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Preparing for A-levels: Moving onto Chemistry

How do you get ready for Chemistry A Level? Experienced Chemistry tutor Joe takes us through his tips and tricks for getting a head start on A-level Chemistry this summer.


A Level Chemistry practical

For all of you who have just received your GCSE results and have chosen Chemistry at A-level, this guide will help you get to grips with what to expect from the course, and how to best prepare for the next two years of studying this fascinating subject.


1. Preparing for the start of the course


Firstly, you’re going to want to get organised, which of course means having a scientific calculator and plenty of the essential stationary, however you probably won’t have had to purchase your own study books before, so here are some tips about how to go about selecting the right resources...


Key Tip #1: Buy the Textbook, not the revision guide. At A-level you will learn at a new level of depth and complexity compared to GCSE and you’ll be expected to answer questions in the same way, the revision guides catch the eyes of a lot of students but do not pick this over the textbook, having the textbook at home means you have all of the content for the specification, whereas revision guides simplify this and in reality don’t contain enough information for you to get more than a C.


As mentioned in the equivalent blog focusing on Biology, a lever arch folder is a perfect way of organising all of your work, make sure you file all of your sheets and homework and notes in an efficient and organised way to ensure you can always find what you’re looking for when it comes to revision. As with Biology, I’d recommend spending between 30 mins to an hour every week just tidying up and organising all your notes and sheets from the lessons that week, just to keep on top of everything.


For notetaking, I’d recommend a book of lined and plain paper, there is a lot of mathematics and drawing diagrams in Chemistry, particularly when you get into the first experiments and organic synthetic routes, so having both will make this a little easier to organise.


You’ll also want to print a copy of the full specification, which has details of everything you need to know to answer questions in the exam, so will undoubtedly come in handy when you’re looking through what to revise.


2. Assessed Practicals


As with both Biology and Physics, Chemistry A-level courses now have an assessed practical module assessed throughout the two years. This involves carrying out an experiment safely and effectively, drawing accurate graphs and tables and explaining the method and findings.


This can be a daunting thought, however there really isn’t a lot to worry about, as long as you are safe and work efficiently you will pass, it is important you prepare for these assessed practicals well though as most universities require this part of the course to be passed, and you will be questioned on the practicals you have carried out in the exam.


Practical questions are very common, so it is important you know them inside and out, including methods and expected conclusions, as well as any relevant calculations and an explanation of the science behind the experiment.


3. The Content in A Level Chemistry


Chemistry is often described as the hardest A-level, and many students struggle, so it is important you have a good foundation of knowledge when going into study in year 12. If you are not 100% confident on all aspects of GCSE Chemistry, then I’d recommend brushing up before you start in September.


The introduction will go through the fundamental maths that you need to know to pass at A-level, calculations such as moles/ gas volumes/ concentration etc are vital to you doing well.

The course is a step up, but just remember to keep on top of all your work as you go through and you’ll be fine, always ask your teachers if you are unsure because it will definitely help in the long run if you solve a problem with your understanding as soon as it crops up.

Complex A-level chemistry structure


Expect to be greeted with a lot of seemingly complicated structures that you have never seen before (see right), but rest assured you will know how to name, draw and even the process of synthesis of these compounds by the end of the course, so keep practising all of the key skills throughout and you will be fine.



For those of you who struggle with maths, I’d recommend taking time to practice and nail all of the maths as you go through, as the exams are maths heavy. If you're still struggling, a few sessions with a maths tutor can do wonders for your confidence.


One of the big changes as you progress from GCSE to A-level sciences is the lack of recall questions, It is not so much about remembering and writing that exact thing down a lot of the time, it is more about using your skills to solve problems, so can take quite a bit of work to gain top marks.


4. Getting into the right habits


Like me, many of you may have left all of your revision at GCSE to the last couple of weeks before exams, and while it may have worked then it will not now, it is important to revise and learn persistently as you go along. Revising little and often is a far better way than cramming, so after every lesson take time that evening to go through exactly what you leant and make sure you understand everything.


Then make revision resources such as cue cards on the day- this instead of leaving them to the last minute when you basically have no time to make or use them. These habits will help you enormously when it comes to revising for your exams in the summer.


5. Revising and reading around the subject


Revising the content as you go along is key to succeeding, make sure you take time to understand all the concepts and science, as in the exams you will be asked to solve problems and apply your knowledge rather than recall specific bits of information for the most part.


Practising answering questions as you go along throughout the course will help you to apply your knowledge, and always make sure to complete your homework as having marked work really helps you reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.


It is also important to read around the topics you are studying, this will add a new level to your understanding and will provide you an even stronger fundamental scientific understanding that will undoubtedly help you when it comes to learning new concepts. This doesn’t mean memorising degree level textbooks, just reading some extra info about topics that you learn about on your course.


In summary, make sure you don’t let the course overwhelm you, it is well within the realms of possibility to be in complete control if you keep on top of things, even though at times it might not feel like it. If you follow this advice and enjoy Chemistry, you should absolutely love the A-level course…


Joe

Blog Post Crafted by Joe


Joe is currently working towards his BSc in Biomedical Science at the University of Warwick.


When he’s not studying, Joe tutors GCSE and A-level Science subjects in his home city of Coventry.


Joe can often be found at ridiculous times in the morning, bird ringing and searching for interesting bird and butterfly species at his local nature reserve near Coventry, or venturing further afield to find rarities on the East Coast of Norfolk.

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