5 ways to revise A Level chemistry right now (without using up all your past papers)

I’ve had a few students ask me when my A Level chemistry predicted papers will be ready this year. Rest assured, they are on the way (some health problems, along with huge demand for tuition, has put me behind schedule). 

There’s a lot of pressure to be seen to be doing ‘past papers’ at this point – no doubt teachers are handing them out in school and maybe recommending you do several in every subject every week. It’s understandable – past papers are the ‘gold standard’ of preparing for an exam. But is it enough to do every paper you get your hands on – and are you actually getting the most from your past papers or predicted papers?

Practice makes perfect – if it’s perfect practice

If you’re sitting in a classroom or in a busy student study area with your headphones in, replying to a message from a friend while eating lunch and having a go at 2019’s Paper 2, I have to ask – what exactly are you practising right now? 

One of the main reasons to practise past papers is to prepare yourself for the real exam. In a real A Level Chemistry exam, you only have yourself to rely on (and the periodic table, of course). You have a fixed amount of time and you don’t know what’s coming up (other than the broad topic lists provided for each paper). You won’t have seen the questions before (although with enough practice, you’ll have seen a lot of similar questions). 

If you dive into past papers too early, you won’t have done enough actual revision to use them to their full potential – that is, as practice for the exam. Similarly, if you have done every single question before as part of a set of topic based questions, you’ll know all the questions. Most A Level subjects have about 7 past papers from the current syllabus (IAL and a few other boards have more) so you might run out pretty quickly if you do one a day starting in the Easter holidays! Keep reading for 5 alternative things you could be doing to get chemistry confident – and still have plenty of time to cover exam practice.

1. Multiple choice questions

MCQs at A Level should not be overlooked – practising multiple choice questions is a skill in itself. You can download a set of 50 practice questions for A Level chemistry (suitable for all exam boards) – best of all, each question has a video walkthrough on my YouTube playlist so you can see not only what the answer is, but how to avoid mistakes and answer similar questions efficiently. You can also head to the Cram Now website for more A Level chemistry (and other sciences) MCQs.

2. Retrieval practice quizzes

If you’re signed up to my weekly chemistry email, you should have already been receiving regular retrieval practice quizzes for A Level chemistry. You can also find them here on the website – if you’re in Year 13, why not also try the Year 12 quizzes to check you haven’t missed anything obvious? When I’m tutoring, I often find that students aiming for high grades are really good at all the complex ideas, but are losing easy marks through not having practised the real ‘fundamentals’ of chemistry knowledge.


3. Other retrieval practice exercises

Stuck on how to revise without practice exam questions? Think retrieval practice is ‘too easy’ and won’t make you think? Challenge accepted – try my 202 retrieval practice activities for A Level chemistry. Even if you start when I first publish this post, you’ll still have enough for more than 3 a day every day until Paper 1. I recommend you actually do about 5-10 each day, so that you have more time for past papers and predicted papers closer to the exam. The activities are split into 101 for AS content and 101 more for the rest of A Level, so you can use the first set if you’re preparing for your year 12 mocks or AS Level exams.

4. Other sources of practice questions

Where else can you find questions that aren’t past exam questions? To help bridge the gap without making yourself over familiar with precious past papers, you can use textbook questions and revision workbooks, along with questions your teacher might have provided. Chemsheets has a huge stock of booklets and practice questions for a reasonable subscription. My A Level resources section has some free sets of questions with video walkthroughs, and I also have a booklet of extended response questions plus full practice exam papers for OCR A and AQA A Level chemistry. 

5. AS Level past papers

Finally, don’t forget the useful resource that is AS Level past papers. As I mentioned above, it’s often the areas from earlier on in the course, real essentials like bonding and structure, calculations or periodic trends that students have forgotten about. AS Level papers are another good ‘bridge’ revision exercise as they are a little easier than full papers, while still testing your knowledge on important topics. 

Online courses

This is a bonus option for those willing to invest a few more ££ to up their revision game. My A Level chemistry masterclass revision packages include practice questions and checklists as well as over 20 hours of recorded exam masterclass lessons, covering detailed exam technique and important ideas to help boost your confidence. These are available for AQA, OCR A and Edexcel and there’s also an AS Level chemistry option (suitable for any exam board).

Claire Costello-Kelly

Claire Costello-Kelly

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