Among the different subjects at A levels, Chemistry is often mentioned by students as a tough subject due to the unique demands of the subject that requires both bookwork or memorising of content and application. Comparing to other science subjects at A levels, while Physics requires some level of memorising content, the focus is largely on application. As for Biology, the focus is largely on bookwork. Hence, Chemistry has semblance of the rigour required of Physics and Biology due to the emphasis on both bookwork and application. Having taught A Level Chemistry tuition for more than 15 years, here are some study tips I have to offer.
Preparing for Bookwork
For bookwork, plainly speaking, it is all about the memorisation of content. Memorisation work may not be for everyone but it is definitely possible for every JC student to acquire memorisation techniques to help them prepare for the bookwork component of A level Chemistry. Let’s go through the techniques one by one in the following paragraphs.
- The first technique is memorisation using repetition. Different individuals have their preferences on memorisation through repetition. Different approaches include copying notes, recalling the highlighted text of the notes, recalling important paragraphs of the notes and going through the summary points of each chapter. However these techniques often may be perceived as boring or not meaningful because the truth of the matter is that most people do not enjoy memorisation. Of course, there are always exceptions =)
- The second technique is using mindmaps to reinforce our memory. Mindmaps are diagrams used to visually organise information in a way that revolves around a key concept or theme. Mindmaps will be more well suited for students who are able to see connections and leverage on visuals to remember things better.
- The third technique is what we called memory devices. Basically, it is a way of remembering information that ties to something meaningful. An example of a non Chemistry memory device is “Toa Cah Soh” (which means Big Foot Auntie in Hokkien) was a phrase that was used to teach students secondary school maths to remember and understand geometry. “Toa” means Tangent= Opposite divided by Adjacent, “Cah” means Cosine=Adjacent divided by Hypothenuse and “Soh”= Opposite divided by Hypothenuse. Pretty cool isn’t it? To think that I can recall this despite graduating from secondary school for almost 20 years! An example of a Chemistry memory device is “Soft Boiled Fabulous Egg” is a phrase used by students to remember on the points to write for Chemistry bonding questions. Soft: Structure (giant ionic, simple covalent, etc), Boiled: Bonds (type of bonds present e.g. hydrogen bonds, ionic bonds, etc), Fabulous: factors (factors affecting strength of bonds e.g extensive ness of hydrogen bonds, bond polarity, etc) and Egg: energy (always end off the answer by relating to the energy required to break the bond) Guess, the beauty behind using memory devices to remember things is that it will last a lifetime because of the association to something meaningful to the student.
Now that we have heard about the techniques to tackle bookwork, let’s look at what we can do to tackle the component of application.
Preparing for Application
The first approach is to practise application questions by topics. In order to test if your understanding translates into actual application, practising the questions is the only way to find out. Hence, students should try out questions by different JCs and those found in the A level exam papers. It is also important to take note that if you are building your foundation for the subject, choose the easier questions that match your standard for a start so that you feel a sense of progress by being able to solve the questions. Subsequently as your understanding of Chemistry improves, try the questions based on increasing level of difficulty.
Another approach to application is to practise by doing A level and JC prelims exam papers after you have completed your revision of all the topics in A level Chemistry. Many students make the mistake of trying the exam papers before completing the revision. Trying out the exam papers before completing your revision is wasteful because students deprive themselves of actually knowing how they fare overall in the subject. When trying out the papers, students should work on the more recent papers as the questions will be more current and are more relevant as compared to the earlier papers.
Trying out the questions by topics and doing exam papers are useful but still insufficient to enable you to be fully ready for A level Chemistry exam. To be exam ready, students need to try out the exam papers under time conditions that will mirror the exam conditions which require students to solve questions under time pressure.
In summary, students need to put in a lot of effort because 2 years is a short time and A level Chemistry is a demanding subject which requires both bookwork and application. Over the years, I have seen many students work really hard but did not achieve the results due to using the wrong technique when preparing for A level Chemistry exams. As such, students should spend their time wisely and maximise their chances of scoring by paying attention to the techniques outlined in the article pertaining to bookwork and application.