After getting through your GCSEs your knowledge of chemistry will be pretty advanced by now. At A level, you will continue to further your knowledge of concepts you already know as well as learning new ones.
In the physical chemistry section of your A Levels, you will build on your GCSE knowledge of atoms and their structure. You will also learn about bonding, energetics, kinetics and acids and bases.
You will test principles and equations like these in experiments in the lab, and will even learn which reactions can be reversed and how!
You’ll learn how DNA is structured and how effective anti-cancer drugs are in stopping DNA reproducing in cancer cells.
As well as the chemical theory, as in GCSE, you’ll be taught practical skills in the lab. You’ll be able to build on your existing knowledge to conduct more complex experiments and test different hypotheses.
A Level chemistry is advanced and it takes a lot of work to do well in this subject. Make sure you stay on top of your revision throughout the year.
Top Tips for A Level Revision
The first step is to know what’s ahead of you. What topics do you need to know for your exam?
Get your hands on the Chemistry syllabus. Ask for it at school, or just download it off the website and go through it line-by-line.
Highlight the topics you have covered/ have yet to cover in class or ones that you need a refresher one. You’ll find that some topics are easier than others so it’s important you make a revision plan so you know which topics to prioritise.
A Level chemistry specifications are extremely useful because they provide clear definitions for terms you must be familiar with to get the marks on the exam. Make sure you have a list of these terms somewhere so you can make sure to memorise them all.
Taking notes in class and from your textbook is crucial. The action of making notes itself is a way of learning and remembering, no one can take information in just from staring at a page.
But be careful; copying out the textbook word for word doesn’t count as learning (and will take you a long time!). You need to understand, rather than memorise.
Be systematic and follow the syllabus topic by topic. Don’t move on until you really understand. Try taking notes on a topic from the textbook and then condensing them again and again. By the time you have a small summary of an idea written down, you’ll be able to explain it concisely rather than just reading word for word from your textbook.
If you don’t understand the fundamentals at the start you might not understand something later on so don’t skip it.
Once you get to the end of a section in your text, run through a few practice questions either online, or at the end of chapters in your textbook to really test your understanding.
Power of Past Papers
Past papers are an essential revision tool. They are a great way to find the gaps in your knowledge, what you need to improve on but also to give you a confidence boost finding out your revision is paying off. They are the closest thing you’ll get to a practice run of the exam itself and will help you get to grips with exam technique.
Getting used to the past papers will help you to understand the way your subject is structured. While simply going through past papers and answering the questions is useful in itself there is actually so much more you can get
out of them to really improve your grades.
With just a few tips you’ll be able to use past papers to really get on top of your subject and nail your exams.
Don’t Ignore the Mark Scheme
Mark schemes will help you work out where you’ve gained and lost marks, and how well you’re answering the questions.
Mark schemes are very specific. There are certain points that you have to mention in order to get the marks on a question. Even if you know the topic well, it doesn’t mean you will get the marks if you don’t know what the marker is looking for.
It isn’t just about your knowledge of the subject but of the marking scheme too. You have to answer the way the examiners want you to. Be succinct in your answers, don't waffle on with descriptive words. The examiner is looking for key points that efficiently and correctly answer the question. Think explanation not description.
Learn the Structure of the Exam Paper
Past papers help you get used to the structure and wording of the exam. Structures of papers usually stay pretty much the same year to year so past papers are the closest you’ll get to seeing what your exam will look like.
Even if you don’t know what topics will be on your paper you can still familiarise yourself with the style of wording the papers use and the format so you don’t lose marks on just not understanding the question.
If there are certain terms in the questions that keep coming up in past papers, ask your teacher to explain them to you.
Make sure you get your head around the structure of your chemistry paper and ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is the paper divided into sections?
2. Are the questions single or multiple choice?
3. How much time should you spend on each section?
Knowing what to expect will mean there are no surprises on exam day. Knowing what to expect will also mean you don't waste unnecessary time trying to figure out the exam format. Plus you'll go into the exam hall confident that you know what's coming.
Where to Find Past Papers
You can find past papers and chief examiner reports on the website of your exam board.
There you’ll find past papers from previous years and there will also usually be papers from summer exams and resit periods so there will be plenty to practice with.
Your teachers at school will most likely give you past papers to practice in class and will read through the question structures with you so you’re best prepared.
If you’re struggling with revision and need another method other than using your textbook, why not try online resources.
A quick Google search of the A Level revision material on the topic you want to bring up several options. Here are a few of our favourites:
This site is a great resource that will test your revision skills. It will you get into the practice of learning, testing and remembering.
Each topic is broken down into sections that you first learn, then test with a quiz then remember it with revision notes.
You can even create your own personal question banks and revision guides so you have a tailored plan for you.
This chemistry blog explores the everyday relevance of chemical compounds - great for when you’re wondering what the point of it all is!
Their food poster series and “Chemistry of Colour” posters have gone viral. Their high-quality graphics stimulate more interest in chemistry and are a great way to think about chemistry in a different way than just following a syllabus.
Print a few posters off or try making your own of your favourite compounds!
You most likely used bitesize for your GCSE revision, it’s an oldie but goodie!
Now available as an app too, bitesize is particularly useful because you can choose your exam board on the home page. So whatever curriculum you’re following you’ll be able to access relevant revision resources.
Far from your boring textbook, Bitesize keeps revision interesting, with different quizzes activities and games to choose from. Games might seem silly when you’re in the midst of learning complicated concepts but they can still be useful! Use them as an additional tool when you’ve had enough of writing out notes.
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Positive reinforcement is possibly the most significant, element of successful revision.
Revision isn’t just about your knowledge, you need to get yourself in a positive mindset to tackle your exams.
Make a list of all the topics to cover in chemistry A level. Whenever you have successfully understood one tick it off your list. You’ll feel much more productive and will physically see how far you’ve come.
If you do well on a past paper don’t hesitate to write the score in marker pen on the front and keep it somewhere you can see. When you’re overwhelmed by revision will act as a visual reminder that you’re not doing too bad after all.
Finally, on exam day, remember that you have put the work in and can only achieve your best. Stay calm and try to avoid going into the exam in a sleep-deprived frenzy!
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Use all the resources you can find to really give yourself the best chance! The more prepared you are in the run up to exam day the less stressed you’ll feel.
Good luck and happy revising!