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Guide to A Level Chemistry

A Level Chemistry is widely considered one of the most challenging A Levels. At SLT, we have helped students achieve As and A*s in Chemistry since 2009. Our guide contains essential guidance and resources to optimise your chances of securing high grades.

How hard is A Level Chemistry?

Chemistry has a reputation for being one of the most challenging A Levels. Firstly, there is generally considered to be a bigger step up from GCSE to A Level Chemistry than there is for many other subjects. The A Level syllabus does not simply build on the GCSE syllabus but deepens it considerably – concepts which were introduced at GCSE get developed almost beyond recognition at A Level.

The key change is that the A Level is designed to ensure that students understand and apply all of the concepts they are studying – not just memorise and regurgitate them. As such, the exam questions for A Level Chemistry are written in a way which does not guide you towards the answer, but rather requires you to problem-solve and show your reasoning.

The A Level syllabus also includes a large number of scientific and chemical equations to remember. Although the level of mathematical ability required to apply these is not too high, students who are averse to Maths are often put off by this.

Finally, as mentioned above, the mark schemes are very specific and do not give students the benefit of the doubt – examiners must be completely certain that you have understood every process in getting to the correct answer before they will award you full marks. That is why it is vital to write down every step of your reasoning and calculation clearly and explicitly.

Despite all this, however, around 1 in 8 of the 50,000 students who take A Level Chemistry each year achieve an A* – this is roughly in line with other science subjects like Biology and Physics. So while Chemistry is a very challenging A Level, with a good degree of application, well-structured revision, and support from a good teacher or private Chemistry tutor, top grades are achievable.

How to get the best grade in A Level Chemistry

There are several tried and tested ways to improve your grades.

Regular revision: Revision should not be a period of last-minute cramming in the days before the exam, but rather a regular habit of consolidation and reinforcement. This begins with taking clear, well-organised notes on the topics you are covering in school, as you cover them. If you encounter any challenges or do not understand something, ask you teacher or tutor, or make use of the online resources available (we have linked to some below).

Exam practice: The vital final step of revision is past paper practice. To begin with, take as much time as you need to answer the questions. You can also work open-book to help you address any questions you find challenging.

When you first start with exam practice, the object of the exercise is to familiarise yourself with the types of questions asked – and, crucially, how the examiners want you to answer them. Consult the mark schemes and examiners’ reports, comparing your answers with the model answers, to see how you would have scored. Remember that A Level Chemistry examiners stick closely to the mark scheme and do not give students the benefit of the doubt if their answer is unclear.

In the final weeks before the exam, you should sit past papers under test conditions (without access to notes and keeping strictly to the time limits) to simulate what it will be like on the day itself. Improving your time management skills and building up your experience under exam pressure could make the difference between grades.

Exam technique: A Level Chemistry examiners are notorious for sticking closely to the mark scheme and not rewarding answers which deviate from it. That is why examiners’ reports and mark schemes from previous years are a vital resource in your revision – make sure you have thoroughly reviewed the relevant documents for your exam board for the previous few years’ exams. This will ensure you know which answers get rewarded and which lose marks.

A few key principles will help you avoid the most common mistakes:

  1. Make sure you clearly and legibly write down every point needed to answer the question in full. Examiners cannot assume that you knew what you meant, so make sure you write it down. There is usually one mark per point or calculation step.
  2. If it isn’t given in the question itself, remember to explicitly state the chemical or scientific equation you are using. There is usually a mark for this.
  3. For questions which require calculations, show your working clearly for each step of the calculation. Do not leave any steps out, even if you think it is obvious or implied how you get from one step to another.

Tuition: When aiming for top grades, one-on-one sessions with an experienced private Chemistry tutor can be the difference between success and disappointment. Unlike in group classes, a 1-1 tutor adapts their teaching to your individual needs. They’ll speed through topics you grasp easily and make sure to spend enough time on those you find challenging, ensuring you’re working as productively as possible. At Simply Learning Tuition, all the tutors we work with are highly qualified teachers and seasoned exam board experts, who are experienced at guiding students from the first day of the A Level course all the way up to the exams. Our intervention typically improves students’ performance by 1-3 grades.

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How to revise for A Level Chemistry

As mentioned above, successful revision does not begin in the immediate run-up to exams, but is an ongoing process throughout the two years of the A Level Chemistry course. However, when the final exams are 2-3 months away, your revision will need to step up a gear. You should create a revision timetable to structure your revision. Review the syllabus and ensure you have allocated enough time in your timetable to cover each topic – accounting for the fact that some topics will require more work than others.

For each topic, you should begin by revisiting the basic concepts which the rest of the topic is built on, and committing all of the relevant chemical equations and formulae to memory. Then it is time to apply your knowledge – work through a variety of example problems for that topic to consolidate your skills and understanding.

Popular revision techniques include creating flashcards, teaching a peer or a parent the topic you have just revised, and consolidating your notes down to one piece of paper for each topic. You may already have discovered from your GCSE revision which techniques work best for you; if not, experiment with these and use the ones which help the knowledge stick best.

The final stage in effective revision is past paper practice. Make sure to do this under timed conditions in the final weeks before the exam. And don’t neglect to review the examiners’ reports and mark schemes for your exam board – these contain vital advice on where the all-important marks are won and lost.

Exam boards and specifications

Please see below a list of the most popular exam boards for A Level Chemistry, with a link to their specifications:

A Level Chemistry learning resources

We have compiled a list below to some of the most common topics which students struggle with, with a link to a learning resource on each topic.

Past papers

Review A Level Chemistry past papers for all the major exam boards.

Frequently asked questions

Is A Level Chemistry hard?

Chemistry has a reputation as one of the most challenging A Levels. It represents a very significant step up from GCSE (perhaps more so than many other subjects), and the mark scheme is notoriously strict and unforgiving. However, the number of students achieving an A* in Chemistry is in line with other science subjects. With hard work, well planned revision and the support of an experienced teacher or tutor, high grades are achievable.

What is A Level in Chemistry?

A Level (short for Advanced Level) Chemistry is a two-year qualification, typically taken by students aged 16-18 in the UK. It is the highest level of Chemistry qualification available to school students, one level higher than GCSE.

What do you study in A Level Chemistry?

The exact syllabus will vary by exam board, but most specifications include three core areas of study – physical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and organic chemistry.

Physical chemistry includes topics like atomic structure, bonding, kinetics and acids and bases. Included in the inorganic chemistry specification are periodicity, transition metals, and halogens. Organic chemistry involves the study of organic synthesis, polymers, and carboxylic acids, among other topics.

Many syllabuses also include practical assessments alongside written exams. The exams require students not just to regurgitate learned content but to understand concepts in chemistry and apply them to new problems.

Can I get an A * in A Level Chemistry?

A Level Chemistry is a demanding subject, and only around 1 in 8 students secure an A* in their final exams. To optimise your chances of success, we recommend regular consolidation of your knowledge throughout the curriculum. When it comes to revision, create a clear and organised timetable, giving yourself plenty of time to cover all of the topics in the syllabus. Make sure you do plenty of past paper practice, and review the mark schemes and examiners’ reports for the exam board you are taking to see how the exams are marked. We advise working with an experienced 1-1 Chemistry tutor who can help you get to grips with the syllabus and master exam technique, in order to give you the best chance of achieving an A*.