Chemguide: Support for CIE A level Chemistry
An introduction to some of the problems in preparing for Paper 5
Chemistry is above everything a practical subject, and you shouldn't really find any great difficulty with Paper 5 if you have done a lot of practical work throughout the time you have been learning chemistry.
Grade boundaries on Paper 5 in 2016 (the first papers of the new syllabus) are running between 70 and 80% for a grade A. That is significantly higher than in most previous papers.
That is something to be pleased about! It means that the papers have got easier (for the moment). If you have a grade boundary of about 50 - 60% for a grade A, that means that the paper is so hard that even the best people can't do almost 50% of it.
What the higher grade boundaries do mean, though, is that you can't afford to waste marks, and that is what this section aims to help you to prevent.
But what if you are in a school or college where there aren't enough facilities for you to do regular practical work?
You have to accept that you start off at a disadvantage compared with those who have had years of practical experience - but with a bit of effort and care, you can overcome that.
The Examiner's Reports make clear that many students just throw marks away needlessly on these papers. There are only 30 marks available on Paper 5 - that means that for every 3 marks you waste, you drop 10% on your paper score.
We are talking here about marks which nobody who is doing A level chemistry should lose - not being able to write simple formulae, for example, or not balancing equations, or drawing diagrams which obviously can't work if you looked at them critically.
So this section is going to point out to you where these problems lie, and what you can do about them.
But it is also important that you take responsibility for your own exam preparation. The best way to prepare for Paper 5 is by looking at past papers with their mark schemes and Examiner's Reports, so that you can see exactly what sort of questions are being asked, and what mistakes you should avoid.
Concentrate mainly on recent papers when you are doing this.
A useful site for background material
makescienceeasy.com is a new site (as of April 2017) which consists of short talks followed by questions to test your understanding. It has a section titled "scientific literacy" which covers exactly the sort of things you will need to be able to do in Paper 5.
This covers basic maths skills, how to draw and interpret graphs, and detailed work on how to carry out scientific investigations which covers many of the things which you will need to know - the control of variables, accuracy and reliability of results, processing and evaluating the results, and so on.
You need to register to access the material, but don't worry about this - it is so that you can keep track of your progress. The scientific literacy course is free, but there could possibly be paid-for material on the site in the future. You are NOT signing up for that!
You really need to look at this site early on, and not leave it until just before an exam. It will take a few hours to work through all the material, and you need to do this before you start worrying about exactly what CIE want in Paper 5.
© Jim Clark 2017