Preparing for the first year of your chemistry degree – OurWarwick

Preparing for the first year of your chemistry degree

A lot of the content from the first year of Warwick’s chemistry degree follows through into later years. That’s one thing about the course that really appealed to me- because there aren’t optional modules until third year, the first year modules really give you a solid background knowledge to work from. So, because first year is so important in gaining the groundwork for your degree (and for chemistry it counts towards your final grade!), I thought back to a few things that I helped me with the transition from A-level to first year.

I did chemistry, maths, further maths and physics at A-level, so I had quite a bit of science background already. However, many of my course mates hadn’t done physics or further maths, and I had very little biology knowledge, so don’t worry about falling behind if you don’t have all science A-levels or are missing maths and/or physics. Like the I said, the first year (especially the first term) gets everyone up to speed with the important details of any areas you might have not come across. But if that summer holiday starts to drag, it might be a good idea to read up on some of the key concepts you’ll be learning about in first year! (The course might have changed slightly since I was a fresher, but these all make for interesting reading anyway.)

-Hybridisation and Molecular Orbital Theory

This is something I think you might have covered if you’ve done IB, but I’d never encountered it before. These are some of the underlying concepts that will run throughout your degree. I found it hard to get my head around at first, so reading up on the theory just so you have an idea of what to expect might help you!

-Mechanisms and curly arrows

A-level chemistry touched on mechanisms, but you’ll be working on much more complex ones during your degree! I found to it helpful to revise some key mechanisms and the ‘rules’ of using curly arrows before I started in first year. It’ll save you some time with the first couple of tutorials if you’re already fairly confident with the basics- that way you don’t have to spend too much time revising before you move onto the more difficult questions.

-Basic maths

Just like revising mechanisms, revising some basic maths such as matrices, error calculations, calculating moles and rearranging equations will help when it comes to the introductory modules. I found that having confidence in maths definitely helped when it came to labs, where you might need to do quick calculations and work out errors etc. in the lab reports.


Ask any chemistry student what they found hardest during their first term and it’s likely that they’ll say thermodynamics. It has a bit of reputation, maybe because for my year at least it was the first physical chemistry module we came across. However, once you get a basic understanding of key concepts it’ll be nothing you can’t handle. Even revising the laws of thermodynamics and Hess’ law questions you might have done in chemistry (or physics) A-level could help- anything to give you a little bit of background knowledge.

-Quantum Mechanics

This is unlikely to be something you’ll study until at least second term, so you’ll probably forget most of any reading you do in the blur of Freshers’. However, since it’s something that I hadn’t studied too much before university, having a little bit of background knowledge to refer to was helpful for me. Don’t bother with too many equations for now, but understanding the concepts of Schrodinger’s Equation and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle might help you. This was a module that I found really interesting, and a surprising amount of basic concepts can be found in popular science books.

-General reading

I think the most important thing to do to prepare yourself for first year is to get used to studying again. The summer before university starts is ridiculously long, and the main thing I forgot was actually how to revise and get work done! So, it might be helpful to just read over old A-level notes, start a popular science book or even research Warwick’s chemistry course just to refresh your memory and get yourself back into the right mind-set.

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