by Graeme Matthews

March 24, 2019

Mock Exam Results Explained

In the previous post, “Revision Plan: How A* Students Plan To Effectively Revise For A-Level Chemistry”, the use of an effective revision plan was discussed as a valuable tool to organise your child’s revision time. But once your child has organised their workspace and folders, have planned out blocks of time that they will devote to each subject, have decided to study a Year 1 topic with a Year 2 topic and have decided to revise the content by question type they may be wondering what to do next! And they may come to you as a parent and ask what exactly do they do next in in their A-level chemistry revision in order to study for their A-levels effectively and earn an A* in A-level chemistry?

As a parent of a child about to sit their A-level exams do you know what steps they need to take in order to earn an A* in A-level chemistry? This blog post discusses the top five study skills used by A* students to earn an A* in their A-level exams. All of the strategies are based on the theory of active learning rather than passive learning. This is because A* students know that active learning, where they are engaged proactively with the material, is a better use of their time than passive learning, where they don’t critique or question the material.

Study Skill #1: Mind Maps


Mind maps are a great way to quickly recall what you know about the topic and are an essential study skill of your child’s A-level chemistry revision strategy. The advantage of using a mind map is that they allow you to get an overview of the topic and see how all of the subtopics fit together. They are often used by A* students at the beginning of a revision session in order to recall what knowledge they know and how much knowledge they have learned about the topic in a previous revision session.

In order to create a mind map take out a blank piece of paper and an assortment of coloured pens. The coloured pens help you recall information better. Write down the title of the topic in the centre of the page and label the branches of the map with the titles of the individual subtopics. You may have to refer to the specification the first time you create a mind map but with practice, you will quickly be able to generate the backbone of the map in a couple of minutes. Now write down as much as you know about each subtopic using bullet points below the title of each subtopic.

Creating mind maps is a retrieval practice that can be used to revise all aspects of A-level chemistry. For example, it could be used to revise organic synthesis pathways, conditions and reagents. The advantage that it has is an active learning technique that provides an overview of the topic so that students can see how each subtopic fits together like a jigsaw puzzle to complete the overall topic.

Study Skill #2: Index Cards


A significant portion of the A-level chemistry exam requires the ability to recall definitions of key concepts. Sometimes these definitions are worth a point on the exam and sometimes they are worth up to three points on the exam. A* students know that it’s definitely something that is worth investing their time in when planning their A-level chemistry revision and how they are going to revise for the topic.

To make effective revision cards for memorising definitions, write the word on one side of the index card and the definition on the other side of the card. Make sure that you are using the definition directly from your exam board when you write down the definition. Then highlight any keywords that are required to be in the definition by the exam board with a coloured highlighter.

Students can either use index cards to write down the definition of key concepts or they use an app on their smartphone. Each system has its own strengths and weaknesses. Using index cards allows the students to write down the key concept and definition and highlight the keywords required by the exam board. However, it does require that they carry around an ever-increasing stack of index cards. Using an app on their smartphone doesn’t allow students to manually write down the definition and highlight any keywords, which does take away from the learning process, but it does mean that they don’t have to carry around a stack of index cards.

Whichever system they choose to use the important point is that the students are actively revising key concepts and definitions.

Study Skill #3: Flashcards


Flashcards are a good strategy to incorporate into an A-level chemistry revision plan and are used differently from index cards. Index cards are an efficient tool to use to recall the definition of key concepts. Flashcards are an efficient tool to use to recall the sequence of steps needed to complete a typical problem seen on the exam.

Part of a student’s revision strategy may involve revising how to answer 4-mark calculation questions. Students can either revise these types of questions by completing a series of 4-mark questions one after the other and then checking their work using a mark scheme. Or they can write down the steps that they need to complete in order to answer the question on a flashcard first and then complete a series of questions and check their work using a mark scheme.

Students who write down the steps needed to answer a typical problem they may see on the exam and then complete a series of practice questions are at a distinct advantage to those students who just complete packs of practice questions. This is because they are able to immediately identify the type of question on the exam and more easily recall the steps that have to be completed in order to answer the question. And they are also able to see the links between each step and understand why they have to complete each step so they are less likely to forget to complete a step when answering the question.

Study Skill #4: Teach Fellow Students

A-level chemistry revision

As the old saying goes there isn’t a better way to test your understanding of the topic than by teaching someone else. Although students may complete many past paper questions and feel as if they have a deep understanding of the topic, A* students know that teaching someone else the topic is an excellent way to review and reinforce what they know about the topic. And by having someone else teach them the topic also allows them to review what they know about the topic and to fill in any gaps in their knowledge and understanding of the topic.

In order to take full advantage of this study skill, it’s best to form a study group of between two to three students. Before meeting to revise the topic as a group, each student agrees to thoroughly revise the topic. This is because this technique works best when all of the students have approximately the same understanding of the topic. Otherwise, some students in the group may feel that they are wasting their time having to teach the topic from scratch when they could be completing revision on their own. And they also agree to bring sample questions with them that they have prepared in advance to the meeting. This is because it’s a more efficient use of time to have questions and answers prepared rather than to be stuck on a certain part of the problem or looking for mark schemes on the internet.

Once the group meets, the person or persons being taught the topic completes the sample question under timed conditions. Then the person reviewing the topic answers the question and explains each step of their answer. The person being taught the topic has the opportunity to ask any questions that they may have about the topic as they are being taught the topic. The students then swap roles and the cycle is repeated using a different question.

Study Skill #5: Past Paper Questions and Mark Schemes As Part Of A-Level Chemistry Revision

A-level chemistry revision

The most common approach used by students when studying for their exams is to complete past paper questions. This is an important skill for students to include in their revision plan as it allows them to see the types of questions that they will encounter on the exam and quickly assess what they know and don’t know about each of the topics being tested. However, it’s also the one skill set that most students don’t use correctly when revising for the exam which can lead to disaster on results day.

In order to be used effectively in a revision strategy, the use of past paper questions has to be sequenced correctly in the revision cycle and they have to be included in a feedback loop. In order to sequence the use of past paper questions correctly, the past paper questions should be completed under timed conditions, without the use of notes and after the topic has been thoroughly revised. What shouldn’t occur and it is what commonly occurs when students are revising a topic, is that students complete past paper questions as they are revising the topic with their notes open with the idea that they would have written the answer given in the mark scheme or that their answer was close enough.

In order to gain the most benefit from the use of past paper questions, they must be included in a feedback loop. After completing a pack of past paper questions, A* students mark their work using the mark scheme, update their glossary of definitions, update their mind map for the topic by adding in any information that is missing after completing the questions and update their strategy maps for answering each type of question. Although it seems like a lot of work, it is this slowing down and feeding back information into their notes that allows A* students to earn top marks on their exams.

How To Study For A-Levels Effectively: 5 Study Skills Used By A* Students In Their A-level Chemistry Revision

When studying for their A-level chemistry exams, A* students use the study skills listed below. They understand that it is a better use of their time to revise using active learning techniques rather than passive learning techniques.

  1. Mind maps
  2. Index cards
  3. Flashcards
  4. Study groups where they teach other students
  5. Complete whole past paper questions under timed conditions.

About the author 

Graeme Matthews

Graeme Matthews has a B.Sc and an M.Sc in Chemistry and a PhD in Adult Education. He has been teaching a combination of university level, college and A-level chemistry for over 23 years. He has taught over 10,000 chemistry students in his teaching career. He has a proven track record of helping students earn an A* on their A-level chemistry exams so they can attend the university of their choice.

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