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The slow step is the step with the highest activation energy. With regard to solving problems we use the slow step to determine if a given mechanism is correct for a reaction and to determine the order and rate law of a reaction.
The slow step can be thought of as a funnel. Water can only flow through as fast as the neck of the funnel allows. Similarly, a reaction can only occur as quickly as the slow step proceeds. Therefore, it can also be thought of as the rate determining step. The fast steps are much faster than the slow step and generally have no effect on the overall rate of the reaction.
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