A-Level Chemistry: what it’s like and how you can succeed
Are you studying A-Level Chemistry? It has the reputation of being difficult, but in this article and podcast interview, expert A-Level Chemistry tutor Keerti Purmessur explains how to study this subject, enjoy it and succeed!
Listen to the podcast using the player above, or click here to listen in your Apple podcast app or search for The School Success Formula wherever you listen to podcasts. Or, keep reading for a summary of the conversation and links to all the resources we discuss in the podcast interview.
Who is Keerti Purmessur?
Keerti Purmessuris a Cambridge graduate (she studied Natural Sciences). She qualified to teach on the Teach First programme after completing two Masters degrees and has been working full time very successfully as a private science, maths, chemistry and psychology tutor for several years.
Keerti is brilliant at helping students to strategise their learning and turn around their achievement even in subjects that they find really challenging.
In her spare time, Keerti enjoys cooking as well as going to the theatre and various gigs. She also loves travelling and is currently planning her next big solo trip!
Keerti has also created these masterclasses for The Extraordinaries Club:
- How to Revise A-Level Psychology
- How to Revise GCSE Biology
- How to Revise GCSE Chemistry
- How to Revise GCSE Physics
How hard is A-Level Chemistry? It's got a reputation for being really hard, but is that true?
It's not one of the hardest A-Levels, but it does require a range of skills that some students find jarring when they first start. It's half-way between A-Level Biology, in that it requires lots of memorising, and A-Level Physics, in that it requires lots of application of knowledge and use of maths. If you're also studying A-Level maths, A-Level physics and A-Level biology you'll definitely have the same skills that you'll need to do well in A-Level chemistry.
A lot of students struggle with the mental concept of chemistry – when they start year 12 they think it's going to be really hard and this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, just like other subjects if you're consistent and you have a plan you'll do well.
One academic coaching client of Lucy's was studying A-Level chemistry alongside English Literature and psychology. They struggled because they didn't have the complementary subjects that really backed-up the skills and knowledge they were learning in chemistry.
Keerti believes that some teachers are such experts in their subject that they've almost forgotten what it's like to be a beginner. But the skills you've learned in your GCSEs will help you and the masterclasses inside The Extraordinaries Club e.g. on A-Level maths and A-Level biology can really help with hints and tips for how to approach A-Level Chemistry. Don't stick yourself in a subject silo – learn what you can from how to approach other subjects.Don't stick yourself in a subject silo - learn what you can from how to approach other subjects. Click To Tweet
Is A-Level Chemistry worth it?
It's very well respected, like A-Level maths, and there are some careers like medicine that are virtually impossible to get into if you don't have A-Level chemistry. This is because chemistry requires a wide range of skills which are really useful for any STEM subject.
It's also becoming increasingly important for any students who want to apply to universities in America because they offer broader degrees – chemistry is the science subject that universities love.
How big a jump is it from GCSE science to A-Level chemistry?
It's a pretty big jump. The amount of chemistry content covered in chemistry GCSE is barely recapped, often gone over in about a month, at A-Level and some students find this difficult to keep up with.
Everything you learn at GCSE is a helpful foundation for what you learn at A-Level. Some people believe that what you're taught at GCSE is a ‘lie' – this isn't the case, it's just that at A-Level they teach you more detailed and accurate models of how things work at a sub-atomic level. But, it will definitely help you to have a very strong grasp of your GCSE material when you start A-Level chemistry. It's a good idea to do some summer work in advance, and particularly recap your mathematical skills e.g. your basics on how to calculate your reacting masses and gas volumes. Those things won't necessarily be addressed again.
This is why a lot of schools and colleges will ask you to have a Grade 7 at GCSE to do A-Level Chemistry. If you're looking for resources to get properly up to speed with GCSE Chemistry, before you start studying at A-Level the Extraordinaries Club masterclass, How to Revise GCSE Chemistry, is a great place to refresh your memory.
How should you study A-Level Chemistry?
A-Level Chemistry isn't the sort of subject where you can postpone learning certain aspects. You need to have your solid foundation and build on it, week by week, as you go through the course. This isn't hard to do if you're really well planned.
It's like building a house. You need strong foundations, which is your GCSE knowledge. You don't build the first floor before you've built the ground floor – you just build the house, from the foundations upwards, course of bricks, by course of bricks, by course of bricks until you've got the whole house.
What's the best way to start A-Level chemistry successfully?
1. Start with a really strong grasp on your chemistry calculations.
This is often one of the first topics covered. Back titrations is one of the calculations students find challenging so look at that in particular. This is something most students are familiar with from GCSE, so it does give you a bit of breathing space to get used to how things are being done differently at the beginning of the sixth form.
2. Break down questions and draw diagrams
Keerti will be going into more detail with how to do this in the How to Revise A-Level Chemistry Masterclass.
3. Make a list of resources
There are so many YouTube channels, websites and revision guides out there now that you don't need a really big textbook. Keerti will be sharing a list of quality online resources in the How to Revise A-Level Chemistry Masterclass.
You can refer to your list as and when you need it as you go through the year.
4. Start the sixth form with a really solid routine
Make sure you have a strong weekly routine that includes revision and recapping. You need to do this right from the beginning and not start six or nine months into the course. Be consistent from the beginning and the pay-off is huge – it's well respected, you come out with a great range of skills and you have a wide range of quality degree courses open to you.
What revision mistakes do students make with A-Level Chemistry?
Students tend to not really realise how much they need to memorise and apply. They will either jump right into doing practice questions without taking the time to memorise, or spend all their time memorising and not doing any practice questions. You need to make time to do both if you're going to reach your potential.
In the How to Revise A-Level Chemistry Masterclass Keerti talks about concept cards which are a quick way of summarising and remembering things and you can use these in conjunction with the Revision Power Hour for practising past paper questions.
Just like any other subject, students often get drawn into making beautiful revision notes when there just isn't time for this. The How to Revise A-Level Chemistry Masterclass will share some of the tricks of the trade so you don't waste your time on revision strategies that don't help.
Another tip for A-Level chemistry revision is to plan your revision ahead of time, and keep track of where you're at with a spreadsheet, which is something that was also covered in the How to Revise A-Level Biology Masterclass.
In summary, this is how to revise for A-Level chemistry:
- Make notes (but not beautiful overly long ones)
- Do practice paper questions
- Keep track of where you're at
Should you be doing anything in addition to classwork and homework to excel in A-Level Chemistry?
Chemistry is a very broad subject and the content is the same across all exam boards. Teachers will teach you the basics, but don't have the time to do more, so will expect you to go and do some reading to fully understand concepts and understand how they work in real life.
So, to excel in A-Level Chemistry you need to be:
- Doing extra reading
- Looking at Chem Guide
- Watching YouTube videos
This will help you to apply your knowledge to whatever questions you have in the exam because you have a broader and deeper understanding of the concepts you have learned. It will also help when you go for interviews in STEM based subjects such as medicine because chemistry A-Level teaches you the theory, but doesn't necessarily go into how it is applied – but you can be asked questions like this in interviews.
It is also worth checking out questions from other exam boards as well – the content is the same but you will learn to apply your knowledge in different ways.
How do you approach the practical aspects of chemistry?
Chemistry requires a knowledge of practical skills that many students find challenging. This includes reactants and conditions.
There are lots of YouTube channels where they carry out the experiment right in front of you such as Free Science. As you're going through the experiments at school, make sure you watch these videos and make sure you're making notes on them.
You can also make a list of reactants and add to it as you go along, learning them as you go.
In summary – don't be scared of A-Level Chemistry!
If you type ‘A-Level Chemistry' into Google there are lots of scare stories – but people have been studying it for decades and studying it well. If you have a plan and you're consistent, you can do it! And, that feeling when you truly understand it is golden, there's nothing like it.
Join the How to Revise A-Level Chemistry Masterclass
If you'd like Keerti's detailed advice on how to approach your A-Level Chemistry, you need to do the How to Revise A-Level Chemistry Masterclass in The Extraordinaries Club. In the Masterclass Keerti covers:
Click here to sign-up for the How to Revise A-Level Chemistry Masterclass.