The branch of science that deals with chemicals, substances, and reactions, chemistry is one for those who enjoy experimentation and investigation.

It’s a subject that requires you to think logically about the properties of matter, the composition of substances, and so much more. It isn’t all luminescent chemicals and glass beakers, though; chemistry informs our understanding of the world around us, making it a highly practical field of study.

If you engage any one of your senses, you will be interacting with chemicals and matter. Cooking is chemistry; medicine is chemistry - even cleaning is chemistry!

As such, the first thing to bear in mind if you have higher chemistry exams on the horizon is that every moment that passes is an opportunity to observe and seek to understand. Show an interest in all of the matter around you, and studying will become second nature to you.

green vial
Chemistry is a practical subject that encourages experimentation, but you'll also need to get on top of the theory if you want to pass the exam.

Unfortunately, all the cleaning and cooking in the world won’t get you any closer to passing the Higher Chemistry exam.

You’ll need to be clued up on the fundamental principles at play in chemistry, and on a more practical level, have a keen understanding of what the exam entails so that you can walk into the exam room with confidence when the time comes.

That’s exactly what this guide is for, you can consider it as your higher chemistry study companion. We’ll present a wealth of tips, tricks, and resources to help you excel in the subject and propel you towards exam success whether you’re due to take the higher chemistry or advanced higher chemistry exam.

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How to Pass Higher Chemistry

We’re not going to lie to you - chemistry can be a tough subject to study.

But once you embrace the challenge, it can be broken down into its component parts, so it’s simply a matter of working through them one by one until you feel confident you can pass the exam.

The first tip we’re going to share with you may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it.

Prepare the Material

Review the material you will be studying in class before you show up.

While this isn’t ground-breaking stuff, the old adage of ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ applies here.

You can’t rely on your chemistry teacher to spoon-feed you the material. The teacher’s job is of course to help you understand, but in a class of 25+ students, it can be very challenging to have all of your questions answered which can be frustrating.

If you go home with questions still swirling around your mind about the day’s lesson, you might be less motivated to tackle the homework assignment or dive deeper into the topic that you don’t fully understand yet.

To address this issue, we strongly recommend that you leaf through the pages you’re going to cover in the lesson before you show up. If you don’t know what material you’re going to cover, then ask your teacher. Most of the time it will be clear, though, since every school follows a curriculum.

Imagine going into a class feeling fully prepared for any questions the teacher can throw at you, it’s almost like having a superpower. Plus, the benefit of preparing the material in advance is that you will have a head start on everyone else so you can get more done and spend more time internalising the material so it’s cemented in your mind come exam day.

Master the Art of Note-taking

notes and fountain pen
Believe it or not, note-taking is a skill, and you'd do well to master it.

Everybody takes notes, that’s a given, but how many students do you know that have mastered the art of note-taking?

Not many, we’d be willing to guess.

For many, note-taking is a passive exercise. It’s an exercise we pass off to our robot brain, which sends instructions to our hand that diligently complies and scrawls pages and pages of incomprehensible letters and numbers in the notebook.

If you want to do better in all of your exams, you have to look at note-taking as a skill to learn, not as a way of transcribing the teacher’s words onto paper like a robot.

Chemistry is a complex and challenging subject, so that sentence you wrote about how energy changes in chemical reactions and it has something to do with Hess’s Law isn’t going to cut it. You need to write notes in a way that your future self has a chance of understanding them and deriving real meaning from the words.

This means that every formula and equation you write down needs to be clearly labeled to facilitate future understanding. Each new note has to be part of an organised system that breaks down a subject into logical subheadings based on concepts and ideas.

You also want to focus on what the teacher is saying during explanations, so although this might feel counterintuitive, at times it makes sense to put the pen down and just listen. If you actively pay attention to what is being said, there is a much greater chance that you’ll actually understand than if you are just writing notes attempting to keep up with the pace at which the teacher is talking.

If you do pay attention and listen, then once the teacher is done talking you can make thorough notes based on your understanding of the material. We promise that you won’t forget the information as fast as you think you will, so trust that you’ll be able to make great notes after you’re done listening.

But perhaps most importantly, you need to review the notes on a regular basis to keep the information fresh in your mind. That way, you won’t have to scramble a few days before exam day trying to figure out what you wrote down and why it’s important.

Get Practical

laboratory
Make the most of any time you get in the lab.

If neither of the last two tips applies to you or you feel like even with good notes and preparation you still struggle to get to grips with some of the material, then we strongly suggest that you get practical.

Chemistry is a hands-on subject, after all.

If your school or college grants you time in the lab to experiment and conduct your own tests, make the most of it.

If not, commit time at home to conducting your own experiments and working through equations and formulas.

There’s no excuse not to spend at least half an hour on this every day, tackling the practical aspect of chemistry and working on your problem-solving skills.

And yes, unfortunately, this does include past papers, which we’ll get to now.

Where to Find Higher Chemistry Past Papers

If you really want to ace the higher chemistry exam, we advise you to seek out past papers and go through them one by one.

For the higher chemistry exam, there are two papers.

The first is a multiple choice paper which is worth 25 marks, and which you’ll have 40 minutes to complete. The second is a longer written paper that is worth 95 marks and which you’ll have over two hours to work through.

You’ll find exam papers where you can practise both the multiple choice and written sections on the SQA website.

As of the time of writing, there are four exam papers available on the website, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to do all of them before the day of your exam arrives.

The papers date back to 2016, and it’s a good idea to go through each and identify any common themes or patterns.

While the content may well change from year to year, the structure of the exam likely hasn’t changed much, so you can familiarise yourself with the format of it.

Something as seemingly insignificant as looking through the exam paper and knowing what each question will be worth can do your confidence a world of good since it will be one less uncertainty going into the exam.

Advanced Higher Chemistry Past Papers

If you’re taking the advanced higher chemistry exam, then again you’ll need to check out the SQA exam board website to take a peek at the past papers.

You can either work through the papers using a notebook, or you can even print out the papers if you want to replicate the exam day experience so you can get used to what it will feel like, and take away some of the nerves.

As with the higher chemistry exam, SQA currently has four advanced higher chemistry past papers available which date back to 2016, so there’s plenty of material for you to crack on with which should form a key part of your revision.

There are two sections in the advanced higher chemistry exam, and the sections add up to 100 marks overall.

The first section is worth 30 marks while the second is worth as many as 70, and both sections will thoroughly test your knowledge of chemical formulas and equations with a series of challenging questions. You should have around two and a half hours to complete this exam, so make sure you take enough time on each question and have time left over at the end to double check all of your answers.

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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.