Chemistry is a fascinating subject, as it can teach you so much about the world around you, from the composition of atoms to larger objects and substances.

However, the study of chemistry is not just confined to learning about protons, neutrons, and electrons. There are actually a lot of different topics that you will have to learn about if you want to gain a GCSE in chemistry.

As a result, you’ll most likely have to be prepared to undertake a fair bit of revision if you’d like to do well in your chemistry GCSE and get the best marks possible.

While it’s certainly not impossible to do well in your GCSE chemistry exam (and indeed, many, many students across the country each year get a passing mark in the subject, if not higher) it always pays to be aware of what you will be studying and the types of materials that you will cover.

This is regardless of whether you are taking GCSE chemistry as a single science or as a combined science.

With that in mind, the below article highlights some of the topics that you might encounter as part of your GCSE chemistry studies.

A structural diagram of a carbon atom. Atomic structure is one of the topics often taught as part of a chemistry GCSE.
Atomic structure is just one of the many topics you'll likely learn about within a GCSE chemistry syllabus. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, burlesonmatthew, Pixabay)

GCSE Chemistry: Atomic Structure And The Periodic Table

One of the most important things you can learn in chemistry is the structure of the atom as well as the properties of the known elements in the periodic table.

This is perhaps why, for certain exam boards such as AQA, these areas are taught under a single topic heading, entitled “atomic structure and the periodic table.” In many ways, it makes sense to teach atomic structure and the principles of the periodic table together, as the facts learnt from one area complement the other.

Taking atomic structure first, you’ll more than likely learn as part of your chemistry GCSE what an atom is made up of. The modern atomic model, for instance, suggests that:

  • An atom consists of a nucleus;
  • The nucleus tends to comprise protons as well as neutrons; and
  • Electrons surround the nucleus.

If you have a good grasp on these principles, then you should ultimately be able to work out which atoms represent which elements, as you can often discern an element by the number of protons there are within an atom.

This is why atomic structure and the periodic table go hand in hand. Once you’ve identified an element, you can then understand its properties and how it interacts with other elements, provided you understand the various periods and groups that the elements are organised in on a periodic table.

GCSE Chemistry: Chemical Changes

Another area that is, somewhat unsurprisingly, covered at GCSE level is that of chemical changes. Some exam boards, such as AQA, may break this topic down into two separate topics, namely chemical changes and energy changes.

There is no getting around the fact that there are a lot of chemical reactions in chemistry, and it’s important that any student of chemistry has an understanding of why certain reactions behave in certain ways, and what this means.

As a result, you will likely learn, or further develop your knowledge of, a variety of core ideas in chemistry as you are taught about chemical and energy changes, including, but not limited to:

  • Acids, bases, alkalis and salts (chemical changes);
  • Electrolysis (chemical changes); and
  • Exothermic and endothermic reactions (energy changes).

Acids and alkalis may be something that students are already familiar with, or they may learn about them from scratch. Either way, concepts such as this, along with how to identify an acidic or alkaline substance through the use of tools such as litmus paper, reach the heart of chemistry.

As such, if you’re planning on having a future career in chemistry, or would like to study it at A-level or above, topic areas such as chemical changes and energy changes are important to be aware of, and could well feature as part of one or more questions in a GCSE chemistry exam paper.

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An image of the sun with a blue sky and no clouds. You might learn about the composition of the atmosphere as part of a GCSE in chemistry.
Learning about the atmosphere in GCSE chemistry can be really interesting. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, jplenio, Pixabay)

GCSE Chemistry Revision: Chemistry Of The Atmosphere

Although there are a lot of different fundamentals to learn about when it comes to GCSE chemistry, the whole qualification is not just about learning about the properties of elements and their atomic structure, or how acids and alkalis differ.

In fact, one of the topics you might encounter is the chemistry of the atmosphere. While this topic also builds on some items you would have learnt about in other topics within the chemistry syllabus (such as your knowledge of the elements) this topic is particularly relevant and interesting for many students.

This is partially due to the increased attention that issues such as global warming and climate change have gained in the media over the past few decades, such as the recent IPCC report on climate change.

As part of this topic, you’ll learn about a variety of things, including:

  • What causes greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect;
  • Climate change; and
  • The elements that are part of Earth’s atmosphere.

For instance, you might be surprised to learn that today’s atmosphere actually is largely comprised of nitrogen (it accounts for around 80% of the atmosphere). Oxygen, on the other hand, only accounts for about 20% of the atmosphere, with small amounts of other gases such as carbon dioxide also present in the atmosphere’s total composition.

GCSE Chemistry: Chemical Analysis

Although it can be fun to learn about topics such as the chemistry of the atmosphere, there are other topics that need to be taught as part of a GCSE in chemistry. One of these topics is chemical analysis.

Indeed, if you do have aspirations to study chemistry at A-Level, or would even like to ultimately become a chemist or scientist one day after taking chemistry or a related degree at university, then it’s worthwhile getting to grips with the lessons taught as part of chemical analysis now.

This is because your future studies will likely build upon the knowledge you gained during your GCSE studies.

As the topic title suggests, much of what you will learn as part of any chemical analysis is how to identify and analyse various substances, including:

  • Pure substances;
  • Mixtures; and
  • Formulations.

You might also become familiar with different chemical and flame tests, which can be carried out in order to identify ions such as metal ions as well as negatively charged ions.

States of matter is one topic often taught as part of a GCSE chemistry syllabus.
You might learn about the various states of matter as part of your GCSE chemistry syllabus. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, qimono, Pixabay)

GCSE Chemistry Revision: Bonding, Structure And The Properties Of Matter

Another area that could well be tested in your GCSE chemistry exam is the topic of “bonding, structure and the properties of matter.” You’ll learn a lot within this topic area, such as the facts that:

  • There are three different states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas, although it is possible for a substance to change its state;
  • Covalent bonds can form molecules or giant covalent structures; and
  • Metals tend to have high boiling and melting points and conduct heat and electricity well.

Getting Ready For Revision

The topics listed above are just some of the topics you might encounter as you progress through your chemistry GCSE studies.

Although it might seem like a lot to learn at the start, the best way you can prepare yourself for your GCSE chemistry exam is to stay on top of your work, coursework, and homework, and ask your chemistry teacher if there are any parts of your lessons that you haven’t fully understood.

Equally, it’s really worthwhile putting together an effective revision plan, as this should help you focus your efforts when it comes to revising and give you the best possible chance to do well in your chemistry exam.

Ideally, the sooner you can start revision the better, as you’ll have more time to address any problem areas in the syllabus, although any revision is better than none at all if you are pressed for time.

It’s also worth remembering that there are lots of revision resources out there to help you prepare for your chemistry GCSE, including:

  • Websites that provide revision resources for GCSE exams, such as BBC Bitesize;
  • Revision books for GCSE chemistry that provide overviews of topics and practice questions to test your knowledge; and
  • Past GCSE chemistry exam papers.

What’s more, you could also look at hiring an experienced chemistry tutor, who can help you with issues such as poor exam technique as well as give you exercises to help consolidate your knowledge of chemistry and test you in any areas that you need extra assistance with.

Look up for an online chemistry tutor now.

Superprof has a range of experienced chemistry tutors, so it’s simply a case of searching for a chemistry tutor that has the experience you need. With in-person or online-only tuition possible, there are lots of different ways you could make tuition work for you, particularly in the run-up to your final GCSE chemistry exam.

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Lucy is a freelance writer and wine enthusiast, who loves travelling and exploring new places.