Understanding Chemistry



I assume that you want to get the best grade you possibly can with the minimum of effort! Getting a good grade is rather like playing a game with your examiners - in which they make up the rules (and occasionally change them). You aren't going to win unless you know those rules.

Before you do anything else:

  • Get a copy of your syllabus if you haven't already got one. Details of how to do this are given below.

  • Syllabuses are often quite difficult to interpret, so you need to know exactly what questions your examiners are asking, and how they are marking them.

    Explore your examiners' web site. Most offer free downloads of specimen papers (including mark schemes), but you might have to pay for recent exam papers and mark schemes, and other support material. If they don't offer these free, find out how to order them and invest a small amount of money in your future!

    If you want the best possible grade, you should be working with exam papers all the way through your course. Leaving looking at exam papers until your last minute revision is too late.

    Be careful, though! Syllabuses change and so do examiners. Make sure that the question papers and mark schemes you get relate to your current syllabus and are as recent as possible. A new chief examiner can make a lot of difference to the style of a question paper.

How to download a copy of your syllabus

Finding your way to the right syllabus

Most of the following links take you to the front page of each of the websites. In most cases, you will then have to find your own way to your syllabus. This is because these sites are liable to change.

Be aware that the syllabuses are called by various names.

In the A level system they are known as specifications. You want GCE Advanced and Advanced Subsidiary (A and AS) Chemistry.

In Scotland they are known as Arrangements Documents.

Finding the syllabuses is usually straightforward (I've given some help where this isn't the case) - finding other information may take you longer!

The A level Exam Boards:

  • OCR

    This includes both the standard OCR syllabus and the Salters syllabus.

  • Edexcel

    This includes both the standard Edexcel syllabus and the Nuffield syllabus.

  • AQA

    AQA have free downloadable versions of all their recent exam papers and mark schemes. Once you get to the chemistry page, look for them under "Assessment Material". You can also get Examiners' Reports (another link from the chemistry page). These are essential if you want to avoid common mistakes.

  • WJEC

    This link should take you directly to the correct chemistry page to download a syllabus. At the time of writing, you will have to pay if you want past papers or mark schemes.

  • CCEA (Northern Ireland)

    This will take you to the front page of the CCEA site. Use the Qualifications Quickfind to get to A2/AS Chemistry page. You will find a syllabus here, and recent exam papers and mark schemes and so on if you follow the link to "related documents".

  • Cambridge International Examinations (CIE)

    For international students using the Cambridge exam. Notice that CIE still call syllabuses "syllabuses". Great! Not so great is that a lot of past papers are only available to teachers via a password-protected part of the site.

Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers:

  • Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)

    A confusing site - at least for me, unfamiliar with the Scottish system! On the front page, under "Select a Subject", select Chemistry from the "NQ / Standard Grade" box, and then choose "Arrangement Documents" in the "Subject-specific Information" list.

International Baccalaureate:

  • IB Chemistry Web

    This is as close as I can find to an official syllabus, and it has lots of other useful stuff as well. This is a whole website devoted to IB chemistry rather than a pdf download. Bookmark it!

Problems reading the downloaded syllabus?

Most syllabuses are available only in pdf format. You need software such as Adobe Acrobat Reader to access it. You have almost certainly got this (or the equivalent) software on your computer, but if your computer is old, you may not have the latest version.

If your downloaded syllabus won't open, it may be that the syllabus was created in a newer version of the Reader than you've got. You will have to download a new version of Reader.

If you need a new version of Acrobat Reader, use this link:

  • www.adobe.com

    This will take you to Adobe's front page where you will find a link enabling you to download the Reader. Be warned that this is a seriously large bit of software and could take a long time to download on a dial-up connection.

Go to Main Menu . . .

© Jim Clark 2000 (last modified June 2010)