A Level Chemistry 101: An Ultimate Guide

Everyone says that chemistry is the hardest science at A Level and although that’s not necessarily the case, a lot of people do struggle with it so I thought I’d share some of my favourite resources and tips for each of the major topics!

Contents:

  1. Inorganic Chemistry
  2. Organic Chemistry
  3. Physical Chemistry
  4. Calculations
  5. Practicals

Inorganic Chemistry

I’m not sure how the exam boards break it up, but basically I’m including anything relating to non-organic molecules in this section – so all the periodicity bits and anything to do with specific reactions!

How to tackle it:

This topic involves a lot of reactions so I’d make sure that you know exactly which ones you will be examined on and learn those – I found that flashcards were most effective for this as all you can really do is go over them again and again until they stick in your mind. I personally used Quizlet for this as I always forget to carry physical flashcards around with me but it’s totally up to you. One thing that you may want to consider is that other students may have uploaded flashcards to Quizlet for your course so it saves you having to make them for yourself.

I would also say that doing past paper questions is really helpful for this topic as a lot of questions are repeated each year but they discuss different molecules. Once you’ve figured out what key words and phrases they’re looking for the questions become pretty formulaic and you can easily bang them out in the exam without any problems.

My favourite resources:
General tips:

I think that there are a few things that you definitely can’t neglect in this topic – it may be tempting to just focus on reaction equations, but you may need to know other details like its appearance and the conditions under which it occurs so make sure that you note those down too. You should also make sure that you know your patterns down a group and across a period as these questions always come up in exams are they’re super easy marks so you don’t want to miss them!

Organic Chemistry

I really didn’t like this topic when I was at school but honestly it’s not that bad, you just need a little more time to wrap your head around it than some of the other topics.

How to tackle it:

Reactions are everything in this topic so make sure that you know exactly what you’re expected to know for each reaction. Usually you need to know the reagents, the conditions and the mechanism but there are some cases where you don’t need to learn the mechanism so it’s always worth checking!

This brings me to the next point: LEARN THOSE MECHANISMS INSIDE OUT! Learn where the arrows go, learn where to put your brackets, learn where you need to draw the electrons – all of this is important for gaining full marks in the exams so you can’t neglect any of the details. They’re also really important for questions where you’re expected to come up with a synthesis pathway to create a specific compound as you’ll need a good understanding of different reactions to create one.

My favourite resources:
General tips:

The number one takeaway for this section is that you need to know those mechanisms like the back of your hand, I really can’t overstate how important it is that you know all the reactions in this section. Also, if you’re currently studying for your A2 exams then try picking two random molecules and just figuring out a pathway between them. Once you get used to thinking about where you need to add or take away certain groups it becomes much easier than before.

Also, don’t neglect other sections like compound analysis as these can come up a lot! You’ll often get extended questions which involve interpreting NMR or mass spec in some way along with looking at different chemical analysis tests to identify a certain type of organic compound so make sure that you know how to read the graphs and you learn the different results of chemical tests.

Physical Chemistry

Even though I despise anything physics-related, I actually really enjoyed this topic and I think it might have been my favourite one out of the whole course. Some people find it a bit tricky to wrap their heads around because there’s a lot of concepts that you link together but with a bit of practice you’ll be able to get it!

How to tackle it:

One of the best ways to deal with this topic is to put things into practice – try and do experiments where you can and look at the processes behind them. Often you need to consider multiple parts of the topic at once so you should try and connect different theories together when considering if a reaction will work or not.

I’d also recommend spending a lot of time making sure that you can draw out different diagrams and experiment setups as there will definitely be some sort of drawing question in the exam and they’re pretty easy marks if you know what you’re doing. It’s also important that you answer questions in full because there are quite a few calculations in this topic and it’s quite easy to miss out a step sometimes so make sure that you’re not losing any marks here. Doing a lot of exam questions can really help with this section as you end up following the same process every time you do a calculation so it really helps to solidify it in your mind!

My favourite resources:
General tips:

I think my biggest tip for this section is to gain an understanding of WHY things do/don’t happen rather than just accepting that that’s the way it works. It’s also important to link concepts together in your mind as you may be required to consider multiple factors when answering questions in the exam. You should also definitely prioritise doing practice questions when revising this section because a lot of them are very similar year after year so they can be easy marks in the exam once you’ve figured out the methods.

Calculations

I’m putting this in a separate section even though it’s usually interwoven with other topics so you tend to come across it bit by bit as you revise everything else. I know that quite a few people really struggle with this section but I really enjoyed it because once you’ve spent the time learning the methods it becomes pretty easy.

How to tackle it:

Basically, all you can do for this topic is practice until you can calculate the mass of a product in your sleep. Most of the questions will be the same but they swap in different molecules and values so once you’ve done it a few times you’ll be able to do it with ease in the exam. If you’re really struggling then it may be worth checking out if there are any YouTube videos on the topic as I found it helpful to see people work through the calculations step-by-step.

My favourite resources:
  • Whatever questions you can find in your textbook or revision guide, even if they’re just multiple choice ones!
  • Physics and Maths Tutor questions – basically if you ever need questions then come here!
  • Any new or old exam papers from your exam board, they’re pretty much the same whether you’re looking at an old spec or a new spec paper
General tips:

Unfortunately you can’t really do much aside from practice using the equations and the data book – it’s frustrating but eventually, it’ll just click. It took me forever to work out some really easy equations just because I wasn’t factoring in the fact that ions break up!

Practicals

This is kind of an overlooked topic as it usually doesn’t show up in your exams until section year. Unfortunately, when it does start showing up it can be really frustrating as the questions can nitpick at some really small steps in the experiment process – there are a few things that you can do to prepare for this though.

How to tackle it:

Most exam boards will release practical guides for each experiment and it’s really important that you read these over before the exam. I found it helpful to go through and annotate why you do each step and what could potentially go wrong with it as these are the types of questions that can show up in the exam.

It’s also really important to make sure that you actually do the practicals! Even if it isn’t one of the compulsory ones, make sure that you do it as this is the best way to learn how it works and gain a better understanding of potential issues or problems with an experiment. This is also helpful for questions which require you to draw out the practical setup as it gives you a basic idea of what the experiment should look like.

My favourite resources:
  • Whatever practical resources your exam board puts out – these are gold because this is the standard way that they expect you to do the experiment so it’s what they’ll be asking about in the exam
  • YouTube videos – I’ve come across a few channels that post biology practical videos and I assume that there are some for chemistry too
  • Textbooks – pretty standard but they should talk any experiments through pretty simply
General tips:

This is probably one of the most boring topics but unfortunately, you have to do it. Make sure that you’re doing practice questions as they like to pick out some really obscure things in the exam and try to think logically when you’re answering a question – for example, if a piece of equipment is more inaccurate than usual, what could this affect?

I know that this is a bit late for those of you that have already done your A Levels this year, but hopefully, it’s still going to be helpful for those of you that are doing your exams next year or are just starting out on your A Level journey!

If you have any more questions, feel free to DM me on Instagram or send me an email below:

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