Knowing what to expect from your A level chemistry exam and how the grading system works will help you excel. There have been some changes in recent years that have changed how the course is set up.
The old system saw teens study AS levels in Year 12, with exams taken in May-June that are worth 50% of your overall A level qualification. But in 2015 this changed. The new government reforms mean that AS levels will no longer count towards the final A level grade, instead there'll be more exams at the end of Year 13.
The AS level can stand as a separate qualification but not if you choose to complete and A level in that subject.
The gov.uk website sets out the main features of the new qualifications:
- Assessment will be mainly by exam, with other types of assessment used only where they are needed to test essential skills
- AS and A levels will be assessed at the end of the course. AS assessments will typically take place after one year’s study and A levels after two. The courses will no longer be divided into modules and there will be no exams in January
- AS and A levels will be decoupled – meaning AS results will no longer count towards an A level
- AS levels can be designed by exam boards to be taught alongside the first year of A levels
How are A-Levels Graded?
A levels are graded in a similar way to GCSEs and graded A*-E.
When applying to university, AS level grades (for subjects that were just taken for one year) and final A level grades are converted into UCAS points – with the higher grades scoring higher points.
Each University course requires a certain amount of UCAS points for entry. This can vary from year to year depending on the popularity of the course and the standard of grades the University wants to attract.
Getting good grades in Chemistry is more than ever based on exams so chemistry revision and preparation is key. Practicing regularly throughout the course will mean you are better prepared. Don't leave it until the last minute!
Of course everyone learns in a different way so you should try out different methods to see what works best for you.
Here are some revision tips to get you started:
Write Everything Out
You don’t really know how hard something is until you try it yourself. In chemistry, you should try to work it out for yourself in writing. Solve the problem on paper or write out your explanation before you are being tested.
What you think you know and what you can successfully write down using the right scientific terms and equations aren't always the same. The exam is a terrible place to find out so make sure you practice beforehand!
Check for an A level Chemistry tutor online.
This one should be pretty obvious. You can’t expect to do well at something with preparation.
Practicing or revising chemistry on a daily basis is a good way to learn your topic in manageable chunks. Several shorter practices spread out over a period of time will do much more good than a marathon session where you'll be tired and not able to concentrate.
When studying, don’t be afraid to take a short break and then return to your work. Quality over quantity, spending hours on a topic is not productive when you’re taking nothing in.
Don’t kid yourself that spending hours in the library ‘studying’ with friends counts as real work!
Find a place where you can work without being interrupted.
Studying for A Level chemistry does take a lot of effort, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Look for private chemistry tuition now.
Do Your Best Work Even When Revising
Build good working habits from the beginning. How you study should be how you approach the exam; organised and methodical.
Avoid a sloppy performance on exam day by practicing not being sloppy in your preparation. When working out a problem, neatly and clearly write out your answer. Be sure your drawings and figures are clear and labeled and show your working process.
Use chemistry past papers to revise.
Write out explanations in clear and complete sentences using the correct vocabulary. Remember you often have to use key terms in order to get the marks so make sure you use them in your revision too. The more you use them in your revision the more natural they’ll be to use in the exam.
Learn the Material Bit By Bit
There may seem to be an overwhelming amount of material to learn and often students want to do over all the material many times. But with all this information it’s almost impossible to learn.
Instead, try breaking the topics into little pieces that you can concentrate on until they are mastered. It might seem like you are spending a lot of time to learn a small amount, but if you really understand the material you can move on, and the next time you see it more can be added to it.
You may also find that once you really know a few concepts well, the rest is easier to learn because it is related to what you already know well.
Don’t shy away from investing the time to learn it right. It really is worth it.
Prepare For Class
It is a good idea to prepare for your class.
It may be helpful to quickly scan the chapter to get an overview and to get an idea of what you’ll cover in class. That way you’ll be prepared for you what you’re going to learn and you can prepare any questions in advance for your teacher.
Don’t forget to read the assigned questions as well. It is always helpful to see what kind of skills you will be expected to have so you can pay attention to the most important information.
The reading may be difficult and you may feel that you don’t get much out of it. Remember that a chemistry book is not a novel that can be read briskly but must be read slowly several times, and digested as you go.
Doing this from the beginning of your A levels is good practice because it gets you into the mindset of teaching yourself. Don’t just rely on your class, doing the extra work from the beginning will leave you better prepared for when the real revision starts.
Check for a chemistry tutor here.
Write Out Everything You Know
Reading and working out problems are an important part of learning chemistry. It is great practice to take a blank piece of paper and write out what you know about the topic as if you had to teach it to someone else.
This will force you to sift thought the mountain of material and pull out the most important parts in a clear methodical manner.
Write out what you think are the most important parts of the material and give examples, draw pictures, make up a problem or think of an analogy to some other topic.
Not only is this a great revision tool but it is also a confidence builder; you’ll know that you really get a topic.
You need to practice facing a blank page so that you are familiar with doing it before you get to the exam.
Be Your Own Critic
Often, you think that you’ve done well on a practice paper and put down answers that you think look good, only to get the exams back and realise that your answers didn’t make that much sense and you lost marks as a result!
You need to learn to be critical of your own work. Of course, this takes practice. When working out the problems, before you check your answers with the book, take a minute and ask yourself "does this answer make sense?" "have I included the correct key terms?” “is this as complete as I could make it?" Double check your answers and make sure they are perfect.
Practice being critical. Be more critical of your own work than the grader will be.
Get in the habit of correcting arithmetic, punctuation, spelling, grammar, and clarity. These are all points that will help demonstrate your understanding clearly and gain you maximum marks!
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
No one else can do the work for you, it’s up to you to learn the subject material, so make sure you do everything you can to understand it. Talk to your teacher or find a tutor.
If you are having trouble understanding the material from the reading, find another source such as a different textbook or online resources that may present the material in a different style.
There is a huge amount of assistance out there, but it won’t help you unless you ask for it. Take the initiative to help yourself get the best grade you can get.
Armed with all of this information you can’t go wrong. Just remember it’s up to you what grade you get; put in the work and you won’t be disappointed!