How to Master A-Level H2 Chemistry

Sean Chua being interviewed by Ai Ling | Winners Education Centre

Many parents are puzzled on why their child struggles to pass his A-Level Higher 2 (H2) Chemistry examination when he has scored A1 for his O-Level Chemistry.

In fact, this is the most frequently asked questions posted to Sean Chua, the master trainer for O & A – Levels Chemistry in Winners Education Centre. We speak to him to find out what students should do to master their A-Level H2 Chemistry.

Are parents having too high expectations for their child?

We understand their concern. Who wouldn’t want their child to score outstanding results and gain admission to a university course of their choice? Most parents expect their child to continue to perform at an acceptable level in the Junior College but many students gave their parents a shock with their first term results which are in a sea of red (???). In my opinion, parents must understand the transition their child is going through before setting their expectation. It is also important that they have open communication with their child to find out the reasons why they are not performing.

Based on your decades of teaching, what could be the major problem students face when they transit from O-Level Chemistry to H2 Chemistry in Junior Colleges?

Different Learning Environment:

Many students faced difficulties adjusting to a different learning environment. In Secondary Schools, they were taught in a small classroom of between 30-40 students and they have the chance to clarify with their Chemistry teacher whenever in doubt. Now in Junior Colleges (JC), lessons are held in lecture theatres and students find it difficult to ask questions when the lecture is in progress. Some have also commented that the pace of lectures were so fast that they only have time to copy notes, but no time to understand the concepts taught. They also found it a challenge to clarify their doubts after the lecture since the lecturers will be surrounded by many other students.

Many would choose to wait until their tutorial sessions to clarify their doubts. The problem is that some school tutors will only discuss concepts based on the given tutorial questions. The questions are often so challenging that students without basic understanding will not be able to even attempt them. As such, they resort to spending time copying down the suggested solutions during the tutorials rather than clarifying their conceptual doubts.

Others have also feedback that the topic discussed in their tutorials is lagging behind their lectures by 2-3 topics. By the time they attend the tutorial session, they would have forgotten the key concepts taught much earlier and the doubts they would like to clarify. This caused them to lose their interest in the subject.

What if a student is an introvert? Will he be at a disadvantage when he doesn’t voice out his questions?

Definitely not! With the advancement of technology, a quiet student can choose to use email to ‘voice out’ his questions with his school tutors. He can also use the educational resources found on the internet to complement his learning. My quieter students chose to come earlier before class or stay behind a little while to ask me questions. Some also use mobile applications like whatsapp and iMessage to quickly clarify their doubts with me. So it really doesn’t matter if a student is quiet or outspoken, it’s the commitment to keep asking using their preferred platforms that will make the difference. I would like to emphasize the importance of seeking clarification of H2 Chemistry concepts on a consistent basis.

What is one important thing about H2 Chemistry exams that students must know?

More Complicated Concepts & Application Questions:

The truth is that Chemistry concepts involved in A-Level H2 Chemistry are significantly more complicated than those covered in the O-Level Chemistry syllabus. Most of the topics require the students to understand and memorise the key words and definitions in order to have a good grasp of the essential concepts. However, memorising and regurgitating information alone without application are not sufficient at A-Level! Many students could be oblivious to this! To excel, students must be exposed to different types and styles of questions in order to apply and consolidate what they have learnt.

From my analysis of the past 5 years’ Cambridge A-Level H2 Chemistry Examination Papers, I have noticed that questions never repeat and they are getting more challenging and application-based every year.

In the Structured & Free Response Questions (Written Papers 2 & 3), we are seeing a combination of 3-4 topics in one question. Students are tested on their ability to identify the topics and their flexibility to inter-relate the essential concepts from different topics to solve the questions.

As such, it is important that students learn and understand the essential concepts in ALL the topics. Skipping any topics would be detrimental to their results.

Can you share with us “secrets” on how your students ace their H2 Chemistry?

They are committed to ask and do a lot more questions than others!

For Year 1 students, I would strongly suggest that they do not throw away their O-Level Chemistry notes and books just yet as your O-Level materials could come in handy as a reference material. O-Level Chemistry materials are usually not repeated in the JC A-Level H2 syllabus and will not be tested directly. However, it may be required indirectly in response to question on other H2 Chemistry topics. Some of the related topics are: Identification of Anions & Cations, Mole Calculations, Preparations of Salts and Redox Reactions.

In view of the sheer amount of content involved, students should learn the essential concepts in a structured manner. They should know the different sub-sections in each topic and the assessment objectives. This is to keep the students focused on what needs to be studied in H2 Chemistry syllabus. You can find them at www.WinnersEducation.com/H2Chemistry

Chemistry can only be mastered with lots of practice. As each topic is being taught or discussed, students must practise applying the concepts and the procedures for answering the questions. In addition to the questions given in their school’s tutorials, students are highly encouraged to work on questions from past exam papers, especially the last 5 years. This will give them an idea of the types and styles of questions that will be tested and therefore increase their confidence level!

Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.” Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

This article is contributed by Sean Chua and Ai Ling, Master Trainers for Chemistry & Maths respectively.

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