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How to score well for O Level Chemistry

Doing well in Secondary School Chemistry can be challenging for many students. As a science that deals with the structure and properties of substances, the content that it encompasses is broad and wide-ranging. In this article brought to you by Singapore's top Chemistry tuition center, Zenith provides a brief outline of the O Level Chemistry syllabus and pointers on how you can attain your distinctions!

Syllabus outline

Fig 1. Cambridge’s outline of the O Level Pure Chemistry syllabus

Secondary school Pure Chemistry consists of a total of 11 topics, which is one additional topic more than that of the Combined Chemistry’s syllabus. In addition, more deductive and analytical questions are incorporated into the Pure Chemistry syllabus. From Fig 1., some of the most important topics that students should have a solid grounding in are Organic Chemistry and Mole Stoichiometry. Paper 1 (MCQ) accounts for 30% of the total grade, while Papers 2 (Structured Questions) and 3 (Practical) take up 50 and 20% respectively. Sounds like a lot? Worry not, for at the best Chemistry tuition in Singapore, Zenith has developed three key learning points to help you bag that distinction!

Pointer 1: Understand the periodic table inside out

At Zenith, we cannot emphasize the importance of the Periodic Table enough. All chemical theorems, logic, calculations, and laws can be derived or inferred from the Periodic Table. For example, if we turn our attention back to Fig 1., the topics of Particulate Matter and Mole Stoichiometry (Section II) are both based on the properties of specific elements in the periodic table. Similarly, for Section III, the rates of reactions of the different charged ions, acids, and bases follow different predetermined patterns on the periodic table. This is because reaction rates change down groups and across rows. As for sections IV, V, and VI, the Periodic Table also plays a fundamental role in determining the chemical attributes of such substances as metals, gases, and organic compounds. For instance, we see that across periods (rows), Ionization energy, Electron Affinity, and Nonmetallic Character increases; while down groups (columns), Atomic Radius decreases (Fig 2.). This is mainly because across periods, atoms decrease in size. In contrast, down groups, the valence shell number increases, causing the atoms to increase in size. Since the outermost electrons are further away from the nucleus, less energy is needed to remove the valence electrons.

Fig 2. Properties determined by the Periodic Table

Hence, appreciating the complex relationships and interconnectivity between the elements of the periodic table is an absolute must as it lays a solid foundation for all topics tested in the Secondary School Chemistry syllabus. As the leading Science tuition in Singapore, Zenith makes sure to conduct Chemistry classes with the Periodic Table as an important focal point of learning.

Pointer 2: Prepare and practice efficiently

Good preparation and practice go a long way towards consolidating key learning points and milestones. At the top Chemistry tuition center in Singapore, we constantly stress the importance of practice! This applies to all situations regardless if you are studying Pure or Combined Chemistry. One good practice to adopt is to make use of acronyms that can assist you by associating relevant keywords to key concepts whenever you’re learning a new chapter!

Fig 3. Using acronyms to remember the metal reactivity series

From Fig 3., we see that coining an interesting acronym for an otherwise complicated chemistry term (in this case the reactivity of metals with waters, acids, etc) can go a long way towards helping students internalize difficult concepts. Another good preparation technique is to create diagrams and mind maps to help you visualize the various reaction pathways easily. This is especially pertinent for certain topics like Organic Chemistry where a summary of the properties and reactions of Organic compounds (think Alkenes, Alkanes, Carboxylic Acids, etc.) would greatly aid you in recalling the required data. Furthermore, students are often asked to draw out Organic Molecules, so sketching them out as a diagram before exams can help them to better understand the relationships between different reaction pathways.

It is crucial that preparation is accompanied by proper practice. That means grinding out Ten-Year series papers and other schools’ preliminary exam papers. This form of practice tests you on your understanding of specific topics, and your ability to apply key concepts. Putting in the hours to memorize important concepts can also greatly aid you in tackling difficult questions! Gradually, more practice and memorization allows your mind to be conditioned to the actual structures and formats of the different O Level questions. That is why our tutors at Zenith, the best Science tuition in Singapore, specially design systematic and comprehensive revision plans for each of you, to maximize every student’s potential through mindful preparation and practice.

Pointer 3: Familiarise yourself with multiple question structures

Zenith’s final pointer is that you understand the requirements of the different question types found in the secondary school chemistry syllabus. The official Cambridge-SEAB O Level syllabus states that students are to apply “principles and concepts to novel situations”, meaning that a degree of analytical thinking is needed to fit content learned to the demands of the questions. This means that it is simply not enough that you are familiar with the information stored in the textbook; it is of paramount importance to rephrase and restructure the content learned to different question types! In order to do so, we have to understand the different command words that define a question type.

Firstly, the “calculate” question type is used when a numerical answer is required. In general, workings should be shown clearly and accurately, especially where two or more steps are involved. Usually, only a basic grasp of mathematics is needed; usually addition, subtraction, or multiplication. Students should instead concern themselves with the context in which such questions are structured upon because those are what determine the path of calculations to be made.

Secondly, we have the least inferential question types, that are usually denoted by one or at most two marks. These may require students to group things based on common characteristics, the “classify” question model, or the “comment” question type, intended as an open-ended instruction, inviting students to recall or infer points of interest relevant to the context of the question. More often than not, such question types are low-level inferences that aim to test students on their foundational grasp of certain concepts. Take note of some other related or commonly used terms such as “find”, “list” ,” measure”, or “define”.

Moving on, the “describe” type of questions. This means that you should provide a detailed elaboration of a process or a pathway. Usually, describe question types are also rather surface-level, not needing students to make informed inferences to arrive at any conclusions. Another common term other than “describe” used to denote such questions would be “suggest”. This requires you to come up with a sensible description that can be easily coaxed out of the question.

The “explain” question type is arguably the most important question model, requiring students to make active inferences based on the limitations of the context of the question. These are higher-level requirements that test students on their ability to integrate the content learned into multiple layers of learning. They demand scientific reasons for, and logic of the why or how. Here, you are expected to elaborate well and provide a more detailed and comprehensive working answer than the aforementioned question types. Similar questions types that require students to make informed judgments but without the need for wordy explanations are that of the “estimate” and “predict” build.

If you are worried, don’t be! Our experienced tutors at the best Secondary School tuition programme are willing to go beyond the books just for your betterment. At Zenith, we strongly inculcate in our students the ability to adapt to the framework of the various question models! Stick by the above pointers, and you will be able to tackle the national exams with courage and confidence! Chemistry, being one of the most important pillars of science, extends even to certain aspects of Physics and Biology. On top of that, it opens the door to a myriad of top courses at the university level. It is no wonder that it is a staple subject in many Secondary School subject combinations.

We hope that this guide has been useful to you! If you’re struggling with Chemistry and are in desperate need of help, fret not because Zenith boasts as the top Chemistry tuition center in Singapore. Our students have collectively achieved huge boosts in their grade after joining Zenith’s tuition programs. Visit our testimonials page to find out more or jump straight to contacting us for a free trial today!

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