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‘O’ and ‘A’ Level Chemistry: A Guide to Preparing for your Examinations

‘O’ and ‘A’ Level examinations are crucial milestones in our academic pursuits because they define which tertiary institutions we can apply to and which majors we can pursue. Are you concerned about your upcoming ‘O’ level or ‘A’ level chemistry examinations? We break down the information you need to know about your papers to give you more details on what you should study and how to prepare for them.

Also, learn more about ‘O’ and ‘A’ level chemistry tuition in Singapore, how to choose the right chemistry tuition centre and how it can help you.

Chemistry Examinations in Singapore

Chemistry Examinations in Singapore

1.1. ‘O’ Level Pure Chemistry

The ‘O’ Level pure chemistry examination consists of three papers – 2 theory papers (paper 1 and paper 2) and 1 practical assessment (paper 3).

Paper 1 is a 1 hour and 40 minutes long paper containing 40 compulsory multiple choice questions testing a variety of topics such as Atomic Structure & Ions, Chemical Bonding & Structure of Matter, and Experimental Design.

Paper 2 is a 1 hour and 45 minutes long paper divided into two sections. Section A carries a total of 50 marks and consists of a variable number of compulsory structured questions, while section B carries 30 marks and consists of three questions. Of the three questions, two are compulsory questions carrying 8 to 12 marks. The last question will be presented in an either/or form carrying 10 marks.

Paper 3 is a 1 hour and 50 minutes long practical assessment paper containing a variable number of compulsory questions. You are expected to carry out experiments with practical equipment and apparatus as well as apply and integrate your knowledge and understanding from different sections of the chemistry syllabus to answer questions.

1.2. ‘O’ Level Combined Science (Chemistry)

The ‘O’ Level combined science (chemistry) examination consists of four papers – three theory papers testing two science subjects, and one practical test.

Paper 1 is a 1 hour long paper containing 40 compulsory multiple choice questions; this paper provides equal coverage of the two sciences you have chosen to study for your ‘O’ level examination.

It could be Physics and Chemistry, Physics and Biology, or Chemistry and Biology. There will be an additional paper testing the Physics or Biology section of the syllabus.

Paper 3 is a 1 hour and 15 minutes long paper split into two sections – A and B. Section A carries 45 marks and consists of a number of compulsory structured questions while section B carries 20 marks and consists of three questions, each weighing 10 marks. You are required to answer any two questions in section B.

Paper 5 is a 1 hour and 30 minutes long practical paper consisting of 1 or 2 compulsory questions on each of the two sciences. It carries 30 marks.

1.3. ‘A’ Level H1 Chemistry

The ‘A’ Level H1 chemistry examination consists of two papers.

Paper 1 is a 1 hour long paper containing 30 compulsory multiple choice questions, carrying 30 marks.

Paper 2 is a 2 hour long paper split into two sections A and B. Section A carries 60 marks and consists of a variable number of structured questions including data-based questions to test higher order thinking skills such as handling, applying, and evaluating information. Section B requires students to answer one out of two questions and carries 20 marks. These questions test students’ ability to integrate knowledge and understanding from different areas and topics of the chemistry syllabus.

1.4. ‘A’ Level H2 Chemistry

The ‘A’ Level H2 chemistry examination consists of four papers – three theory papers and one practical assessment.

Paper 1 is a 1 hour long paper containing 30 compulsory multiple choice questions, carrying a total of 30 marks. There will be five to eight multiple completion type questions.

Paper 2 is a 2 hour long paper carrying 75 marks. It consists of a variable number of compulsory structured questions.

Paper 3 is a 2 hour long paper carrying 80 marks. This paper is divided into two sections. Section A contains three to four compulsory free response questions worth 60 marks. Section B contains two questions, each worth 20 marks. You will need to answer any one of the two questions.

Paper 4 is a 2 hour and 30 minutes long paper carrying 55 marks. This paper will assess your experimental skills and investigations, as well as your abilities in the following skill areas:

  • Planning

    You are expected to identify the problem with your knowledge and understanding, provide a clear account of the experimental procedure, assess the risks and precautions that should be taken, as well as describe how the data collected should be used to reach a conclusion.

  • Manipulation, measurement and observation

    You should be able to make and record accurate observations and decisions about your measurements to an appropriate degree of precision, and recognise anomalous observations and/or measurements.

  • Presentation of data and observations

    You should be able to effectively manipulate measurements to identify trends and/or patterns, and present all information and data in an appropriate form.

  • Analysis, conclusions and evaluation

    You should be able to analyse and interpret data or observations appropriately, draw conclusions from your interpretation, as well as make predictions based on your observations and data collected. You are also expected to be able to identify errors and limitations, explain how they may affect the results, and how the experimental procedures may be improved.

H2 chemistry has four papers and can be overwhelming for many students. Consider joining an online ‘A’ level chemistry tuition or find an ‘A’ level chemistry tutor to help you cope and score better.

1.5. ‘A’ Level H3 Chemistry

The ‘A’ Level H3 chemistry examination consists of only one paper. It is a 2 hour and 30 minutes long paper worth 100 marks. This paper is divided into two sections and will include questions that require you to integrate knowledge and understanding from different sections in the syllabus.

Section A of this paper carries 60 marks. It consists of a variable number of compulsory free response questions and one or two stimulus based questions. Section B is worth 40 marks. You are required to answer two out of three free response questions.

Studying for your Chemistry Examinations

2.1. Key Topics to Master for ‘O’ Level Chemistry

mind map branching out to each topic

The ‘O’ Level combined science chemistry syllabus is designed to place a stronger focus on the understanding and application of scientific concepts and principles rather than on factual content. Experimental Chemistry, Atomic Structure and Stoichiometry, Chemistry of Reactions, Periodicity, Atmosphere, and Organic Chemistry are among the topics covered in the combined science chemistry curriculum. Many other things that students must know are covered under each of these overarching topics.

Although it is important for you to be familiar with all topics in the syllabus, there are a few key topics you must fully understand in order for you to easily grasp other topics. With a good understanding of these topics, you will find it easier to answer other questions under the syllabus. These topics include:

  • Kinetic Particle Theory

    This theory says that all matter is made up of multiple small particles that are in a continual state of motion, and explains the properties of different states of matter. The degree to which the particles move in each state is determined by the amount of kinetic energy they have and the forces of attraction between each particle.

    You should be able to describe the states of matter – solid, liquid and gas – and explain the changes of state including what happens to the particles during energy changes, the arrangement and movement of the particles, as well as explain why gases can be compressed but not solids and liquids.

  • Atomic Structure

    In Atomic Structure, you will learn about the structure of an atom, which comprises a nucleus (centre), protons (positively charged), neutrons (neutral), and electrons (negatively charged).

    You should be able to

    • Describe and draw the structure of an atom

    • Define proton and nucleon number

    • Interpret and use symbols

    • Deduce the number of protons, neutrons and electrons in atoms and ions

    • State the relative charges and approximate relative masses of a proton, a neutron and an electron

  • Energy Changes

    Energy changes are involved in all chemical reactions. When bonds are broken, energy is absorbed. When bonds are formed, energy is released. You should be able to understand and describe energy changes, as well as the terms exothermic and endothermic.

  • Chemical Equations

    A chemical equation is a way to represent a chemical reaction using element symbols, and you must know how to form and balance chemical equations to predict the amount of reactants needed and products formed.

  • Mole Concept

    The mole concept is a method of expression and unit of measurement for the number of atoms or molecules in a sample of matter. You should be able to construct and interpret chemical equations, explain the relationship between mass, moles, and atom or molecule numbers, and perform calculations to derive these values from one another.

Of course, one of the most important things to remember is the Periodic Table – it is a table packed with important information that is useful to you if you know how to read it properly. Here’s what you can derive from the Periodic Table.

  • Mass

  • Common Charge

  • Number of Protons, Neutrons and Electrons

  • Class/Period

  • Valence Electrons

  • Group

2.2. Core Ideas to Grasp for ‘A’ Level Chemistry

There are three Core Ideas of Chemistry to know when you study H1, H2, or H3 chemistry. They are Matter, Structure and Properties, and Transformation. These concepts are interrelated and they form a foundation for further learning and understanding of chemistry.

The concepts branch out to other extension topics that will be taught in H1, H2 and H3 chemistry. However, to be able to navigate the extension topics, you must first familiarise yourself with these topics:

  • Atomic structure

  • Matter

  • Chemical bonding

  • Theories of acids and bases

  • Kinetics

  • Energy

  • Chemical Equilibria

2.3. Studying Tips

student studying chemistry

The process of studying and preparing for a national examination is stressful and may even impede your learning progress. Here are some studying tips to help you revise for your chemistry examinations. You can apply some of these tips to other subjects you’re taking too.

  1. Break down the Periodic Table for better understanding

    Periodic Table of the elements

    Every chemistry student needs to know the periodic table as it provides important information that can help you to solve a variety of problems during your examinations. Knowing how to read it quickly and accurately will only help you become better at chemistry. Here is some of the important information you need to know about the periodic table.

    • There are seven periods (rows) and 18 groups (columns) on the periodic table.

    • Elements within the same period have the same number of electron shells. Their row number also tells you how many shells each element has. For example, hydrogen and helium on the first row have one electron shell each while elements on the second row have two electron shells each.

    • Elements within the same group have the same number of electrons in their outer electron shells, share a number of similar physical and chemical properties, as well as react to things similarly.

    • Each individual element also has its own element box containing important information — the atomic number, element symbol, element name and atomic weight.

  2. Adjust your body clock

    an image representing body clock

    Students who struggle to get up in the morning might find it challenging to sit for early papers. This can really affect your performance if your mind isn’t ready and awake when you’re walking into your examination hall. Be sure to start adjusting your body clock months before your examination – start getting used to studying or thinking in the mornings. This helps to ensure that you’ll be at your peak when papers start.

  3. Plan your revision

    revision timetable

    Sticking to a proper revision schedule helps in ensuring discipline, you can set study goals and achieve them well even with ample amounts of break. For better retention, study each subject in rotation rather than sticking to one subject for a long period of time.

  4. Reward yourself and take breaks

    Children playing outside

    Studying for your examinations can be enjoyable and less stressful if you pace yourself and allow yourself breaks in between your revision sessions. Set small and achievable goals and reward yourself when you reach a goal. It could be in the form of food, a period of rest, or a session of fun with your friends and family. You’ll be able to stay focused, revise more in the long run and not feel overwhelmed or burnt out easily.

  5. Look through your notes before bed

    Studying before going to bed is an excellent way to enforce memory. But How does this work? After acquiring information, it needs to be consolidated in a part of your brain before you are able to recall it, and this consolidation of information happens most actively when we’re asleep. This is because the cortex of our brain, which is critical for memory, becomes very active when we’re sleeping. It processes information and encourages consolidation, which aids in recall when we need to access the information later.

  6. Try past year papers

    Test yourself by attempting past year papers after each session of revision. This encourages active recall, which helps to cement the knowledge you’ve acquired, preventing you from forgetting what you’ve learnt. It also exposes you to the types of questions that will be asked, as well as the way questions are phrased to trick you. By retrieving information without reference, solely from your memory, you identify gaps in your knowledge and areas that you need to study more closely.

  7. Ask lots of questions

    student raising hands in class to ask questions

    As you attempt to integrate what you’ve learned with the new knowledge you’re receiving, asking questions can help you direct your learning and thinking. It closes up any gaps in your knowledge and helps you make sense of the concepts you’ve been taught.

  8. Go for tuition

    Tuition lets you learn in a conducive learning environment, supervised by a qualified teacher. You are also surrounded by peers with the same goal, who can either create a competitive environment, or encourage you to study harder for your examinations. This short amount of time spent at the tuition centre each week might help you revise more efficiently than when you’re studying alone at home.

2.3.1. Should You Get Chemistry Tuition?

Are you contemplating between studying on your own or signing up for ‘O’ or ‘A’ Level chemistry tuition? If you are facing any of these problems, tuition might be able to help you:

  • Lack of discipline to study
  • Have many questions to ask
  • Barely manage to score well for your examinations

Have you ever been easily distracted while studying at home, or have you ever felt as if no matter how much time you spend studying, you don’t learn anything? Having a chemistry tutor supervise you in class can help you learn more effectively. They provide you with the resources you need to revise better, as well as guide you through challenging questions, clarify any doubts you may have, and even serve as a source of encouragement.

If you’re keen to sign up for chemistry tuition, there are plenty of options available. Consider online chemistry tuition lessons if you’re not comfortable with studying in a new environment, an online tutor will provide guidance and teach lessons virtually. If you prefer in-person classes, there are such options available too.

2.3.2. What to Look for in a Chemistry Tuition Centre?

chemistry teacher guiding student one on one

Whether you are looking to enrol in JC chemistry tuition or ‘O’ Level chemistry tuition, here are some important things to consider when choosing a centre to learn at.

  1. Teachers’ Qualifications and Experience

    Enrolling into an H2 chemistry tuition course? You’d want to have an experienced H2 chemistry tutor teach and guide you through the syllabus. All the knowledge that the tutor can impart to you will only come with ample teaching experience and relevant academic qualifications.

    Ideally, your tutor should be a former MOE teacher as they have the relevant experience teaching the MOE syllabus, and will be able to teach you in the most effective way, best preparing you for your examination.

    The same applies to ‘O’ Level chemistry tuition, be it pure or combined. You will need an ‘O’ level chemistry tutor with prior experience in teaching ‘O’ level chemistry because one without the experience will not be equipped with the right knowledge and skills to guide you towards tackling your examinations.

  2. Teaching Methods

    Aside from their qualifications and experience, the teaching methods teachers use must be effective in guiding students and helping you understand the syllabus. If the teaching method is not suitable for your learning style, you will not be able to improve. Always go for trial lessons before enrolling into a chemistry tuition to determine whether the tutor’s teaching method suits you.

  3. Class Schedules

    On top of regular classes in school, you may be expected to attend supplementary classes after school hours. If you wish to still go for tuition, consider online classes. These are some of the best chemistry tuition options as they allow you to attend your lessons from anywhere.

  4. Resources

    Lastly, find out more about the learning resources available. Are they useful? Do they provide additional information and help that your school doesn’t? The notes and test papers provided by your chemistry tutor can be extremely helpful. If the chemistry tuition centre does not provide any form of resources, you may wish to consider other centres.

Whether you’re preparing for your ‘O’ or ‘A’ level chemistry examinations, attending chemistry tuition and having a tutor to guide you will help you deepen your understanding of the subject and help you score well. If you have the time and resources to enrol yourself in a chemistry tuition class, we encourage you to do so.

We hope that with this article, you’ve gained a better idea of what you need to revise and prepare for your chemistry examinations. The Chemistry Practice is a tuition centre in Singapore that offers sec 3, sec 4, and H2 chemistry tuition. Learn more about the classes we offer here.