A level Chemistry

Exam Board: OCR

What is the A level Chemistry about?

Chemistry is everything to do with the stuff of life. If you are inquisitive about what things are made of and what might happen if you mix this with that, then it is the subject for you. You need to be up for a challenge - many find Chemistry a difficult subject, but this makes it all the more rewarding when you grow in your understanding and begin to put together the ideas behind so much of the world around us. Just as “Science” in younger years became the three subjects you now know, so Chemistry is now split into Physical, Inorganic and Organic strands. You will get a good taste of each of these through the A level course. There is much experimental work to be done, and we will teach you many of the key techniques which lead us to evidence underpinning the theory taught. Whilst there is no coursework as such, practical skills and understanding will be assessed in the final exams, largely based on required experiments (“PAG’s”) which you will need to complete during the course of the two years.

What does the A level/GCSE consist of?

We use the OCR exam board for Chemistry - syllabus A if you want to look it up - and these are the topics that are covered over the two years.

Content is split into six teaching modules, the first four of which are covered in the first year:

  • Module 1 – Development of practical skills in chemistry
    • Practical skills assessed in a written examination
    • Practical skills assessed in the practical endorsement
  • Module 2 – Foundations in chemistry
    • Atoms, compounds, molecules and equations
    • Amount of substance
    • Acid–base and redox reactions
    • Electrons, bonding and structure
  • Module 3 – Periodic table and energy
    • The periodic table and periodicity
    • Group 2 and the halogens
    • Qualitative analysis
    • Enthalpy changes
    • Reaction rates and equilibrium (qualitative)
  • Module 4 – Core organic chemistry
    • Basic concepts
    • Hydrocarbons
    • Alcohols and haloalkanes
    • Organic synthesis
    • Analytical techniques (IR and MS)
  • Module 5 – Physical chemistry and transition elements
    • Reaction rates and equilibrium (quantitative)
    • pH and buffers
    • Enthalpy, entropy and free energy
    • Redox and electrode potentials
    • Transition elements
  • Module 6 – Organic chemistry and analysis
    • Aromatic compounds
    • Carbonyl compounds
    • Carboxylic acids and esters
    • Nitrogen compounds
    • Polymers
    • Organic synthesis
    • Chromatography and spectroscopy (NMR)

There will be three exams which are taken at the end of year 13. The first two papers are 2hr 15mins each, with the third being 1hr 30mins.

Do I need to have studied the subject at GCSE? (for A levels/BTECs)

To be eligible for this course pupils will need to have, in addition to the requirements set by the school for entry to the sixth form, a minimum of two grade 6s in Science at GCSE. It will be advantageous to have studied triple Science and they will be accepted onto this course if they have achieved at least a grade 6 for Chemistry and passed the other two Sciences with a 5 grade or above. If they have completed a Double Award (Combined Science), they will need to have achieved a pass of at least 6-6. We would also advise working through a “bridging course” to fill in the gaps in teaching syllabus between this course and the single award Chemistry GCSE. We will be happy to supply details of these should you need them.

In addition to this, pupils will also need to have passed Mathematics with a grade 6 as there is quite a high level of mathematical skill required throughout the course.

Whom does the subject suit?

Chemistry is such a broad subject benefiting hugely those who have an interest in what anything and everything is made of. We will delve into the intricacies of sub-atomic particles explaining from where we get our theories of these, and explain more about the bonding that is so key to the macroscopic properties of the chemicals that we think we know. There is much to learn about the energy changes in processes, and when and why an equilibrium may form - how fast and how far the reactions will go. Vitally we not only look at the theories of these, but also the impact on the economics and practicality too.

Organic Chemistry teaches us about the fundamental building blocks of life, transition metals (on the inorganic side) about some of the most important chemicals industrially being the catalysts. We also look at some of the cutting edge analytical techniques used in laboratories around the world every day. Whom does this suit? Anyone who finds an interest in these areas and so much more!

What skills should I have?

Along with an inquiring mind, being able to spot patterns and link ideas, and having an ability sometimes to think outside of the box, you will need to be able to spot what is really being asked in a challenging situation. It helps to be able to express yourself clearly and concisely. Precision and accuracy are key in practical work, with terminology and calculations.

What might the subject lead to?

A level Chemistry is a useful - sometimes vital - stepping stone to future study of a vast array of degree courses, further study and careers. Perhaps the best step is to take the following link to the Royal Society of Chemistry website where there are interviews with chemists in a huge range of careers from material sciences, no end of medical pursuits, atmospheric analysis - even teaching!

What trips are involved?

We take the L6th pupils to the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham which exposes the pupils to the vast range of careers that are available for pupils who have studied Biology. This fair is usually at the start of March and so is just at the time that the pupils are starting to think about university courses that they might be interested in.

What else should I consider before choosing?

It might be helpful to consider what other subjects you could do alongside Chemistry which would complement the subject. The obvious ones are Physics and Biology, Animal Management, Sports Studies and Mathematics. Other students have also studied DT or Art or English and all of these subjects help to develop analytical and observational skills that are very useful in Chemistry.

What wider reading would be helpful?

  • The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
  • Any auto/biographies about leading chemists
  • Journals such as New Scientist, Catalyst and so on
  • Start with the Royal Society of Chemistry website -
  • Listen to top scientists reporting on their work and passion on BBC Radio 4’s “The Life Scientific” via the BBC Sounds app.
  • Who will teach me? Mr Lane and Mr Petra