Thousands of students across the country will be sitting their GCSE chemistry exams in the summer. With changing mark schemes, increasingly hard questions and plenty of chemistry revision to do here are some tips on how to prepare.

Common Errors Made in Chemistry Exams

A common error students can make is writing a description when they’ve been asked for an explanation. A description alone will not get any marks.

To avoid this, make sure you read the question carefully and identify the correct command word. Underlining key words and circling command words can help you focus on correctly answering the question.

You might think you know what the question is going to say after all of your practice in class but re-read it again. Misunderstanding the question can cost you precious marks!

The exam is about demonstrating your knowledge, and even if you know the answer you have to use the correct vocabulary to show this. Make sure you get into the practice, in your revision and on your past paper practice, of using the correct scientific vocabulary to explain your answer. Not only will this make your answer more succinct and to the point, but it will also ensure you hit the key points that the examiner is looking for.

It is a good idea to keep a glossary of key terms for each topic. Test yourself on how you would use them in an exam. You can even practice writing 'model' answers to common questions to really get into the practice of using the right vocabulary.

Not Just a Memory Game

The application of knowledge and understanding of science is particularly important in GCSEs.

This means that questions could be set in unfamiliar contexts, asking students to link together ideas that aren’t necessarily linked on the specification. This tests your knowledge and understanding of the subject rather than just your ability to memorise!

During your revision make sure you really understand each topic. Don't move onto the next topic until you are confident that you know the last one, and could apply it to different contexts. Your exam isn't going to go in chronological order so don't just rely on memory to get you through.

If you build a solid base of knowledge you can keep adding to it as you go through the specification. As you go through the course you will build up a broader knowledge and will be able to see how each topic links to another.

The key to learning your topics, and we mean really learning them, is to constantly test your knowledge. Re-read the specification, refresh your knowledge with online quizzes and do all the past chemistry papers you can find on your topic until you're sure you know it inside out!

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Be sure to revise and do practice exams with plenty of time to prepare for the final exam.
Revision starts whenever you're ready to get stuck in! Photo on Visual hunt

Practical Knowledge

Practical work forms a key part of the specification meaning that exam questions will draw on the knowledge and understanding that you’ve have gained through practical work in the lab.

You should have a really good understanding of the practical work you’ve done in class and be able to use it in the exam.

In your revision, focus on the reasons for carrying out a particular practical technique, or the use of a particular piece of apparatus in an experiment. This will help develop your understanding of these methods and be able to write about them in your exam.

Brush up on the scientific vocabulary that applies to this practical work so you can easily write about it in your exam. Proper use of appropriate scientific vocabulary will demonstrate your understanding of scientific ideas and techniques.

Thinking you know something and being able to accurately put it down onto paper are not the same thing. Practice this technique by picking your favourite topic and explaining it to a friend. You'll find that's it almost impossible to do this succinctly without using the appropriate vocabulary and key terms.

Now you know what you need to brush up on for the exam here are some tips on revising so you can achieve the best result:

Create a Revision Timetable

Building a revision timetable can add structure to your revision techniques and help you identify which topics you need to prioritise.

Creating a revision timetable is a great way to organise your study time, plus it also helps boost your motivation to revise for your exams. Don't forget all of the other subjects that you have to make time for as well as chemistry!

Display your timetable somewhere where you'll see it all the time. Having a daily reminder of your timetable will help you process the amount of information that can often be overwhelming at GCSE. Plus, once you've ticked off a revision session you'll feel extra productive! When it comes to exam day you'll be able to see all the work you've put in and you're bound to feel more confident.

Don't hesitate to put fun activities on your timetable too. If you've got a friend's birthday one evening put it on the timetable! It will serve as a great motivator to get your work done so you can go enjoy yourself afterwards.

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Take the first step by setting your GCSE study goals to build a strong foundation for success.

A complex line of chemistry equipment.
You won't go far as a chemist without the proper equipment. (Source: holdentrils)

Practice Practice Practice

One of the best things you can do is to do as many GCSE past papers as possible.

Practising past papers will help you get familiar with the:

  • Exam format
  • Question style
  • Time pressure

Past papers are an essential tool for chemistry revision. Getting used to the past papers will help you to understand the way your subject is structured. Knowing what to expect on the big day will mean you'll waste no time in figuring the paper format out, and you'll be much more at ease knowing you've seen it all before.

Check 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 can be very specific, and so even when you know the topic well, you can still do really badly if you haven't done any past papers and don’t know what the marker is looking for.

Be aware that there are sometimes key terms you need to cover to get marks. 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.

Using the marking scheme will also help you identify weaker areas in your knowledge so you know what you need to focus your revision on. If you are struggling with a type of question in the past papers, ask your teacher for help. It's better to work this out now in case it comes up again in the real exam.

Structure of the Exam Paper

Past papers help you get used to the structure and wording of the exam. Getting familiar with past papers is essential so there are no surprises on exam day.

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 multiple choice?

3. How much time should you spend on each section?

4. Have you covered all the sections in your revision?

Chief Examiner’s Reports

Focus on exam practice by reading the Examiner’s Report. There is a report written every year after exams are taken which details the common mistakes students made and where marks were dropped.

Reading this will get you into the examiner’s mindset when sitting the paper so you can avoid common mistakes.

Exam Conditions

Make sure you do some past papers in exam-like conditions. While discussing the papers with friends can be a useful tool, practising a paper under restricted time and without any revision notes is really important.

Set a timer and sit in a quiet room with no distractions to really emulate an exam situation.

Where to Find Past Papers

You can find past papers and chief examiner reports from previous years on the website of your exam board.

Your teacher will usually give you some papers to do in class, but there’s no harm in doing the same papers more than once. The more you practice the more you’ll get used to the style of exam and the more prepared you’ll be!

The more you can do to prepare for your exam day the better. You’ll feel less stressed in the lead up and will go into the exam hall knowing exactly what to expect.

Good luck!

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Fay is a translator living in Paris with a dream of opening her own café one day. Passionate about people and cultures, she loves exploring new places and is making it her mission to travel more this year. She loves sports and often combines her love of travelling and running, entering marathons in different cities.