Considering Chemistry GCSE or A level? Read our FAQ here Watch

Kvothe the Arcane
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The Chemistry Forum FAQs!

So you're thinking of studying GCSE or A-level Chemistry but aren't quite sure if it's right for you? You've come to the right place! If you have any more questions about GCSE/A-level Chemistry in general, do let me know!

How do the levels differ in difficulty?

The CIE is the only exam board with information on teaching hours but while it quotes IGCSE as requiring 130 teaching hours it states that the A-Level is designed to be taught in 380 teaching hours. This is almost triple. The amount of work one is meant to do increases and one is expected to be more specific. For example, candidates may be penalized for committing the correct units (such as moldm^{-3}) while the unit would have been provided or the commission ignored at GCSE. Much attention is placed in hitting key marking points and therefore students should be aware of necessary wording where relevant.

Ex A-Level students I questioned had the following to say
You get in what you put in. At the time, I felt that the workload is demanding but manageable and rewarding but now that I'm at University I realize that difficulty is negligible in comparison to what I do now at University
I enjoyed studying Chemistry at A-level because it was interesting. But it was very hard at the time and I scraped my A in the end allowing me to go on to study Medicine.
Chemistry A-level can be at times challenging. But in my experience, with help and support of my teacher it was overall an extremely satisfying subject when one finally understood.
A very old saying that you probably already heard which is especially true with Chemistry is that "practice makes perfect". If I hadn't practiced doing all those questions especially the ones at the end of the paper I would never have truly been confident because examiners can throw at you something you may have never seen but the practice has helped better tackle such questions.
Overall Chemistry A-level has a mixture of regurgitation of knowledge and harder application questions. It allows a good area for one to further find out more about the subject if interested.
The theory is hard but can be made easier by practicing the questions. Ensure that you make good notes during the practicals for the difficult practical exams

What sort of topics will I be studying?

GCSE A-Level
Atoms, the periodic table - You will learn about the development of the periodic table as well as an introduction to atomic orbital theory and subatomic particles
Chemical reactions - You will be required to memorize a few reactions such as the Haber cycle and their uses in industry
Ionic compounds and analysis - Introduction to what ions are and how they are formed
Metals and their uses
Crude oil, fuels and refined hydro carbons - Introduction to organic chemistry as well as the process of thermal distillation
Changes in the Earth and its atmosphere - How environmental conditions like purity are tested and effects of Human activity on the environment. Global warming is usually discussed
Quantitative Chemistry
Atomic structure and the periodic table -
Thermodynamics - Bohn Haber Cycles, enthalpy and entropy
Analytical Techniques - You will learn to interpret mass spectrometry, infra red spectroscopy and NMR spectra
Aromatic Chemistry - You will learn about benzene and the structures with a phenyl group attached
Nomenculture and reactions in Organic Chemistry - You will study the iupac conventions for naming organic compounds as well as the common ways in which the compounds you study react
Polymerisation - You will study the formation and properties of addition and condensation polymers as well as their disposal

What is it useful for

Studying Chemistry at GCSE and A-Level will help with your research and analytical skills. GCSE Chemistry will prepare you most Science subjects at A-Level as it gives students an understanding of chemical processes and reactions and how hypotheses, evidence, theories and explanations work together. Studying the subject at A-Level will prepare you for a range of courses at University including Chemistry, Chemical engineering, Pharmacology, Biochemistry, Medicine and Natural Science. It will also be beneficial for those entering technical fields of work or apprenticeships immediately after college.

How will it be assessed?
Both qualifications are linear. This means that they're examined at the end of the course. While there will be practicals throughout the course lengths which cover essential skills such as titrations, these will no longer be directly assessed at the time as coursework. GCSE Chemistry will have two papers - each which are worth 50%. In the A-Level there are 3 papers. Papers 1 and 2 will cover the Organic, Physical and Inorganic Chemistry content learnt over the previous 2 years. The papers will usually be made up of short and long answer questions. Paper 3 tests practical knowledge.

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