by Graeme Matthews

April 7, 2022

How do you know if you are working hard enough in A-level Chemistry? It's a question that every student asks themselves at some point during their A-levels. There may be several reasons that a student asks themselves this question. It could be that their grade is not what they want it to be so they are starting to panic and think that they will not do well on their final exam. Or it could be that they feel as if they are studying and revising all of the time and are starting to feel burnt out. Or it could be that they are comparing themselves to their class mates and feel that they are studying more or less than their classmates and that they are wasting their time.

So, how do you know if you are working hard enough in A-level Chemistry? Continue reading to find out how you can quickly tell if you are working too hard or not hard enough in A-level Chemistry and how to quickly get your study and revision habits back on track.

When Do You Start Counting The Questions That You Complete?

How to do well in A-level Chemistry

Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxers that ever lived and had a lot of sayings that are used in motivational quotes or sound bytes in motivational speeches. 

One of his quotes is an answer that he gave to a reporter when he was asked how many situps he does during his daily training sessions. He said "I don't count the sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting because they're the only ones that count. That's what makes you a champion."

If he didn't do enough situps then he was wasting his time in the gym. He wasn't doing enough situps to strengthen his body and to prepare for his next boxing match. If he did too many situps then he ran the risk of physically injuring himself and having to take time out of his training routine in order to heal. And he ran the risk of burning out mentally and not completing his training sessions and falling into worse physical shape.

So why is Ali's quote relevant to how hard you should be working in A-level Chemistry? Because it shows how Ali entered the zone of optimal peak performance everytime he trained in the gym. He didn't train too lightly and waste his time in the gym, he didn't train too hard and risk injuring himself, he trained at the optimal level every time that he trained.

And this is how as an A-level Chemist you need to study and revise for your tests and exams. 

You don't want to waste your time in your study and revision sessions completing questions that you already know how to do. This is called studying too lightly. You don't want to complete questions on a topic that you don't fully understand so that you are just memorising markschemes. This is called studying too hard and you risk burning out mentally.

What you want to do is to work at the optimal level every time that you study and revise A-level Chemistry. This sounds great but how do you know if you are working at your optimal level in your study and revision sessions? And when do you start counting the questions that you complete?

You know if you are working at your optimal level in A-level Chemistry if you complete a transcendent question during your lesson, while studying your course materials or when revising for your tests and exams. And you start counting the questions that you complete after you have completed a transcendent question.

The Transcendent Question

How To Do Well In A-Level Chemistry

A transcendent question is a question that you thought that you couldn't do with your current undertanding of A-level Chemistry. It's the last question that you do during lesson when you are getting tired of completing PPQ and are looking at the clock to see how many minutes are left until the end of lesson. It's the last question that you do when revising for your tests and exams and are getting frustrated because you partially understand the concept but you keep getting your answer slightly wrong. 

The transcendent question is the question that is just out of your reach in terms of your understanding of the course material. It's the question that you do when you want to quit studying and revising for the day but you decide to attempt one last question. 

Its the question that allows you to grow as an A-level Chemistry student.

Why is the transcendent question a good indicator of whether you are working at your optimal level? How do you know if you are working hard enough? Because its an indication that you are in the zone. If you aren't working hard enough then the questions in class aren't challenging you. The questions that you complete when studying or revising are too easy because you already know the material so you aren't learning anything new. If you are working too hard then you don't understand the course material so you are completing past paper questions with the markscheme open or are just memorising markschemes. Or you start to find excuses not to study or revise because you know that you don't know the material and are falling behind.

The transcendent question is an indication that you are in the zone. You are working at an optimal level and are growing as an A-level Chemist. You are working hard enough!

How Do You Structure Your Study And Revision Sessions Around The Transcendent Question

How To Do Well In A-Level Chemistry

Structuring your study and revision sessions around the transcendent question involves a shift in your mindset. Too often students are stuck in the urgent and important quadrant of Steven Covey's time management matrix. They are stuck on a treadmill of completing course assignments and studying for EOU tests. And because they are taking three or four A-level courses their time is spent staying up late into the night completing homework sets or course work and cramming for days on end for their EOU tests.

The problem is that this approach allows students little time for revision where they have time to consolidate their notes and understanding on a topic. They have little time to see the synoptic links between the topics they studied in Year 12 and the topics they are studying in Year 13.

And they have little time to seek out the transcendent question on a topic which means that they are not working at their optimal level.

What's the strategy for getting out of this cycle of always working to an impending deadline? Of not being able to see the synoptic links between the topics in Year 12 and Year 13 of A-level Chemistry?

In a previous blog post I discussed how to manage your time so that you are always working three days ahead of schedule so that you aren't working late into the night completing HW sets and course work assignments. And you aren't spending days cramming for your EOU tests.

And if you have a study and revision schedule like I discussed in a previous blog post then you know how to plan a revision schedule so that you are studying topics that complement each other in dual revision sessions. For example, you are revising the Year 12 topic of kinetics with the Year 13 topic of rate laws.

All of this planning gives you some mental space to reflect on the questions that you are completing as part of your study or revision sessions.

You can take a figurative step back and look at the question from a distance and ask yourself do you understand the question? If the question is too easy then you have the knowledge and self confidence to pause and spend a few minutes locating some more difficult questions on the topic. Maybe they are a different type of question or they are questions from a different exam board.

Or maybe if the question is too difficult you pause and consolidate your notes, research some YouTube video that explains the topic or see your teacher for help during their subject tutorials. You can do this because you know that you have the flexibility in your schedule to do this because you are following a study and revision plan where you are working three days in advance.

If you follow this approach you will quickly hone in on the transcendent question for each topic that you are studying and revising. You will find that you are spending most of your time in each session completing a transcendent question. And you will feel confident that you are working at your optimal level and are working hard enough in your A-level studies.

How To Do Well In A-Level Chemistry

You will do well in A-level Chemistry if you optimise your study and revision sessions around the transcendent question by completing the following steps:

  • Create a weekly timetable so that you are always working three days in advance.
  • Create a revision schedule so that you are revising Year 12 and 13 topics in a dual revision session.
  • Pause and ask yourself if you understand the question you are completing.
  • Adjust the type and difficulty level of the question so that you are always working on a question that you can just complete.
  • Maintain this level of difficulty throughout your revision session so that you are always completing transcendent questions and are always in the zone.

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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