Revising for A level chemistry exams
Since most of A level students would not have had their exams yet but must be at the point of finishing their revision, I’ll share how to tackle chemistry exams.
- Study your specification thoroughly. I found that most of the ‘keywords’ in the mark schemes that get you the marks appear in the specifications so if you have a clear understanding of the key points, you’ll be fine.
- I know it is easier said than done (I was in that situation too) but indeed try to understand the mechanisms rather than learn them. Specific reagents used also have a specific purpose and reaction conditions are often a result of thermodynamics and kinetics and also reactivity of the compounds.
- Chemguide is your friend. I would definitely recommend it as a revision tool or indeed as part of wider reading as well.
- Know your definitions. I always find it hard to remember stuff so I wouldn’t say these are easy marks but definitely worth it. This includes thermodynamical definitions such as enthalpy and entropy and also terms like ligands and chelation.
- Use past papers/ exam questions to assess knowledge rather than to learn the content. The new paper will be different. Past papers are a way of practising how to be concise about answering questions but you need your knowledge to be able to answer them.
I just looked at my A level specification but after having done a year at Warwick, it all seems trivial. I cannot really remember what I found difficult because I have much more challenging stuff to study for the upcoming exams. Just to finally add some specific advice, however,
- Remember concepts like entropy and how they drive chelation and other reactions.
- Also, with Born-Haber cycles, make sure you know when you need to halve/ double the figures (something I do remember messing up).
- With periodicity, make sure the fundamental concepts such as atomic radii, ionisation energies, nuclear charge and electronegativity are clear and then the rest can all be explained based on the understanding of these concepts.
- With mechanisms and equations to do with catalysts, keep practicing them until it becomes more of an exercise.
- Some questions are open-ended with regards to synthesis so only knowing the mechanisms isn’t sufficient. In order to apply it to situations, you should know how to go from a primary alcohol to an aldehyde or from a haloalkane to a nitrile. Then deduce the mechanism based on the knowledge. This might not sound as big a thing but this happened in my organic exam (at university) and it wasn’t a very nice feeling in the middle of the exam. Much easier to write mechanisms when you know the start and end product but I find it harder when only the start product and reagents are given. Make sure you practise plenty of these questions!
Feel free to ask questions if you’re finding it difficult to revise a specific topic and finally good luck with revision and exams. Work hard and you’ll be fine.