• A-level chemistry

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A-Level Chemistry

Background information about studying Chemistry

A-level Chemistry builds upon the knowledge gained at GCSE but goes much further revealing some significant simplifications taught at GCSE. Ideally you should achieve a grade B or above in GCSE Chemistry (or BB in the double award science) for sufficient preparation for A-level. It contains a slightly greater level of mathematical content and overlaps with some topics taught in physics. By taking chemistry you develop some very useful skills that can be applied well outside of the subject discipline; these include problem solving, numeracy, practical skills as well as developing a broad scientific background. As a result it's a highly respected and useful qualification for higher education and employment in a wide range of areas.

How will it differ from GCSE?

Difficulty

Considered to be amongst the most difficult of A-level subjects due to both its conceptual difficulty and the amount of material needed to be memorised. Despite this reputation many students each year sit this qualification and 33% of entries were awarded the A grade in 2008.

Personally, I find that if at GCSE/IGCSE you got A/A*, then the actual level required to understand the work is not very different from GCSE, although some things may make your head hurt, especially when you get told that everything you had learnt was a lie....however you WILL need to pick up your game fast as after module 1 is when things begin to get difficult, so those who have january exams....try to ace them...and try to ace the coursework....makes it easier to get the A when you know you have 30% already

Workload

Considerably less than some other subjects as it doesn't have much in the way of coursework (Note that the new specification for 2008 onwards there is no coursework for Chemistry). It depends considerably on your ability to understand concepts. If you can pick up things quickly, you'll have hardly any work outside of the lesson. Revision for exams is quite easy - as long as you understand what you've been taught. At times it can be difficult to understand concepts if you don't understand what your teacher says.

Required Individual Study

Depending on how difficult you find the material you may find yourself spending a significant amount of time trying to get your head around certain concepts. It will be worst at the start of a new topic but slowly you will develop a better and better understanding and will feel more comfortable with the material.

How is it assessed?

Exams

The way Chemistry A level is examined has changed since the introduction of the new A levels starting in September 2008.

For most exam boards including AQA, Edexcel, OCR and WJEC there are two theory exams for AS and two for A2. There is also a practical component/coursework in both AS and A2. These usually make up 80% of the total grade with each exam board giving a different weights to the respective exams. For example:

Edexcel Chemistry AS Unit 1 Core Principles of chemistry Unit 2 Application of core principles Unit 3 Practical/Lab skills


AQA Chemistry AS

CHEM1- 34%- Foundation Chemistry (an introduction into basic calculations, moles etc. All this stuff gets built on in later modules)

CHEM2- 46%- Chemistry in action (quite bitty; it's the longest module in the course, and you cover a bit of everything- physical, organic and inorganic)

CHM3X (EMPA) or CHM3T (ISA)- 20%- Investigative and practical skills in chemistry (you carry out a simple practical task under exam conditions, and do a short written paper about the experiment afterwards, with some general practical skills questions thrown in as well. People find this one harder to revise because there's no specific section in the textbook for it.)

AQA Chemistry A2

CHEM4- 40%- Kinetics, Equilibria, and Organic Chemistry (lots of reaction mechanisms compared with the other modules; you study the reactions of carbon/hydrogen based compounds alongside some physical stuff about rate of reaction, pH etc.)

CHEM5- 40%- Energetics, Redox, and Inorganic Chemistry (so much memorisation in this module; it seems short, but there aren't many logical rules you can follow to work things out- especially when it comes to learning ion colours and precipitates. The physical chemistry involving free energy and entropy fits in quite nicely with the inorganic reactions you study)

CHM6X (EMPA) or CHM6T (ISA)- 20%- Investigative and practical skills in chemistry (pretty much the same as the AS one, but the experiment is a bit more complex, and the written paper is tougher)

OCR A Chemistry AS


F321- 30% - Atoms, Bonds and Groups (this unit reintroduces the simple concepts studied at GCSE such as calculating with moles as well as simple bonding and structures, but introduces some new ideas such as bond angles/shapes and subshells and orbitals - this is by far the easiest unit so try to score full UMS!)

F322 - 50% - Chains, Energy and Resources (this unit focuses mostly on organic chemistry and although it has a lot of content, the actual content isn't very difficult, you just have to remember a lot.)

F323 - 20% Practical Skills in Chemistry 1 (you will complete 3 basic experiments and answer questions on them. Tasks include: qualitative, quantitative and evaluative tasks.)

OCR A Chemistry A2

F324 - 15 % of A Level - Rings, Polymers and Analysis (a relatively short unit that extends on the organic chemistry from AS in more detail, it's arguably the most challenging unit as it requires a lot of conceptual knowledge about reaction mechanisms as well as the structures of some complex molecules.)

F325 - 25% of A Level - Equilibria, Energetics and Elements (this unit may be the final one at A2 but the actual concepts aren't difficult provided you have solid mathematical skills, as this unit tests a lot of very complex calculations involving enthalpy and entropy and more, if you can cope with the level of maths then this unit should be a nice one for you).

F326 - 10% of A Level Practical Skills in Chemistry 2 (you will complete 3 experiments but at A2 level they are much more difficult and will require a lot of thought, practical competence and mathematical proficiency. Once again 3 tasks are completed including: qualitative, quantitative and evaluative tasks.)

Coursework

Coursework tends to be replaced by Practical exams.

Practicals

At first doing practicals on your own can seem a bit daunting, especially if you're going to be assessed on them. However throughout your chemistry A level you will develop your practical skills and become much more competent and able to deal with the practical element of chemistry.

You get the opportunity to carry out a wide range of practicals from titrations to trying to identify different compound (it's sort of like detective work!). There are 3 main areas that are assessed in practical A level chemistry: quantitative practicals. These usually involve titrations or practicals involving rate equations/rate of reactions/energetics. Qualitative practicals. These are where you are trying to identify different compounds for example using flame tests. The last type of practical being synthesis. You are required to correctly produce a chemical compound such as a salt or using reflux/distillation in organic chemistry to produce organic compounds such as carboxcylic acids from alcohols.

OCR B (Salters) A2 includes a coursework project worth 15% of your overall grade. The project must be planned, carried out (20+ hours of practical work) and evaluated.

Field trips and excursions

There are not huge oppurtunities for field trips but conferences, lectures, uni trips etc may be offered.

Where can I go with a Chemistry A-Level

Doing an A level in chemistry can open so many doors for you in the future. It is seen, and quite rightly so, as a challenging, academic and rigorous A level that will impress a lot of universities/employers.

Doing A level chemistry can lead to many careers in healthcare such as medicine, pharmacy and dentistry but is also extremely useful in careers in the biological sciences, physics, mathematics, pharmacology and analytical chemistry. Chemistry is also taken by many law applicants as it shows you can cope with difficult concepts. Chemistry brings a nice balance to your studies if you are doing many Arts subjects. You need Chemistry to study Veterinary Medicine, many univeristies ask for an A but some allow a B. Almost every medical school in the country asks for A-level Chemistry to at least AS (bar the foundation programs for people without science A-levels).

User Opinions

Username: Agent Smirnoff

What I like about studying this subject: I enjoy quite a few topics in Chemistry. AS Chemistry has been easy for me to settle into. Chemistry is a subject which always leaves you asking some sort of question at the end. It is great for the inquisitive and eager of those amongst us. I also like the practicals I suppose. I was quite satisfied by my recent coursework assesed practical and actually enjoyed it. This is odd coming from me as I have always hated Practicals. I like the nature of the course in that it is really in depth and satisfies a thirst for knowledge. AS Level Chemistry is a lot different from GCSE , which is quite superficial and lacklusture. I have learnt a lot thoroughout the course so far.

Chemistry is a challenge and is almost designed to stretch your mind that extra mile further.

What I dislike about studying this subject: It is a bit tricky and some aspects of it can be a bit boring but to be honest.... It is great! I like it as there are probably more goods than bad about it. Some of the calculations tend to piss me off a wee bit. Im not a fan of memorising lots and lots of calculation methods and formulae.

You do have to remember a lot.


Username: i.am.lost

What I like about studying this subject: The practicals are fun and interesting (especially when they go wrong haha), and the material is intellectually rigorous, which I find appealing. No essays etc which is good.

What I dislike about studying this subject: It is hard. And boring. But maybe that's just me. The coursework mark scheme is ridiculously specific and makes it hard to actually do well. Overall, if you are willing to put in the time and willing to get through the dull bits to get to the nicer bits, you should take Chemistry.


Username: ronak92

What I like about studying this subject: Its hard, challenging yet supprisingly fun! Praticals are sometimes the only thing I look forward to in a college week - thier awesome! Also, I love how the exams questions tend to have direct answers and no bs like in biology. With enough pratice 100%'s are not near impossible!

What I dislike about studying this subject: If you have a (bad) teacher - you are likely to struggle without a lot of independant study. Its easy to get lost in the complex world of organic chem! (You may also find the organic chem reactions are something to remember for the examination, then forget forever)


Username: cpdavis

What I like about studying this subject: It is one subject that requires you to think to a more scientific level that I enjoy! You also get to do ALOT of practicals to compared to the other sciences and when it comes to exams, you are able to do well, even if you don't know the whole topic, you can know the basics and apply it to new situations (group 2 metals)

What I dislike about studying this subject: It can get scary when you see something new. However, once you get used to it, it can be much easier than it looks!


Username: Billy Bryant

What I like about studying this subject: If you do well at GCSE Chemistry, most of the A Level course is very similar in difficulty and not that easy to learn. However, it's not a good subject because it's easy (my opinion of course), it's an excellent subject because it's so interesting. From GCSE you know that certain reactants 'join' to form certain products. You will now learn why they do. It's that extra level of detail that makes Chemistry so exciting to me, for any of the topics it seems like you're learning that tiny bit beyond what you should know. You're not though obviously.

What I dislike about studying this subject: The definitions are really boring and have a tendency to show up in exams. Really make sure you learn these, A small definition at the bottom of a page can be easily missed. However, this is really just a very slight negative to the subject. I would recommend anyone to give Chemistry a go.


Username: Evanesyne

What I like about studying this subject: I'm a semi mathematical person, so I find Chemistry interesting and challenging, but not to the point where I want to pull my hair out. I didn't enjoy it at GCSE, but now there's just that little bit more detail to the concepts I'm finding it strangely fascinating. Also, the practicals are the best out of any sciences as you get to play with harsher chemicals ;) Lastly because I have an awesome teacher with a bad sense of humour but make lessons just that much more enjoyable.

What I dislike about studying this subject: How unbelievably picky the exam mark schemes are. You lose the mark if you put 180g instead of 180.0g. Also, missing lessons make it hard to catch up, because I find Chemistry is just one of those subjects that are best taught by a teacher for full understanding. But if your teacher is crap, you're doomed for hours of independent study.


Username: Kidneyjean

What I like about studying this subject: 1) It actually makes more sense than the GCSE! There's less 'Ideas in Context' crap, and much more actual science. 2) The maths/theory side of it, and the practical side of it work together really well. 3) It's very logical, and even more satisfying when you successfully apply a theoretical concept to a practical situation. 4) It helped me with parts of maths that I found hard, i.e rearranging equations quickly.

What I dislike about studying this subject: 1) If the teacher's bad, you most likely won't understand much. Understanding/applying knowledge is so crucial in Chemistry; it's almost impossible to do well in a paper using solely recall skills. 2) Some concepts still aren't explained in enough detail. 3) I don't know about other exam boards, but the AQA mark scheme is very harsh. Although ECF (Error Carried Forward, where you can gain marks on method even if you use the wrong values) has saved my arse on many occasions. 4) Sometimes the concepts just don't make sense in your head, which is very frustrating if it's something important.


Username: mooniibuggy

What I like about studying this subject: 1) I love thinking from a scientific perspective and solving problems; nothing can beat the satisfaction when you solve a problem on your own! 2) When you carry out practicals like synthesising aspirin, you get to see the connection between the chemical theory and real-life application. 3) I have developed critical thinking skills, which have benefited me in my other A-levels.

What I dislike about studying this subject: 1) I am doing OCR Salters Chemistry and we have a separate textbook just for 'How science works'. Because the course is 'context-led', we're questioned on the application of chemical phenomena. For example, when doing pH calculations, we have to apply that to buffers in the oceans or controlling soil acidity in Agriculture. Having to learn an additional textbook makes the workload unbearable. 2) I found the A2 investigation quite demanding and didn't receive much support from OCR website/teachers, so didn't really understand what was expected of me. We basically chose our topic and planned it, carried out the investigation, wrote up the report and handed it in with no second draft.


Username: Akbar2k7

What I like about studying this subject: Chemistry is broad in its usage and very well respected as an A-level. It has its own beauty and combined with Biology it gives you a greater understanding about the world. Chemistry is probably the most applicable A level science you can pick up a bottle of food, detergent or even cosmetic read it and realise how much you really understand about it just through your A level knowledge. Unlike biology and maths where you are tested on the knowledge of the mark scheme and ability not to make careless mistakes chemistry is rarely semantic and usually tests you on the subject.

What I dislike about studying this subject: Again it is very difficult especially for me at AS because at AS its difficulty is combined with a very boring syllabus(I did Edexcel). However A2 is far more interesting. You have to put in immense effort to achieve anything and for B,A and A* grades you really do need interest, ability and effort. Im not trying to scare anyone but honestly it is very difficult.

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