Did AQA really ask A-level Chemistry exam questions that aren’t on the specification?

by Hayley Pearce | 5 June 2019

AQA threw some curveballs into Tuesday’s A-level Chemistry Paper 1 exam

Not one, not two but three of them. At least that's what some of the reactions on TSR and Twitter would suggest.

But the exam board insists that students should have been armed with the knowledge to answer all of the questions.

And indeed, a selection of students on TSR seem to have arrived at the same answers to the questions, with some sticking up for AQA when others have blasted it.

In the TSR thread revealing members’ unofficial mark scheme for the paper, discussion has turned to specific parts of the paper.

Electrospray ionisation: On the spec or not?

In the unofficial markscheme thread for AQA A-level Chemistry Paper 1, TSR member Nish14 expressed their outrage with the inclusion of electrospray ionisation, given that it has not been part of the syllabus for a few years: “Electrospray ionisation was removed in 2015. Shouldn’t have been on the paper!”

And jeriu was keen to see AQA disregard it when marking the papers, asking: “Does anyone know if they will remove the electrospray question? They've done it before with another question.”

Although humera.carter seemed proficient when it came to answering the question, like Nish14, they pointed out it was not really part of the specification: “Electrospray ionisation is when the molecule picks up a proton so if the mz value is 156, the actual mr of the molecule is one less so 155 as you need to subtract the proton mass after. Tricky if you were not taught electrospray as technically, it is not on the spec.”

On Twitter, an A-level Chemistry student’s mum directed her frustration at AQA: “Please can you explain why my daughter had a question on her a level chemistry paper today on a topic that you removed from your own specification in 2015? How can grades be simple when @AQA seem to be disadvantaging their students over other exam boards?”

twitter stream

A person known as RGF, tweeting from the official AQA Twitter account, convincingly argued that the electrospray ionisation technique is, or at least should be, still taught: “The word 'electrospray' was removed from our specification, but the ionisation technique itself is still covered under subject content point We produced a student guide clarifying this: http://bit.ly/2DJYU8H  Hope that’s helpful.”

But @Bobmaster909 rebuked the reply, saying: “This coming from someone who revised electrospray ionisation an hour before the exam and who is confident he got most if not all of the marks: this is an unacceptable excuse AQA, who thought it was ok to remove the name of the technique but not the actual technique?!”

Electrospray and cobalt tweet

How much do you need to know about cobalt to answer a six marker on it?

The cobalt question wasn't without controversy either, stumping some students because they had neglected to learn about the metal in detail because they were under the impression AQA had removed it from the specification.

Twitter is abound with people posting memes about the cobalt question, with @lthel3east666 saying:

“AQA: ‘ok we have taken Cobalt chemistry off the spec because it was too much to learn for transition metals’

“AQA: *makes 6 marker about Cobalt chemistry*”

And on TSR, Kayyy30 said: “So is anyone going to file a complaint to AQA for asking a question about COBALT. WHEN. IT'S. NOT. ON. THE. SPEC.

“A whole 6 marker!!!! What’s the point of removing it if they’re going to ask it anyway????”

But plokijuh was quick to jump to AQA’s defence, saying: “You didn't need any prior knowledge about cobalt, just the fact that it can form an octahedral shape when reacting with ligands and also the fact that you can get optical isomerism if it is bonded with bidentate/multidentate ligands.

“It works in exactly the same way as copper or any other transition metal that we were meant to learn.”

Cobalt tweet

'Learning period 3 for two years for them to ask us about period 4'

The question on period 4 got a bit of a bashing on Twitter as well, with students implying they simply were not aware they needed to focus on this in their revision.

@SavannahJad3 tweeted: “*spends 2 years learning period 3*

“AQA : This question is about period 4”

And @bruv_its_habib also took to Twitter to vent his utter bewilderment over this particular question: “AQA has once again made us their bitch, learning period 3 over two years for them to ask us a question on period 4??!!”

Twitter user @JamesAdamLloyd tweeted: "I feel there is a growing trend here. Multiple schools and students,.. including my own brother noticed there were questions that have never been covered in class."

An AQA spokesperson told The Student Room: "We removed the reference to ‘electrospray’ in the specification as it limited the questions on ionisation to only electrospray ionisation, which wasn’t our intention when we designed the specification.

"Electrospray ionisation still falls under section of the specification as a type of ionisation that could be assessed as part of Time of Flight mass spectrometry. 
"We’ve provided a teacher guide and a student guide that both include electrospray ionisation. We also wrote a set of questions and answers that exemplify how we will assess this topic mention electrospray. It also features on one of our specimen papers, released in early 2017."

A-level Chemistry period 4 tweet

How did you find Tuesday's paper?

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