Chemistry is a fascinating subject full of equations and formulas, yet it’s all grounded in the world around us.

Despite the fact that many people throw it in with maths as one of those subjects that seems like endless number crunching and problem-solving, the material is very practical and focussed on matter and its properties.

The first tip we’ll give you to pass higher chemistry is this: think about what first made you interested in chemistry.

Maybe you were pushed into taking higher chemistry by parents, teachers, or peer pressure. Maybe you took it in the hope that it would set you on a path to future career and financial success. Whatever your reasons for taking the subject, there has undoubtedly been a moment or two in which you really engaged with the material or something piqued your curiosity.

Once you have that moment in mind, store it, as this is the feeling you need to focus on to keep you motivated with your studies.

person holding tube
Focus on your enjoyment of the subject, and studying should feel like less of a grind.

Revising for any exam can be boring and monotonous.

But if you have internal motivation, which is to say you’re focusing on what interests you about the subject rather than focusing on external factors such as the money you could make one day, you’re more likely to push through the dull moments.

If possible, tap into your curiosity about chemistry from time to time, if anything just to remind yourself that there can be pleasure in diving deeper and learning more.

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Prepare and Review

It’s no secret that you need to revise the material thoroughly if you hope to do well in the higher chemistry exam. However, it’s arguably the case that preparing the material is equally as important as reviewing it afterwards.

How many times have you actually taken the time to look into the material that will come up in your next chemistry class?

If the answer is never, then this is something you need to make a priority going forward.

By preparing the material before you tackle it in class, you can prime your brain for understanding, even if at first glance you don’t grasp everything that’s going on.

Just by exposing yourself in some small way to the material, whether that means looking over a textbook page or watching a short video, you can set yourself up well to comprehend it when the teacher goes over it in class.

One of the easiest ways to fall behind in any subject is to put in zero effort outside of class.

If you show up every day to class expecting to just absorb all of the material through osmosis, you might get an unpleasant surprise come exam day.

While there are, of course, students that get away with this approach, one day the luck will wear off.

Assume that you are not one of the lucky few that has a photographic memory - if that were true, how would you memorize all the ideas and concepts thrown at you in each class?

Revising it a day or two before the exam, or going into each lesson having explored the material for yourself beforehand?

At the very least, by preparing the material ahead of time, you will be familiar with the names of the concepts that are brought up so you won’t need to ask your friend when you mishear the teacher.

But most of the time, this approach will set you up well for success in the classroom and on exam day.

This is because you will be predisposed to understand the material, having some familiarity with it before your teacher breaks it down in detail.

By tackling the material ahead of time, you can also identify any questions you have in advance, so you can fill the gaps in your knowledge during class rather than going home with more questions than answers.

This approach is also likely to help you feel like you aren’t in over your head, since showing up each day with no prior knowledge of the material can cause stress and make you feel like you’re always struggling to keep up.

Master Note-taking

man taking notes
Note-taking is a skill you need to master if you want to absorb your chemistry teacher's words.

Preparing the material in advance is only half the battle, though.

If you truly want to succeed and make sure you are 100% ready for the exam when the time comes, then you’ll want to focus on taking the best notes you can in class.

All the preparation in the world will go to waste if you’re note-taking skills are sub-par.

One of the biggest issues many students have when it comes to absorbing information and revising is having poor notes to sift through. If you fail to prepare and a few days out from the exam you check your notes in a desperate attempt to cram all the knowledge you’ll need, you'd better hope that the notes are concise and accurate.

More often than not, though, the notes you make will be hard-to-read, rushed, and only make sense in the context of the class you took them in. So how do you master the art of note-taking?

Well, the first thing to do is to stop thinking of it as a passive skill.

Note-taking should be so much more than just roughly transcribing what the teacher says. It should be concise summaries and descriptions of concepts and ideas that you write in your own words.

Simply copying what the teacher says down in writing won’t get you very far, and likely won’t serve you well in your revision.

That’s because if you’re so focussed on jotting down everything the teacher says verbatim, you aren’t forcing your brain to make connections with the material and you probably aren’t paying full attention to what is actually being said.

Instead of mindlessly scrawling down notes, try this instead - actively listen to the teacher, and once they’ve finished explaining an idea or concept, write down in your own words how you understand it.

It’s possible that you don’t write a perfect explanation, and that’s fine. The important part is that you fully listen and give yourself a good chance of actually wrapping your head around the material.

Plus, when you write from memory you’ll build stronger neural connections to the material which will make recall easier during revision and in the exam.

Hands-on Revision

test tubes
Hands-on time in the lab is a great way to internalise the material and experiments.

While note-taking and understanding theory is critical to doing well in the higher chemistry exam, the subject is practical above all else.

Chemistry is a hands-on subject, which means a hands-on approach to studying it should be implemented into your revision somehow.

Not everyone is going to have access to a lab or the means to conduct their own experiments, and that’s ok.

You can focus on lab work and hands-on experimentation whenever you get an opportunity at school, and if you are allowed to enter the lab outside of class hours, it’s a good idea to make the most of it.

At home, though, hands-on learning means problem-solving.

This isn’t the most glamorous part of learning chemistry, unfortunately, but it’s crucial for doing well in the subject.

Just like with maths, chemistry is full of formulas and equations that you’re expected to work through ad nauseum which can result in an awful lot of number-crunching and logical reasoning.

This might take a toll on your sanity from time to time, but it’s necessary.

As well as reviewing your notes and understanding theory through videos, classes, and more, you should also be putting what you have learned into practise.

That means you need to commit at least half an hour or more a day on the lead-up to the exam to solving equations and formulas.

A good place to start would be with the higher chemistry past papers, since you can tackle the very questions that students in previous years had to solve.

Once you have the format of the questions in the past papers down, what you can then do is make up your own questions which adhere to the same format. If you are able to create and then solve your own formulas and equations, then you demonstrate a deep understanding of the concept and will be far more likely to nail it in the exam.

A good rule of thumb when working on your problem-solving skills is to avoid the answer key at all costs.

The answer key can of course be very helpful for going through past papers and making sure you’re on the right track with your workings out, but only look at it once you have an answer for yourself.

If you get stuck on a certain problem, give it a few minutes and then return to it. If you develop a habit of looking at the answer key the moment you can’t figure something out, then you’re conditioning your brain to shy away from challenge.

This is the last thing you want to do, since if you go on to do advanced higher chemistry the challenge will be greater, so you need to prepare for that.

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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.