electrons they can contain, and how the number of electrons in an atom’s outer shell is related to its place in the Periodic table.

There are different ways of numbering the groups of the periodic table. Most UK exam boards still follow the convention that the number of electrons in the outer shell = number of group. If you study chemistry to higher levels, you will find that this is no longer the case other than for groups 1 and 2.

Atoms contain protons, neutrons and electrons.The electrons orbit the nucleus in discrete shells which can also be referred to as energy levels. The electrons are held in place by the postive charge of the nucleus. How these electrons are arranged is very important to their chemical properties - chemical reactions are simply an exchange or sharing of electrons. You need to be able to draw the electronic structures for the first 20 elements of the Periodic Table and will have noticed that the elements in an individual group all contain the same number of electrons in the outer shell.

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Each electron shell can contain only a specific number of electrons. The first shell can contain up to two electrons at most, the second shell can contain up to eight electrons at most, as can the third. You don't need to know the maximum values for the other shells as the situation is a bit complicated and you only need to go up to the 20th element, calcium.

During chemical reactions, electrons are either swapped or shared in order to give them a full outer shell. That makes them very stable. When they are swapped, the two atoms involved end up with an slight electrical charge. This is because they still have the same number of protons as they started with but end up with either more or fewer electrons. Atoms that lose electrons end up with less negative charge than at the start and vice-versa.

When working out what is likely to happen to an atom during bonding, there are a few general rules. These are not hard and fast but will help in most cases at GCSE. You need to look at what is likely to be the easiest thing for that atom to do to gain a full outer shell of electrons. Metals lose electrons as they have one, two or three electrons in their outer shell. Non metals will either share electrons with other non metals or gain electrons when reacting chemically with metals. The carbon group elements have to either gain or lose four electrons so they generally don't bond with metals, but share electrons with other non metal elements.

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  1. Electrons are found...
    Electrons have one unit of negative charge
  2. What is the maximum number of electrons in the first shell?
    It is the shell that is closest to the nucleus
  3. What is the maximum number of electrons in the second shell?
    At GCSE you will have to know the electron configurations up to and including calcium, but no further
  4. What is the electron configuration of the element lithium?
    Lithium has atomic number 3 which tells you that there are 3 electrons in the shells. Placing two in the first shell leaves you with just 1 in the outer shell
  5. Which element has the electron configuration 2,4?
    2,4 = 6 electrons therefore 6 protons meaning the element has atomic number 6 which corresponds to carbon
  6. Which element has the electron configuration 2,8,7?
    Using similar logic to the previous question leads you to the element whose atomic number is 17
  7. Which of the following is NOT an electron configuration for an element in group 8 (also called group 0, Group 18 or the noble gases)?
    Group 8 elements all have full outer shells
  8. What is the electronic configuration for an Na+ ion?
    It loses the electron from its outer shell
  9. What is the electronic configuration for an Al 3+ ion?
    Aluminium loses 3 electrons from its outer shell giving it a charge of +3
  10. What is the electronic configuration for an O2- ion?
    Since an atom of oxygen has 6 electrons in its outer shell, to complete its outer shell it gains 2 electrons which is why the oxide ion has 2 negative charges

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