What Is A Level Chemistry Like?

How Hard is A-Level Chemistry? (Compared To GCSE)

In A-Level by Think Student Editor3 Comments

Ask any A level Chemistry student and they will tell you there is definitely a big jump from GCSE Chemistry to A Level. Whilst this might seen daunting if you are considering taking it at college, don’t worry!  

In this article I will break down the components of Chemistry and help you make an evaluated choice about whether you want to take this A level. 

The short answer: A-Level Chemistry is a huge step up from GCSE Chemistry. The content is more difficult, and there’s a lot more independent study involved. However, if you think you can take it, A-Level Chemistry offers a bright future for students after college. 

Looking at the pass rates: the average A-Level has a pass rate of 95.6%, whereas A-Level Chemistry has a pass rate of 96.1%. Therefore, according to the statistics A-Level Chemistry is about as hard as any other A-Level – this doesn’t mean it isn’t a big step up from GCSE Chemistry!

How Much Independent Study Do You Have To Do For A-Level Chemistry?

A-Level Chemistry Work Compared To GCSE Chemistry WorkRegardless of your college, exam board or teacher, A level Chemistry requires a lot more independent study than at GCSE. It’s likely that the most study you did at home was for revision or homework that you get given about once a month, if that. Unfortunately, that won’t cut it for A level. 

Your teacher will set you homework, which at A-level you really should do. At school, you could probably get away with not doing some homework.  

Whether or not your teacher asks you for it, it’s important to get it done because it will help you deepen your knowledge of a subject, and improve your recall, so in 2 years’ time you will be able to look back and still understand earlier concepts.  

Also, the last thing you want is to make a bad impression to your teachers in the first term – you don’t want to be on your teacher’s bad side. 

This isn’t just for A-Level Chemistry, either – all A-Levels are a step up in independency from GCSE. But if you want to succeed in your A-Levels, you need to be able to handle that. 

Don’t worry if you think you can’t, because there’s always support available for you! Most colleges will have a welfare team that are there specifically for your wellbeing. 

Make sure to talk to them if you have any problems with independent study – you may be taking a hard A-Level, but nobody’s perfect…

There are always other methods of support available if you don’t like the sound of that. Talk to your friends in the same course for help, you’re all in the same boat! 

You can also just have a chat to your teacher/tutor. They know the most about the course, and so are most likely to be able to help you if you’re struggling with the content.

As I’ve said before, you may have to learn the basics of topics at home in order to build on it in class. This makes it even more important to do the independent study because it’s crucial to understand the lessons. 

I would suggest making flashcards alongside notes on subjects. This will pay off in the future when you revise for topic tests and of course the final exams.  

Don’t make too many; you don’t want to overwhelm yourself and revise from 100 flashcards for one topic, because that isn’t effective or efficient.  

Depending on the size of the topic, you should probably make about 10 per topic but you may want to do more. Make them on important words as in exams they ask for very specific definitions.  

Colleges will expect you to spend roughly the same amount of time in lessons as doing homework/revision outside of lessons. This is a good general rule of thumb.  

I’d recommend creating a timetable and mapping out your college time; where you have free periods add in times to do independent study for your subjects.  

Never forget to give yourself breaks as you don’t want to make your college life miserable. If you plot your timetable effectively you theoretically could finish all your work before the weekend and use it for leisure.  

Of course, you don’t have to do this as you may just want to hang out with friends in between some lessons – and that’s okay. Socialising is a good way to balance your work and mental health. 

The most important thing that leads to A-Level Chemistry success is… timing! The date when you start revising for your A-Level Chemistry exam is so absolutely essential to how easy or hard you will find the chemistry exams. To find out when you should start revising for your A-Level exams, see this article.

What Is The Difference in Difficulty Between A-Level Chemistry And GCSE Chemistry? 

Difference Between A-Level Chemistry And GCSE Chemistry The main framework for the A level and GCSE courses are very similar, covering and further exploring the same main modules/topics. 

These topics include organic chemistry; periodic table trends; redox reactions; and electrolysis with the edition of new topics such as enthalpy, ionisation energies and electron structure (although these topics can vary by exam board).  

The course is split into A1/AS and A2, which you will study in your first year and second year respectively. A1 contains many GCSE topics just in much more detail; A2 covers new topics perhaps only mentioned at GCSE. 

Like with the new GCSE, in the new linear A-Level system all the exams that contribute to your final grade will be at the end of the two years.  

This is pretty tough, as by the end you’ll have to revise subjects that you did two years ago. Nevertheless, it may help to remember that this is the same with everyone in the whole country, and will be the same for other A-Levels also, so this is kind of unavoidable I’m afraid. 

A lot of the concepts will be hard to understand at first, and that’s okay. A-Level Chemistry can go into really complicated topics that are hard to imagine but if you keep studying and practising I promise you will get a grasp of them. You may feel disheartened when others understand a topic and you don’t; some students pick up new topics more easily than others.  This probably happens to everyone at some point in the two-year course. Never be afraid to ask for help from your teacher if you are struggling during Chemistry, because I assure you: you are not the only one. 

There is a LOT of content you have to learn and recall, and for some people that may be a challenge. Don’t let this put you off necessarily. During college, you will learn techniques and method of how to recall information and revise effectively, with the help of your teacher.  

A good one, in my opinion, is question and answer flashcards. Testing yourself on these really improves recall. Find out how to make flashcards properly here.

Another big part of A level Chemistry is the Maths skills required, as evident by the usually required grade 5 in GCSE Maths.  

If you despised Maths at school, you might want to rethink A-level Chemistry, because there is quite a bit of maths at least 20% of the marks (depending on exam board).  Most of the maths will need skills learnt in GCSE Maths, but some requires learning new mathematical skills that you haven’t done before, such as logarithms.  

However, your teacher will guide you through the maths and help you understand it. So you don’t need to be afraid.  You can tell your college if you struggled, or are struggling with maths and they can support you in class and with extra sessions outside of class. If you wan’t to see how hard A-Level Maths is, see this article.

This being said, if you enjoy Chemistry, deepening your understanding in topics and learning new ones will be a fun two years of study. 

How Hard Are A-Level Chemistry Exams?

A-Level Chemistry Exam TopicsExams aren’t too different. Most exam boards will have questions varying from 1-8 marks, which is similar to GCSE papers. However, A levels tend to require more information per mark, meaning you will have to go into more detail than before.  

But the main difference in exam style is between the exam boards, which is chosen by your college depending on what they prefer. 

The exams are also longer and worth more marks, and you have to do three. Paper One will cover half the content and Paper Two will cover the other half. Paper Three will ask questions from any part of the course.  

The marks, time and weighting of the exams will vary by exam board, but you can expect them to be about 100 marks and roughly 2 hours long each. 

Some exam questions can ask for exact, almost word-for-word definitions of key words and concepts. This can be tough as they disguise as only 1 or 2 mark questions, but you have to put a lot of information in the space given.  

As I’ve said previously, a good revision technique to overcome this is flashcards on these important definitions.  

As well as the exams, there is a practical endorsement that is signed off by your teacher in order to get the A level.  

Basically, the teacher signs to confirm that you can work in a lab safety. The only way that you could fail this is if you cause serious damage or you just don’t do the core practicals.  

The practicals you do in lesson will also turn up in the exams, so it’s a good idea to pay attention! Actually doing the experiment and seeing the results with your own eyes will help you put it to memory so you can recall it in the exam. 

To conclude, no-one chooses A level Chemistry because it is easy. There is a big step-up in the amount of work, as concepts get trickier and more information is needed to be recalled.  

If you didn’t like GCSE Chemistry; you utterly can’t deal with Maths; or it doesn’t fit with your career prospects (and it could be taking up the space of another subject that you need) I don’t recommend taking A level Chemistry.  

However, so long as you enjoy Chemistry or have a strong idea of your future career prospects, you’ll do well studying A-level Chemistry at college.  It’ll still be a challenge, and you will go through plenty of ups and downs during the two-year course, but if you stick it through you may even find it to be your favourite A level.

How Hard Are A-Level Chemistry Lessons?

A-Level Chemistry Lessons Compared To GCSE Chemistry LessonsIn lessons, you need to take a lot more responsibility for your work than at school. You are the one that needs to make notes and organise them.  

I recommend you buy a folder, with dividers and punched pockets. It is crucial you make effective notes early and get in the habit (especially as A levels are now linear) because these are the notes you’ll come to revise from for the final exams.  

This is particularly important for all sciences as they are very content-heavy courses, as opposed to something like Maths which is generally more skills based.  

Also, having a folder and dividers helps you organise your notes which will help you revise from them when tests come around.  

Sometimes, your teacher will want you to learn the basics of a topic before the lesson, so they can develop the ideas further in the class.  

This can be good because it means you have more class time to do practise questions and ask questions that you might have encountered during the independent study.  

However, if you miss out the independent study, it will be very difficult to understand what is going on in the class, and your teacher will probably know that you haven’t done it. 

It’s going to feel like you’re flying through the course at a million miles per hour, and that’s because you kind of are. There is so much in Chemistry A level that you will probably move onto a different topic each week, whereas at school you could spend up to a term on the same topic.  

Sometimes this can get a bit overwhelming as you brain has to take in all this new information. This is why it is really important to stay on top of all of your work, because if you start to get behind, the class won’t slow down for you.  

It’s also a good idea not to be afraid to ask questions to your teacher during class to ensure that you’ve really understood the topic before you move on to the next one and it becomes too late.  

You will do a lot more science practicals at college; there is usually one every week. Many of them you will have done already at school, like titrations and chemical tests. You record them in ‘lab books’, similar to the Required Practicals at GCSE.  

To see a full list of the ten hardest A-Levels, check this article out.

What GCSE Grades Do You Need To Take A-Level Chemistry? 

A-Level Chemistry Minimum RequirementsMost colleges will require/recommend: at least a grade 6 in Chemistry and a grade 6 in another science (Biology or Physics) or a 6-6 in Combined Science; a grade 5 in Maths; and the always required grade 4 in English Language.  

These may be different depending on the college so it is always best to check the courses online or in the prospectus. 

You don’t need to do Triple Science for A-level Chemistry, but you may find it helpful as some key topics aren’t covered in Combined Science, such as how to carry out titrations.  

It’s not a game changer, but it’ll mean that you’ll have to do more independent study to understand new topics and to get on a level playing field with other students (most of whom will have done Triple Chemistry GCSE). 

You also need a good head for chemistry. If you’re not confident in the ideas and concepts of GCSE Chemistry, there’s no way you’ll succeed in A-Level Chemistry. 

A-Level Chemistry is quite a hard A-Level in the grand scheme of things, too. If you don’t work hard enough both in lesson and out, you can trail behind very early on! 

For this reason, you need to be a hardworking student. Colleges can see this by your GCSE results – if you’ve done well, they know you’re motivated and can take A-Level Chemistry. 

It’s not just GCSE Chemistry that you need to achieve in, either. You need good grades across the board to be able to take A-Level Chemistry. 

If you haven’t got these skills or requirements, then don’t worry – colleges can sometimes make special exceptions for students. 

If you really want to take A-Level Chemistry but fit into that category, then talk to your college. Find out what they want from you, and maybe you’ll be allowed on the course. 

What Textbooks Do You Need When Studying A-Level Chemistry?

A-Level Chemistry TextbooksI don’t think I need to tell you that you can’t use your GCSE Chemistry textbooks, when studying A-Level Chemistry… With that being said, what A-Level Chemistry textbooks should you use?

Firstly, there are two types of A-Level textbooks you should get if you want the best chances of doing well in A-Level Chemistry. These two types are: Revision Guides and Classroom Textbooks.

Revision guides don’t really explain concepts in detail, they are more used for recapping content you already know. Hence the name, revision guides – they are used for revision, not for learning. 

When you start revising for A-Level Chemistry, your revision guide will be your revision bible. Providing you get the right one, your revision guide can help you SO much. So, which revision guide should you get for A-Level Chemistry?

You have to make sure that your revision guide is written for your exam board! So below are my revision guide recommendations for each exam board:

I highly recommend you get the ones above as they cover Year 1 and Year 2 A-Level Chemistry content, also, I have used them a lot and trust me when I say, they are an absolute life saver! (and they’re super cheap).

In direct contrast, class textbooks do explain concepts in massive detail. Class textbooks are normally used for learning concepts that you didn’t understand in class. Therefore, they can also be extremely helpful during the 2 year learning period for A-Level Chemistry.

Once again, you have to make sure that you get the right class textbook for your exam board. Below are three lists (for each exam board) and you need to get every textbook under your exam board list. Unless of course you are happy going without classroom textbooks, but they really do help.

Classroom Textbooks For Edexcel A-Level Chemistry (Need Both):

Classroom Textbooks For AQA A-Level Chemistry (Need Both):

Classroom Textbooks For OCR A-Level Chemistry (Need Both):

Disclaimer: If you are trying to spend as little as possible, the classroom textbooks are not absolutely essential, they’re just really helpful. So if you are on a budget, just get the revision guides as they are the most helpful out of the two types of textbook by far.

Why Should You Take A-Level Chemistry? 

A-Level ChemistryConsider what you want to be doing after college. You may have a career in mind or be unsure. If your dream is to become, say – a doctor, you are going to need to get this Chemistry A-Level. Use this to motivate you. Aim for the grades that you need in order to do this profession. 

If you want to go to university, find the course university that suits you best. Research and find out what are the minimum grades that you need for that course at that university. Set these as target grades for yourself. 

If your dream job doesn’t involve Chemistry, perhaps reconsider this option. You don’t want to ‘waste’ two years only to find out what you need for university or your career doesn’t need Chemistry and needs something else instead, and that Chemistry would be taking the place of a more important subject. 

However, A-Level Chemistry can be good for students looking at apprenticeships. The world needs more scientists, and any employers that are in the field of science are looking for A-Level Chemistry students! 

Of course, you’ll have to look hard for apprenticeships in chemistry. Because it’s such a popular A-Level, not many apprenticeships are left! 

That being said, you may have no idea what you want to do after college – and that’s okay. So long as you enjoy Chemistry, you’ll enjoy the A level.  

DO NOT do A-Level Chemistry because your gran thinks you would make a good doctor, do A level Chemistry because you have a passion for it. Any A level you don’t enjoy will be a chore. 

If you are taking A level Chemistry because you think it will be an easy A level, you are very wrong. It’s not easy, and taking it because you think that then you are going to really struggle. It’s going to take up a lot of your time inside and outside of class. 

You’ve got to like Chemistry to take it, I mean really like it. If you don’t like Chemistry, you are going to find it hard to engage in the lessons as it doesn’t interest you, and you will just get very bored.  

But just ‘liking’ it might not be enough. You have to remember that this is the subject you are going to be studying for at least two years, you have to pick one based on your interests and one that will continue to capture your attention throughout.  

Unless you are an extremely motivated worker, you are going to also find it hard to do work on Chemistry without enjoying it, because your brain just won’t engage with it and you won’t want to learn more or get better at it. 

Chemistry goes well with many subjects. Biology + Chemistry and Physics + Chemistry go well together as they contain overlapping subjects which helps you consolidate your knowledge, as well as Geography, Geology and Environmental science.  

Maths, of course, goes well with Chemistry and just about any science. Chemistry, along with the other sciences, is a facilitating subject, meaning that it is a subject that can open you up to many different university course options.  

This makes it a good subject to pick if you are unsure about what you want to do at university and beyond. 

Universities look at A-Level Chemistry as a qualification of intelligent students. If you achieve an A-Level in Chemistry, then many of the top band universities will be more inclined to accept you. 

While you’re at college, or before, you could consider reading around your course. So for Chemistry read about experiments and future discoveries that interest you, or magazines such as New Scientist. 

Not only can it assist your understanding by seeing the application of concepts that you learn in class, but it also can help discover what career you might want to pursue. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover the next big thing? 

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2 years ago

Very helpfull! Answers all questions I had around the subject, thanks!

1 year ago

very helpful. May I ask how do i make sure i have enough time to go to work and do well in college?

Reply to  jesse
1 year ago

u don’t, if you do three intense alevels you may have to consider giving up your job around exam periods especially in the final year. Alevels are no joke and you have to spend alot of time revising if you want to suceed