Teacher Susan Hammond shares her insight into how – and why – students should tackle the UK Chemistry Olympiad challenge

Susan Hammond

Source: © Susan Hammond

Susan Hammond is course leader of chemistry at Woking College. For 14 years, she has single-handedly run classes for learners aged 16 and above taking part in the annual UK Chemistry Olympiad. On four occasions her students have made it through the first round, and Susan has found that the ability to solve problems and understand maths adds up to extra marks in the Olympiad.

How did the college get involved?

I initiated involvement in 2011.

Between 10 and 20 students a year take part – my room holds 20, so that’s how many I invite but anyone can come along; it’s voluntary. I run half-hour lunchtime classes twice a week, starting a month into the autumn term so they’ve done some A-level chemistry, and continuing into January when the first round of the competition is held. I warn them it’s difficult and that just taking part is impressive.

What makes a good Olympiad student?

A good work ethic. Usually, the ones that are good at maths get through; that’s how they pick up extra marks. Questions are focused on real life, so much more about problem-solving than rote learning.

What are the benefits?

Having a go at something really difficult builds confidence. And it’s fantastic preparation for students applying for university, particularly those that require academic interviews. It really fosters resilience, which is what universities and companies are looking for.

How has the college performed?

This year there were about 15,000 entries in total, the highest yet, and awards are given out after the first round. Eighteen of our students received an award. Getting a bronze in the first year is tremendous but we also got silvers and one gold, and some silvers and a gold in year 13.

Read how one of Susan’s former learners feels about their experience of the competition.