SAT Subject Test Chemistry




Chemical Equilibrium


Effect of Changing the Concentrations

When a system at equilibrium is disturbed by adding or removing one of the substances (thus changing its concentration), all the concentrations will change until a new equilibrium point is reached with the same value of Keq.


At equilibrium, Keq stays the same at a given temperature.

If the concentration of a reactant in the forward action is increased, the equilibrium is displaced to the right, favoring the forward reaction. If the concentration of a reactant in the reverse reaction is increased, the equilibrium is displaced to the left. Decreases in concentration will produce effects opposite to those produced by increases.

Effect of Temperature on Equilibrium

If the temperature of a given equilibrium reaction is changed, the reaction will shift to a new equilibrium point. If the temperature of a system in equilibrium is raised, the equilibrium is shifted in the direction that absorbs heat. Note that the shift in equilibrium as a result of temperature change is actually a change in the value of the equilibrium constant. This is different from the effect of changing the concentration of a reactant; when concentrations are changed, the equilibrium shifts to a condition that maintains the same equilibrium constant.


Know how each factor affects equilibrium.

Effect of Pressure on Equilibrium

A change in pressure affects only equilibria in which a gas or gases are reactants or products. Le Châtelier’s Law can be used to predict the direction of displacement. If it is assumed that the total space in which the reaction occurs is constant, the pressure will depend on the total number of molecules in that space. An increase in the number of molecules will increase pressure; a decrease in the number of molecules will decrease pressure. If the pressure is increased, the reaction that will be favored is the one that will lower the pressure, that is, decrease the number of molecules.

An example of the application of these principles is the Haber process of making ammonia. The reaction is

N2(g) + 3H2(g)2NH3(g) + heat (at equilibrium)

If the concentrations of the nitrogen and hydrogen are increased, the forward reaction is increased. At the same time, if the ammonia produced is removed by dissolving it into water, the forward reaction is again favored.

Because the reaction is exothermic, the addition of heat must be considered with care. Increasing the temperature causes an increase in molecular motion and collisions, thus allowing the product to form more readily. At the same time, the equilibrium equation shows that the reverse reaction is favored by the increased temperature, so a compromise temperature of about 500°C is used to get the best yield.

An increase in pressure will cause the forward reaction to be favored since the equation shows that four molecules of reactants are forming two molecules of products. This effect tends to reduce the increase in pressure by the formation of more ammonia.