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Chemistry A Level Requirements – What To Take?

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You’re trying to figure out what A Levels you should take for chemistry, but you don’t know where to start. We get it. It’s hard enough deciding which course to take for your dream career. Now you have to determine which A Levels will give you the best chance of getting into your desired university. 

That’s why we’ve created this article after our chemistry summer schools students requested it. To help make your decision-making process easier. We’ve done the research to recommend the best A-Level combinations that are perfect for aspiring chemists. And we’ve added more helpful information to help orient you on your chemistry education.

What A-levels are best for chemistry?

Each university has its unique entry requirements for its chemistry courses. But the usual A-Level essentials for chemistry are:

  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics

Other practical subjects include:

  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Statistics

Is A-Level Chemistry hard? 

The difficulty level of a subject depends on a student’s strengths, passions, and capabilities. A neat way to find out if A-Level Chemistry will be hard for you is to ask a simple question. “Was GCSE hard for me?” If it was, then A-Level would be way more difficult. Since it’s a huge step up from GCSE.

But suppose you want to take Chemistry at the university level. In that case, you’ll need to be able to excel and enjoy Chemistry at the A-Level!

To give you a headstart on how hard chemistry may be, let’s look at how many students managed to score A*s and As, then compare the data with other subjects. According to Ofqual Analytics, here are the A-Level 2021 outcomes for Chemistry, Maths, and Biology.

SubjectA*A
Chemistry19%47.6%
Maths28.3%54.4%
Biology18.2%44.1%

Notice how Chemistry has more A*s and A students than Biology, but less than Mathematics. The data suggest that Chemistry may be easier than Biology but harder than Maths.

Examples of chemistry degree requirements

Suppose you look at Top-performing Chemistry schools, including the University of Oxford, University of Cambridge, Durham University, the University of Lincoln, and The University of Edinburgh. What are their entry requirements for a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry?

University of Oxford – A*A*A (with Chemistry and Mathematics). The A*A* needs to be in the following science and maths subjects:

  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics (modules must have any of these three: Mechanics, Statistics, Decision Mathematics)
  • Physics
  • Geology
  • Human Biology
  • Biology
  • Statistics
  • Pure Mathematics
  • Further Mathematics

University of Cambridge – A*A*A (two minimum science/maths subjects). Most Cambridge applicants have three of these A-Level subjects:

  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Physics

Durham University – A*AA (with Chemistry and Mathematics)

The University of Edinburgh – AAA – ABB, including at least Chemistry and Mathematics at B

The University of Lincoln – BBC, with a grade B from A-Level Chemistry

Is Maths A-Level Needed For Chemistry?

Most Top-Performing Chemistry Universities in the UK require A-Level Mathematics. Do you want to boost your chances of getting accepted for university level Chemistry? Then it’s your best bet to take Maths at A-Level. 

What Chemistry Courses are available?

There are a variety of Chemistry course options available depending on the university. However, most offer single Chemistry courses, such as the University of Oxford, Durham University, The University of Edinburgh, and the University of Lincoln. 

Each has its specifications. Oxford’s Chemistry course is MChem (Masters in Chemistry.) While Durham, Edinburgh, and Lincoln give you a choice if you prefer Chemistry BSc (Bachelors of Science) or MChem. 

What’s the difference? Chemistry BSc takes 3 years to complete. But MChem takes 4 years, with the 4th year involving mandatory work placements or studies abroad. 

The University of Cambridge offers Natural Sciences Tripos (NST). Here you’re required to choose 3 from a wide array of natural science subjects such as chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy, and geoscience, alongside history and philosophy of science. Before you can specialise in Chemistry in Years 3 & 4. 

Other universities offer chemistry branches or joint programmes. Do you know that the University of Lincoln provides both? It offers chemistry branches such as Forensic Chemistry and Chemistry for Drug Discovery and Development. Its joint programmes provide Chemistry with Education and Chemistry with Mathematics.  

What jobs can I get with a chemistry degree?

You can get into various careers with a chemistry degree, such as Analytical Chemist, Forensic Scientist, and Organic Chemist. If you want to 

  • Know more about these career options, their salaries, and what they do
  • What skills will you learn from studying Chemistry
  • What happens when you graduate

What are the 5 major areas of study in chemistry?

The 5 major areas of chemistry are organic, inorganic, physical, biochemistry, and analytical.

  • Organic Chemistry – any chemical with a carbon compound is often considered organic (except for a few). Organic Chemistry studies the mechanisms and reactions of organic molecules, such as methane, carbohydrates, fats, nucleic acid and proteins. Notice how carbohydrates, fats, and proteins make up living organisms.
  • Inorganic Chemistry compounds that don’t contain carbon, especially carbon bonded with hydrogen (hydrocarbons,) are often inorganic. The few inorganic compounds that do contain carbon carry metals. Inorganic chemicals include metals, water, sodium chloride, and ammonia. 
  • Biochemistry is sometimes considered a sub-discipline of organic chemistry. Because it focuses on chemical processes that happen within living organisms. And many of these chemical processes involve organic molecules such as carbohydrates, fats, nucleic acid and proteins. 
  • Physical chemistry – studies physics and mathematical principles involved in chemical interactions. What are these physics principles? Think quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. 
  • Analytical chemistry  – is concerned with matter. It studies matter’s composition, structure, and properties. Standard methods used in analytical chemistry are electrophoresis, spectrometry, and chromatography.

What should I expect from studying Chemistry? 

Expectations for studying A-Level Chemistry

The subject content for A-Level Chemistry includes Physical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Inorganic Chemistry.

Coming from an example syllabus, here are the A-Level topics often covered for each subject:

Physical Chemistry 

  • Atomic Structure – fundamental particles, mass number and isotopes, electron configuration
  • Amount of Substance – relative atomic mass and relative molecular mass, the mole and Avogadro constant, ideal gas equation
  • Bonding – ionic bonding, metallic bonding, bond polarity, forces between molecules
  • Energetics – enthalpy change, calorimetry, Hess’s law, bond enthalpies
  • Kinetics – collision theory, Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution, effect of temperature on reaction rate, catalysts
  • Chemical equilibria – chemical equilibria and Le Chatelier’s principle, equilibrium constant Kc for homogeneous systems
  • Oxidation, Reduction and Redox Equations  
  • Thermodynamics – Born–Haber cycles, Gibbs free-energy change, ∆ G, and entropy change, ∆ S 
  • Rate equations rate equations, determination of rate equation
  • Equilibrium constant Kp for homogeneous systems 
  • Electrode potentials and electrochemical cells – electrode potentials and cells, commercial applications of electrochemical cells, 
  • Acids and bases – Brønsted–Lowry acid–base equilibria in aqueous solution, definition and determination of pH, the ionic product of water, Kw, weak acids and bases Ka for weak acids, pH curves, titrations and indicators, buffer action

Inorganic Chemistry 

  • Periodicity – classification, physical properties of Period 3 elements
  • Group 2, The Alkaline Earth Metals
  • Group 7(17), The Halogens – trends in properties, uses of chlorine and chlorate(I), 
  • Properties of Period 3 elements and Their Oxides 
  • Transition Metals – general properties of transition metals, substitution reactions, shapes of complex ions, formation of coloured ions, variable oxidation states, catalysts 
  • Reactions of Ions in Aqueous Solution

Organic Chemistry

  • Introduction to Organic Chemistry – nomenclature, reaction mechanisms, isomerism
  • Alkanes – fractional distillation of crude oil, modification of alkanes by cracking, combustion of alkanes, chlorination of alkanes 
  • Halogenoalkanes – nucleophilic substitution, elimination, ozone depletion
  • Alkenes – structure, bonding and reactivity, addition reactions of alkenes, addition polymers 
  • Alcohols – alcohol production, oxidation of alcohols, elimination 
  • Organic analysis – the identification of functional groups via test-tube reactions, mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy 
  • Optical Isomerism 
  • Aldehydes and Ketones
  • Carboxylic Acids and Derivatives – carboxylic acids and esters, acylation 
  • Aromatic chemistry – bonding, electrophilic substitution 
  • Amines – preparation, base properties, nucleophilic properties, 
  • Polymers – condensation polymers, biodegradability and disposal of polymers 
  • Amino acids, Proteins and DNA – amino acids, proteins, enzymes, DNA, action of anticancer drugs
  • Organic Synthesis 
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Chromatography

Does Chemistry A-Level Have A Lot of Maths?

Compared to the scientific principles you’ll have to study and understand, there’s not a lot of Maths. But there is. The usual estimation is that 20% of A-Level Chemistry involves maths. Arithmetic, basic algebra, and trigonometry are the maths to watch out for.

Expectations for studying University Level Chemistry

The learning experience in one university is different from another. If you take Chemistry at Oxford, for instance, you’ll dive into Chemistry right away. First, you’ll tackle core courses on Inorganic, Physical, Organic, and Mathematics of Chemistry. Then in Year 2, you’ll advance to more complex Chemistry, such as Theoretical, Biological, Molecular, and Synthetic Chemistry. 

What does a typical week for an Oxford Chemistry student look like? Ten lectures, two laboratory work, and up to two tutorials with assignments. 

But taking Chemistry at Cambridge is different. Because you’ll engage with other Natural Science topics along with Chemistry, philosophy and history of science, before specialising in Chemistry in your 3rd & 4th year. 

So if you want to nail down your expectations, it’s best to determine your Top 3 university choices. Then you can have a sneak peek at their Chemistry course structure and how they teach Chemistry to their students. One thing is sure: university level Chemistry is a whole different ball game than A-level Chemistry! 

How will I be assessed? 

How will I be assessed for A-Level Chemistry?

The assessment of A-Level chemistry is focused on practical work. Why? Because practical work is at the centre of chemistry. The two common ways schools conduct practical assessments are written exams and observing students conduct experiments. But A-level grades are based solely on written exams. Hence, exams have many questions involving practical work. 

What’s the objective of the assessment? For students to demonstrate that they understand the A-Level Chemistry topics and know how to apply practical skills when appropriate.

How will I be assessed for University Level Chemistry?

You’ll often be assessed for University Level Chemistry through written examination and practical coursework. It’s also common for universities to evaluate students based on laboratory reports, presentations, and research projects. 

Why study Chemistry?

Because Chemistry is all around you. Chemical processes happen in you as you breathe, move, and eat. It happens every time you take a bath, cook food, or start your car! Understanding Chemistry allows you to see the world in a new, more in-depth light. 

It’ll increase your awareness regarding the products you buy. When you check out the ingredients list, you’ll know better whether it’s good for you or not. You’ll also better understand the food you eat, what you need to avoid, and why. 

Since Chemistry is the central science, taking it at A-Level gives you a firm foundation if you want to take natural science-related courses at university. The knowledge and experience you’ll have gained will prepare you well. Even if the university course won’t require A-Level Chemistry.

But if you want to take College Chemistry, then taking Chemistry A-Level is a must. Not only will it give you a taster of what Chemistry is like at university, but it’s also a usual entry requirement. 

Taking Chemistry at the university opens up various career opportunities for you, such as being a chemist, nanotechnologist, patent attorney, teacher, and science writer.

What can I study after A-Level Chemistry or Mathematics?

The best matching university courses for A-Level Chemistry are:

  • Chemistry
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Pharmacy

Here are the other university courses whose students took Chemistry at A-Level:

  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Dentistry
  • Chemical Engineering

What are the A-Levels to take for Chemistry? You now know that Chemistry and Mathematics are the two most common A-Levels most universities require. In case you haven’t yet decided which university to apply to, check out the best UK university for chemistry.

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