A Level Chemistry

 

What is it about at sixth form level?

 Over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Democritus claimed that the familiar world of colours, tastes and smells is a world of appearances. Reality is atoms in empty space colliding and coalescing by means of hooks and barbs on their surfaces. Today, quite a different story is told about how atoms bond to one another and we no longer think they are indivisible but Democritus was fundamentally correct: from the small to the large, things are made up of atoms. Chemistry is the study of the elements and the compounds that they produce. Its aim is to explain, at an atomic level, the physical and chemical properties of these substances and to discover, by investigation, new substances that may be of benefit or be potentially harmful to mankind. It can thus have a huge impact on modern society and the resources available to our society. 

Building on the concepts covered at GCSE, A level Chemistry will introduce you to a broad range of advanced topics. It will get you to think like a chemist, by putting the emphasis on the need to provide explanations of chemical phenomena rather than on the ability merely to remember chemical facts.

Lower sixth 

In the first year, you will cover four modules. In Module 1 (Development of Practical Skills in Chemistry) you will learn how to plan and implement experiments and how to analyse and evaluate the results. Module 2 (Foundations in Chemistry) covers atomic structure and bonding. Acid-base and redox reactions are studied as well as equation writing and the concept of amount of substance. Module 3 (Periodic Table and Energy) looks at the idea of periodicity, Group 2 and the halogens, qualitative analysis, enthalpy changes, reaction rates and qualitative equilibrium. Finally, in Module 4 (Core Organic Chemistry), you will look at hydrocarbons, alcohols, halogenoalkenes, organic synthesis and the analytic techniques of infra-red and mass spectroscopy.

Upper sixth 

In the second year, you will study two more modules. Module 5 (Physical Chemistry and Transition Elements) looks at reaction rates and quantitative equilibrium, pH and buffers, enthalpy, entropy and free energy, redox and electrode potentials, and transition elements. In Module 6 (Organic Chemistry and Analysis), you will cover aromatic, nitrogen and carbonyl compounds, carboxylic acids and esters, polymers, organic synthesis, chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Why study it and what skills does it develop?

Chemistry is a well-respected and challenging academic subject. Studying it will develop your analytical and numerical skills. Problem-solving skills are developed as well as how to apply knowledge in unfamiliar contexts. An A level in Chemistry is prerequisite for gaining entry onto degree courses in Chemistry, Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary science. It is a valuable subject to have if applying for broader natural sciences courses but also will be welcome in applications to study subjects such as Law and Philosophy because of the critical skills it teaches you.

What prior knowledge and skills are required?

A sound GCSE background is extremely useful but not essential. A minimum of grade B at (I)GCSE is desirable. You should have an inquisitive mind and a desire to make discoveries through investigation. You should also have the ability to follow a logical sequence of instructions and to be able to recall factual information.

How is the course assessed?

AS level 

Students studying for the AS will sit two papers on Modules 1-4 at the end of the first year. Paper 1 (Breadth in Chemistry) covers Modules 1-4 and has a multiple choice section, followed by structured questions, covering theory and practical skills. Paper 2 (Depth in Chemistry) covers Modules 1-4 too and has structured questions and extended response questions covering theory and practical skills. Both papers are worth 50% of the AS and last 1 hour 30 minutes each.

A level 

Students studying for the A level will sit three papers on Modules 1-6 at the end of the second year. Paper 1 (Periodic Table, Elements and Physical Chemistry) covers Modules 1, 2, 3 and 5. Paper 2 (Synthesis and Analytical Techniques) covers Modules 1, 2, 4 and 6. In both papers, at least 15% of the question paper assessment covers knowledge and understanding of practical skills. 40% of the question paper assessment covers mathematical skills. Paper 3 (Unified Chemistry) covers Modules 1-6 and contains short answer questions and extended response questions. Papers 1 and 2 are worth 37% of the A level and last 2 hours 15 minutes each. Paper 3 is worth 26% and lasts 1 hour 30 minutes.

Practical assessments no longer contribute to the final grade at A Level. However, students must complete a minimum of 12 practical activities to demonstrate practical competence. Performance is reported separately to the A Level grade and will be marked as either pass or fail.

Reading

A Level Chemistry A for OCR Year 1 and AS
By D. Gent, R. Ritchie
Published by OUP, ISBN 978-0198351962

A Level Chemistry A for OCR Year 2
By D. Gent, R. Ritchie
Published by OUP, ISBN 978-0198357650

Exam Board and Specification Codes

AS: OCR-A H032, A level: OCR-A H432 (reformed) 

Trevor Rook
Head of Department