If you’re due to take the Higher Chemistry exam sometime in the near future, or even the Advanced Higher Chemistry exam, then it’s a good idea to incorporate some of the past papers into your revision schedule.

Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you the number one resource you have to lean on for acing an upcoming exam is the relevant past papers.

Why?

glass beakers
While it may be more enjoyable to play around in the lab, past papers are essential for exam revision.

Because the past papers can give you a clear idea of what type of material you’re going to encounter on exam day.

With past papers, you can put your knowledge to the test over and over again, until you’re sure that you could ace every single one of them. This if nothing else breeds the kind of confidence that can help you feel relaxed heading into your exam, which can give you the edge.

You can also do what humans are best at and spot patterns. While the content will change from year to year, what won’t change much is the format and structure of the exam. That means you can familiarise yourself with the format of the exam, which could save you several minutes on the day as you work through the papers.

The Higher Chemistry past papers can be found on the SQA exam board’s website, where you’ll find four papers dating from 2016 to 2019.

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Exam Overview

To give you a clear idea of what to expect on exam day, in this section we’re going to provide an overview of the Higher Chemistry exam based on the past papers on the SQA website.

There are two papers you’ll need to complete as part of the exam, which from now on we’ll refer to as paper 1 and paper 2.

Paper 1 is made up of multiple choice questions, while paper 2 is a purely written exam.

You will have a data book for each of the papers, and together the two papers will make up 80% of your overall mark, with the other 20% coming from your assignment.

For each of the papers, you will be allowed to use a pen, a ruler, and a calculator, so if you’re doing a practice run with a past paper make sure you have this equipment handy when you start the clock.

Paper 1 - Multiple Choice

multiple choice
Multiple-choice exams are the best - but you still have to study for them!

In the first paper, you will have 40 minutes to compete for 25 marks. This works out at roughly a minute and a half for each mark.

With that in mind, you shouldn’t rush through the questions. Equally, if you feel like you’re dwelling too much on a single question, skip over it and go back to it at the end.

Ideally, you’ll want some time at the end of the exam to go back over and double check the answers to all of the questions.

As such, a good amount of time to spend on each question is 45 seconds to a minute if possible.

While this might sound ambitious and you may question your ability to read a question and answer it in such a short amount of time, this is a multiple choice exam so it shouldn’t be too challenging to pick an answer.

However, that’s not to say that just because it’s multiple choice you can breeze through the exam and finish early.

Time Yourself

We recommend that as you’re going through the multiple-choice sections on the past papers, you time yourself.

Try not to exceed a minute for each response, and that way you can train yourself to read the questions and possible answers quickly, so that on exam day you’re less likely to get flustered and panic.

This is a great way to make the most of your time spent working through the past papers, since it’s an active approach to revision as opposed to simply going through each question at your own pace.

You should always do your best to replicate exam conditions when possible, since this is the situation you’ll be in when the day arrives.

Plus, who knows, you might even enjoy the competitive element that working against the clock brings out in you!

In the worst case scenario that you don’t know the answer to a certain question, you have a 25% of guessing it right so use your deductive logic to rule out answers you feel are wrong and go from there.

Follow the Instructions

There isn’t much to know about completing multiple choice exams, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the instructions on the paper before you get stuck in.

You need to know how to change an answer if you pick the wrong one, and how to complete the grid so that the computer can read it.

All of the information you’ll need can be found within the first two pages of the booklet, so take the time before the exam starts to thoroughly review it. If you have any questions at all, raise your hand and ask one of the invigilators.

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Paper 2 - Written

The second paper is worth 95 points, and you’ll have a generous 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete it.

Don’t take that generosity for granted though. You’ll want to make sure you have ample time after you’ve finished the paper to go back over your answers and check for mistakes.

For this paper you’ll have a single booklet that has all of the questions, with spaces for your answers beneath.

If you find that you have run out of space when answering a question, then you can use the blank pages at the end of the exam paper, though you’ll have to label them for the examiner.

There are also extra diagrams and graphs at the back of the exam paper, in case you need to have another crack at one of those.

writing with fountain pen
The second paper is far trickier than the first, so you'll need to brush up on your writing skills.

Marking Criteria

To do well on Paper 2 of your Higher Chemistry exam, you’ll need to get familiar with the marking criteria. This is what will tell you how the examiner is going to mark your work, so you can understand what skills are important to demonstrate.

Once you know and understand the marking criteria, you can keep them in mind as you go through your past papers.

Here are just a few of the main marking criteria you’ll need to focus on to pass the exam:

  • Applying Knowledge

Applying knowledge means using what you already know to figure out new problems that you haven’t encountered before. That could mean taking an existing concept and applying it to a new context.

  • Planning Experiments

To succeed in the exam, you need to show that you are capable of designing and planning out an experiment based on the information you’re provided.

  • Presenting Information

Presenting information means that you need to be able to convey concepts and ideas through various mediums such as tables and graphs.

  • Making Generalisations

In the exam you may be asked to examine a set of data and then make a generalisation or prediction based on the information to describe a trend or guess at the missing value.

Question Types

As you go through the past papers, you’ll notice that there are a number of ways in which the questions are framed.

It’s rare that you’ll find several questions in a row that follow the same format, so you need to be able to determine exactly what the question is asking to put yourself in the best position to answer it correctly.

Here are some examples of question types that you’ll come across in the Higher Chemistry exam:

  • Identify

Questions that ask you to identify or name often require a simple response, so a short answer will suffice.

  • Evaluate

Questions that ask you to evaluate will often provide you with information about an experiment, and invite you to evaluate its design.

  • Explain Fully

There’s a difference between questions that ask you merely to explain, and those which ask you to explain fully. A simple explanation will suffice for the former, but for the latter type of question you’ll need to go into more detail as they will be worth a couple more marks.

  • Determine

Questions that ask you to determine or calculate will require you to give a numerical answer.

  • Predict

Question that ask you to predict assume a prior knowledge of the subject or concept, and require you to take an educated guess.

  • Using your knowledge of chemistry

Similar to the last type of question, the question that begins ‘using your knowledge of chemistry’ is about making predictions. However, with this question, you’ll need to draw upon concepts you’ve come across before and explain how they might be connected or linked. This is one of the more tricky questions you’ll encounter in the exam, since it requires more than just a straightforward answer. You’ll want to go into as much detail as possible to nail these types of questions, as they’ll usually be worth 3 marks and there are normally two in every paper.

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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.