Stephanie Musson helps you work through the challenges of studying chemistry post-16 

Education cartoon: A-level students bowing to a teacher saying 'teach us great one'

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Congratulations! You have made it through the beginning of your A-level course. This is one of the most exciting periods of your life, you will make friends you will keep for a lifetime, learn an amazing amount and also begin to shape your career.

You have made an excellent decision in choosing to study chemistry. The impact that chemistry has on the world we live in is vast. It touches on everything from smart materials being used in the most incredible ways, to chemists working with palaeontologists to discover the colour of dinosaurs. Chemists also play a crucial role in modern medicine, designing drugs to tackle diseases that affect the global population. There is bound to be something that sparks an interest and makes you think ‘there could be a career in chemistry for me’. However it is also considered one of the most difficult A-levels: there are challenging concepts, mathematics in new contexts, and a lot of new vocabulary and facts to come to terms with.

We have identified the top five challenges many students face when beginning their A-level chemistry studies. You will need to work hard to make the most of your course, but don’t worry as we have lots of helpful tips and it will be very rewarding.

Increased workload

Teachers will expect more of you and you will also expect more of yourself. But how can you keep on top of everything?

Think about how you will plan and spend your free time – allocate time for school work each evening and weekend, and then break this down into subjects. It is important to relax and socialise, but then stick to the plan. If you don’t have specific homework, spend some time making sure you understand the concepts you have covered so far.

Trickier topics

The jump from GCSE to A-level is huge. Some parts of the course may come to you easily but other areas you may find extremely challenging.

What if you get stuck? If you don’t understand something it is quite likely that there is someone else in your group who doesn’t either, so never be afraid to ask for help. It is much better to make sure you understand the basics from the beginning, rather than waiting until later.

There are lots of resources out there to help you. Make good use of them! If you are struggling with a particular concept and want a different explanation try Learn Chemistry or BBC Bitesize.

There are lots of resources out there to help you. Make good use of them! If you are struggling with a particular concept and want a different explanation try Learn Chemistry ( or BBC Bitesize (


Many students struggle, not because they can’t do the chemistry, but because they find the maths hard.

You might think it’s impossible, but if you look closely the maths involved is normally quite straightforward. The secret is to keep asking for help, from your teacher or other students, and to practice, practice and practice! A useful tip: make sure you can still remember and understand what you covered at GCSE. This forms the foundation of what you are learning now.

Solving problems

You are likely to come across questions and situations you have never seen before and need to apply your chemistry knowledge. How do you handle problems like these?

A key tip is to read the question through carefully and take time to think about what it is asking you to do. For example, if it is a calculation question, what exactly does it want you to work out and what information have you been given?

The number of marks the question is worth can give you a clue about what should be involved in the answer. Practice these types of questions from past papers as this can help you feel more confident in preparing for your exams.

Increased pressure

A stack of books

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Lots of work, trickier topics, applying to university and making sure you keep up with extracurricular activities all adds up to a lot of pressure. You may unintentionally have added to this yourself but it might also be coming from others who want you to succeed and reach your potential. But what if it all feels too much?

Lots of students find the transition to A-level studies overwhelming but don’t let it get on top of you. Find someone to talk to and let them know how you are feeling. You are not alone and you will get through it. Talking to someone will help you to prioritise everything you need to do. You may enjoy the extra money from a Saturday job but would you benefit more from having that time to study?


Keep working hard, ask for all the help you can get and make use of everything that is available to you. Finally, remember to enjoy the subject you are studying, keep the end goal in mind, and don’t forget to relax!

Originally published in The Mole