If you’re taking the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam, you’ll want to get a head start on the past papers as they can be one of the best resources to rely on for revision.

Since the SQA exam board puts on the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam, the SQA website is where you’ll be able to find the past papers.

On the website, you’ll find four Advanced Higher Chemistry past papers dating from 2016 to 2019, so you’ll have plenty of material to sink your teeth into (at least 10 hours if you stick to the allotted time for each of the exams).

In this guide, we’re going to break down the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam for you by taking a peek at the past papers so that you have a clear idea of what to expect on exam day. We’ll also provide several tips on how to pass Higher Chemistry along the way.

chemistry experiments
Experiments might be what you signed up for, but the exam is all theory, so revision is key.

The better you know the format of the exam papers, the easier it will be for you to settle into a rhythm on the exam day and put in a performance you’re proud of.

The topics covered in the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam are inorganic and physical chemistry, organic chemistry & instrumental analysis, and researching chemistry.

You will build upon the knowledge and understanding you developed in Higher Chemistry, and dive deeper into some of the theory and practical skills associated with the subject.

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Exam Breakdown

The Advanced Higher Chemistry exam is worth a total of 110 marks, which represents 75% of the overall marks you’ll receive for the subject. The other 25% will be awarded for the course assessment, so the format is exactly the same as it was with the Higher Chemistry course.

In the exam, you will have two sections to work through at your own pace.

The first section, which we’ll refer to as section 1 from now on, contains multiple-choice questions and is worth 25 marks in total.

Section 2 contains questions that require lengthy written answers, and is worth a total of 85 marks.

As you will already have figured out, the exam follows the same form as the Higher Chemistry exam so by now you should be more than familiar with the format.

Section 1 - Multiple Choice

There are only two things you need to keep in mind in the multiple choice section of the exam.

The first is that you must read the instructions on the first couple of pages of the booklet.

Failure to do so could result in an incorrectly filled-out answer, which is bad news.

Read the instructions thoroughly in the time before the exam starts, and that way you’ll know exactly what is expected for you.

The second thing you need to know is that you don’t have an awful lot of time to finish this section of the exam, so if you want to leave time at the end to go over your answers you need to be quick and efficient.

The best way to prepare for this exam is to do the past papers under exam conditions.

What this means is you should set a timer for roughly 30-40 minutes, and then go through and try to finish all of the multiple choice questions.

Better still, challenge yourself to complete each question in a minute or less, since that way you can make it into a fun competition and condition your brain to take in the information and process it more quickly.

mutliple choice exam
It may be everybody's favourite exam format, but it's still difficult without sufficient revision.

Section 2 - Written

For the written section of the exam, you will be required to give extensive answers to many different types of questions.

This is the section of the exam that you want to focus most of your attention on, because it requires much more brain power and it’s worth a lot more marks than section 1.

To practise well for this portion of the exam, all you can do is take the past papers from previous years and work your way through each.

Get a feel for the structure of the different types of questions, and practise writing detailed answers.

If you expect to rock up on exam day and write short sentences for each question, you might be disappointed come results day.

The written section of the exam is designed to challenge your ability to take your existing knowledge and apply it to new contexts. It isn’t just an exercise in memorisation, so don’t think you can just waltz in and remember the major ideas, as this is a surefire way to guarantee a poor grade.

Aside from past papers, what you can do is ask someone who is familiar with the subject to test you on various concepts. Ask them to throw a concept or idea at you, and then write down a detailed explanation of what it is.

Better still, find a private tutor who can ask you exam-style questions that require you to apply your knowledge to new contexts, that way you can push yourself so you’re ready for whatever comes up on the exam.

Marking Criteria

If you want to do well in the exam, you need to know what exactly the examiner expects of you.

In the case of the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam, there are a number of marking criteria that you should keep in mind as you go through the exam.

Of course, these marking criteria only apply to section 2 of the exam, since the first section simply requires you to pick the correct answer from several options given to you.

Some of the most important skills you’ll need to demonstrate are as follows:

Describe and Provide Explanations

It isn’t enough to simply identify a concept and provide a brief definition of it in the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam, unless you are explicitly asked to do so.

Usually, you will be required to describe information and provide detailed explanations about the processes involved using your existing knowledge of chemistry.

Apply Knowledge to New Situations

This is one of the trickiest skills to develop in chemistry, but also one of the most important.

Anyone can memorise formulas and equations, but what makes a true scientist is someone who can draw upon their base of knowledge to make predictions about new situations and different contexts.

Plan and Design Experiments

To excel at chemistry, at some point you are going to have to map out your own experiments.

The Advanced Higher Chemistry will test you on your ability to do so, asking you to fully flesh out plans and designs for chemical experiments and investigations.

This means you need to know everything that goes into a successful experiment, from the safety measures to how you can illustrate particular effects or test a hypothesis you may have.

Present Information in Different Mediums

It isn’t enough to communicate concepts in chemistry through words alone.

Often, you will have to present the information you find in different mediums. These mediums include graphs, charts, and more.

Make Predictions and Generalisations

You will need to know how to make predictions and generalisations if you want to ace this exam, based on the information and evidence you’ve been provided.

Evaluate Experiments

Another critical skill for any student taking chemistry is the ability to evaluate and provide useful feedback on someone else’s experiment, so that they can make improvements.

The Exam Content

natural chemistry
Chemistry can be divided up into various sub-categories, so you'll need to brush up on each of them.

To ace the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam, you need to have a deep understanding of the three different units.

For each of the units, you want to make sure you have a broad knowledge of all of the topics.

Whatever patterns you feel like you may have picked up on in the past papers, you shouldn’t hedge your bets on one topic or another being more prominent in your upcoming exam.

While it can seem overwhelming, it’s important that you dedicate a good amount of time to each topic in all three units so that you are prepared for absolutely any and all questions that may show up on your exam paper.

You may want to structure your revision in such a way that you go through the units one by one, so that you can fully get to grips with each unit before moving on to the next.

If you feel like one of the three units is an Achilles heel for you, then unfortunately that means you’re going to have to dedicate extra time to it as you don’t want to get caught out in the exam with any weaknesses or gaps in your knowledge.

Inorganic and Physical Chemistry

This unit is concerned with the core principles of physical and inorganic chemistry, which includes some of the following concepts:

  •  Electromagnetic radiation
  •  Atomic structure
  •  Molecules
  •  Transition metals and compounds
  •  Chemical equilibria
  •  Reaction kinetics

Organic Chemistry and Instrumental Analysis

The next unit is focused on organic chemistry and these are some of the topics you can expect to come up in the exam:

  •  Organic compounds
  •  Organic reactions
  •  Origin of colour
  •  Use of medicines
  •  Interaction of drugs

Researching Chemistry

The last unit is about how to develop the hands-on research skills you’ll need to excel in the field, and these are some of the topics you will come across:

  •  Stoichiometric calculations
  •  Chemistry apparatus and techniques
  •  Practical investigations
  •  Research skills

Now that you have a breakdown of what to expect on your Advanced Higher Chemistry, you only need to download those past papers and marking information from SQA. And then, it's time to get studying.

Good luck!

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Samuel

Sam is an English teaching assistant and freelance writer based in southern Spain. He enjoys exploring new places and cultures, and picking up languages along the way.