Chemistry has a reputation for being one of the most difficult A-Levels available. Even the brightest students can struggle with the amount of content and complexity. To get an A* in A-Level Chemistry, you’ll need to work hard, stay motivated, and employ all of the strategies that have previously helped students succeed.
We asked one of the best A-Level Chemistry Tutors out there to share some of his top tips for getting the best grades in A-Level Chemistry in this article. Andrew Wallace has 15 years of experience as a professional Chemistry tutor, specialising in A level Chemistry and Biology.
To get ahead in A-Level Chemistry, you should prepare ahead of time and review the material shortly afterward to ensure that you understand it. Organic synthesis, calculations, and compound tests are the three major topics that frequently appear as large-mark questions in exams when it comes to learning the material.
It takes a long time to revise for A-Level Chemistry, but the best methods are to complete past papers and make an effort to understand rather than just memorise the concepts. Also, to improve your knowledge of the course and exams, read the examiners’ report and the specification.
1. Don’t Let Organic Synthesis Get in the Way of Your A*
Synthesis of organic compounds
Organic synthesis is an essential component of any A-Level Chemistry programme. Organic synthesis questions can cover mechanisms, reactions, conditions, bonding, and a variety of other chemistry topics. It may appear impossible at first to learn how each compound interacts with the others, but the best advice for remembering it all is to make a flowchart.
Your flowchart should include the following items if you want to get an A* on your A-Level Chemistry exam:
The compound formula with R groups that is displayed works best!
Bonding and compound structure
Links to other compounds, along with their conditions, reagents, and reaction type
Mechanisms that are relevant
Tests for the substances
There is clearly a lot of information to try to fit into one diagram, but colour coding and abbreviations can really help when it comes to condensing the data into something presentable!
Making diagrams, in my experience, takes a long time (start as soon as possible), but it’s extremely useful for revision and the exam, especially if you’re a visual learner.
Making a flowchart is an excellent way to revise organic chemistry because it requires you to conduct research and pull information from your textbook. It’s important to keep in mind that some compounds and reactions aren’t clearly displayed in your textbook, so check with your teacher to see if you missed anything!
2. Practice Calculation Questions for A-Level Chemistry
Calculations for A-Level Chemistry
Many students are surprised by how much math is required in the A-Level Chemistry course. Maths is a common subject to study alongside Chemistry, but don’t worry if you don’t know how to answer A-Level Chemistry maths questions.
Practice is the first and most obvious piece of advice. The more you practise with calculation questions, the more comfortable you will become with them. To get the best marks on chemistry calculation questions, you must follow specific steps and write down specific calculations. Once you practise and learn the steps to take, calculations will become second nature.
The next step is to learn all of the formulae and when to use them. Some of the formulas will be provided on the formula sheet, but not all, so make sure you memorise them. Formula triangles are preferred by many students over straight written formulas because they are easier to visualise and rearrange. Every question will include mole calculations, so any formulas relating to moles are especially important to know!
Some Chemistry A-Level textbooks include a maths section with questions and explanations, but these are frequently incomplete and do not reflect exam questions. Hundreds of maths practise questions relating to every topic are included in Calculations in AS/A Level Chemistry, along with detailed explanations on how to find the correct answer. It’s quite pricey, so you might want to have your school or local library order it for you; if you do decide to buy it, it’ll be well worth your money!
3. Know Each of Your A-Level Chemistry Compound Tests
Compound Testing in A-Level Chemistry
Although the various tests for different compounds are a relatively simple part of the Chemistry A-Level course, many students overlook their importance. It’s likely that you’ll get at least one six-mark question on the tests for various compounds on your exams. This could be phrased as a practical question or a calculation question, but knowing which test to take will earn you important points.
Make sure to include the reagent, conditions, colour or appearance change, and the new compound formula in any question about compound tests. Make sure you include any relevant equations, such as Ag+(aq) + e- = Ag(aq) for Tollen’s reagent.
Many students make the simple mistake of describing a solution as ‘clear’ in any question involving colour change or reactions – do not write this! You must say ‘colourless’ because a solution can be clear but still have a colour. Some exam questions will ask you to discuss the tests for several compounds; in this case, you should try to give a different example for each compound or you risk losing marks.
Creating a grid is the most effective way to revise compound tests. On one side of your grid, you’ll need every common compound, and on the other, you’ll need the conditions, changes, and reagents. To make this easier to understand, you could add some colour or drawings.
4. Do not rely solely on memorization of A-Level Chemistry notes.
A-Level Content Memorization
Due to the large amount of material covered in A-Level Chemistry, students frequently become overwhelmed and attempt to memorise everything. Straight memorising may help you with end-of-chapter questions or learning your flashcards, but you will be limited to lower grades on the real exams. Chemistry A-Level exams have become increasingly focused on problem solving and questions that connect topics. So, if you want to get an A* in A-Level Chemistry, you must understand the concepts completely! Understanding the concepts takes time and effort, and it necessitates much more than a few scribbled notes.
The most crucial aspect is to ask a lot of questions. Many students are concerned about bothering their teachers or asking stupid questions, but there are no such things as stupid questions, as almost every teacher has stated. Get as much help from your teachers as you can because they have years of experience and will be able to explain much more than the textbook can.
To fully comprehend chemistry, it is critical to learn from your mistakes; whenever you get an incorrect answer, take the time to figure out what went wrong and keep redoing the question until the concept clicks. It can be tedious to repeat the same style questions, but it is worthwhile in the end.
5. Prepare for Each of Your Lessons and Don’t Forget to Revise Afterward
Chemistry Lesson for A Level
Sitting in a lesson and feeling as if your teacher is speaking in another language is a common experience among A-Level Chemistry students. To begin with, chemistry is a very perplexing subject, so don’t be alarmed! You must prepare for the lesson in advance if you want to overcome this confusion and achieve those As and A*s.
Before you begin, all you need to do is read the next chapter; this will suffice to familiarise yourself with key terms and ensure a basic understanding of the concepts. If you want to be even more prepared, try taking some notes or making flashcards on the subject – not only will this save you time later when working on revision materials, but you’ll also feel more confident and ready to learn when you walk into your lesson. If learning one topic while also attempting to teach yourself the next seems overwhelming, take a look at this useful article on creating a revision schedule.
Once you’ve started learning the new topic, you should review it later – this is the best way to solidify your understanding and retain it in your long-term memory.
The following are some excellent ways to consolidate your knowledge:
Exam questions about the subject
Making flashcards to help you remember what you’ve learned
Designing a poster
Creating a mental map
Someone else is being taught.
6. Attempt as many A-Level Chemistry past papers as possible.
Past Papers for A-Level
Although taking notes, flashcards, and mind maps can be helpful, past papers should be the cornerstone of your A-Level Chemistry revision.
Many students who received A*s completed every practise paper they could find; by doing so, they improved their exam technique and learned where marks came from in different question styles. Make a list of all the past papers you can find and check them off as you finish them; this will help you keep track of your progress and stay organised. Past papers can be found on your exam board’s website or on Physics and Maths Tutor.
Never go straight to the mark scheme when doing a past paper. Always try to answer the question first, then use the mark scheme to annotate your answer and figure out why you got the question wrong. After you’ve finished a paper, go over it again a few weeks later to see if your understanding has improved.
Many students make the mistake of sticking to lower mark questions and avoiding the 8-10 mark questions when doing past papers; make an effort to practise these longer questions because even half marks can improve your grade.
7. Use the Exam Board’s Specification and Exam notes while studying
You must read the examiners’ report and use the specification to get an A* in A-Level Chemistry. The examiners’ report is the third document that comes with every past paper and mark scheme; it goes over each question and points out common errors from all over the country.
You won’t make the same mistakes as other students if you read the examiners’ report, and you’ll be able to spot where the marks come from in the real exam. There are some common questions or topics that will distinguish between low and high scorers; the examiners’ report will help you anticipate what those topics might be and how to get full marks.
The exam board also provides a specification document, which you can download from their website. Use the specification as a revision checklist because it breaks down everything you’ll need to know for the course. The specification is a simple way to stay organised, and because it has already been laid out for you, you are less likely to overlook certain skills.
You can also color-code the specification to show how confident you are in each area – you want everything to be green by the time you sit your exams!
8. Make Sure You’re Using a Wide Range of Chemistry Resources
Chemistry A-Level Class
Although your textbook teaches you the content and can be helpful, you will be limited to lower grades if you do not use other resources. Using a variety of resources is critical because it allows you to expand your knowledge and learn to approach problems from different perspectives.
If you’re having trouble understanding a concept, watching YouTube videos can really help you understand it in a new way – this is especially true if you’re a visual learner. MaChemGuy is a channel that comes highly recommended; he has a lot of A-Level Chemistry revision videos that are both useful and quick to watch. For AQA A-Level Chemistry, Eliot Rintoul has some excellent videos. Khan Academy has hundreds of chemistry videos, all of which are around ten minutes long and go into greater detail.
Chemguide is a great website that clearly explains every A-Level Chemistry topic and gives lots of detail if you want to read more to supplement your textbook.
Mathematics and physics As I previously stated, Tutor has a lot of past papers, but they also have links to premade flashcards, videos, and question papers on specific topics if you want to focus on one.
9. If You Want to Get an A* in A-Level Chemistry, Stay Motivated
Chemistry at A-Level can be extremely draining, and it can feel like a very long two years. Many students become demotivated as a result of the length of time it takes for everything to come together.
Many students will gain confidence in other subjects once they begin A2, and everything will become a little bit easier. Most chemistry students won’t start feeling confident until a few months before their exam. Students frequently go from receiving Ds and Cs on their February mock exams to receiving As and A*s on their final exams.
If you’re concerned about your progress, don’t let it take over your life; instead, take steps to alleviate your anxiety. The most important thing is to work as hard as you possibly can; you don’t want to look at your results and feel like you could have done better.
Asking for help from your teachers, parents, and tutors is crucial; they have the best understanding of your progress and can help you improve your revision and gain confidence.