New Syllabus Revision Guides

If you are just starting your A-levels in September 2015 you will be doing new brand new syllabi. I have started the process of updating the revision guides to reflect the changes to the structure and content of the courses. The new AQA guides are now largely complete and I have posted them here. (There are two guides that are not quite complete but these will appear in the next couple of weeks.) They exist on the same page as the old syllabus guides which are still valid for present yr13 students.

The new OCR and EDEXCEL guides are not yet complete but I hope to be posting them before the end of the September. The old guides are still 95% useful for the new courses in the meantime.

New Chapters for e-textbook

I have made a few more chapters for the e-text book.

2.12 Electronic Structure   This covers quite a lot of background information beyond most A-level syllabi

2.13 Ionisation Energies   This chapter has a couple of pages of questions on ionisation energies at the back

2.26 Intermolecular Bonding

3.11 Introduction to Enthalpy Change   This chapter goes into some detail about enthalpy changes for background reading

3.12 Hess’s Law  This chapter has 3 pages of questions at the end

3.14 Bond Enthalpies This chapter has 2 pages of questions at the end

There are not currently answers to the questions

New Chemistry A-level ‘e-Textbook’ notes

Firstly, a somewhat belated welcome back after the summer break and a welcome to new A-level chemistry students.

I have been working away over the summer on my new project for which will be a complete detailed e-textbook for A-level Chemistry. This is going to take a long time to complete and I hope to have all complete in time for the new A-level courses starting in September 2015. I have decided to upload the first few ‘complete’ chapters as I wanted to use them with my current students to try them out. There will be around 50 chapters by the end!

A few things to note. I am making it a general resource for all A-level courses that may also in places go beyond A-level. The intention is to get students thinking about chemistry more deeply! I am aiming it at A* to B students. It will include questions of varying difficulty including extension questions. There will be more use of diagrams and colour than the revision guides.

The revision guides will continue with the syllabus specific information.

These are the first few chapters. For the moment I am mixing these in with the existing powerpoint notes on the page called ‘more detailed notes’.

1.21 moles and formulae

1.24 calculations and chemical reactions

2.20 introduction to bonding

2.21 ionic bonding

2.24 shapes of molecules

There will eventually be answers to the questions.


Chemistry Summer Reading

Now that the AS chemistry exams are over and the long summer stretches ahead why not grab a chemistry book to deepen your knowledge a bit and find out something interesting. I don’t mean read a chemistry A-level text book but something a little different. Chemistry does not seem to get the same range of popular science books that Biology and Physics do, but there are some great books out there. The list contains books I know are in my school library but hopefully people not at Bancroft’s will find some of these books in your local/school/college library. Some of these books are no longer in print although they mostly have been published in the last ten years, so hopefully are not that hard to track down.

Books about Elements.

  • The Elements- a visual exploration of every know atom in the universe: Theodore Gray 2009
  • The Elements- the new guide to the building blocks of our universe: Jack Challoner 2014
  • Periodic Tales: The Curious lives of Elements: Hugh Aldersey-Williams  2012
  • The elements- a very short introduction: Philip Ball 2004
  • Nature’s Building blocks An A to Z guide to the Elements: J Emsley 2011
  • The Periodic Table: A Field Guide to the Elements: Paul Parsons 2013
  • Elements of Murder – A history of poison: J Emsley, 2006

The first two in this elements list are big glossy ‘coffee table’ books with lots of oversized pictures and rather less text. They are undeniably attractive though. You will find a lot more text and interesting information in the Emsley and Parson books. Maybe get one with pictures and one with more text and then you get the best of both worlds.

You will find John Emsley appear several times on the list. He is a great writer of popular chemistry books. He writes about every day and unusual chemicals and mixes science with history and good stories. They are always great books that are easy to dip into. The Elements of Murder book just deals with a few highly poisonous elements used for dastardly purposes. If you can find ‘The shocking History of Phosphorus’ by him, do get it. It is a really interesting book about the element with arguably the most interesting history. It is unfortunately no longer in print and I don’t have it my school library.


Books about Molecules

  • Molecules : Peter Atkins 2003
  • Molecules at an exhibition: J Emsley, 1999
  • Vanity, Vitality and Virility- the science behind the products you love to buy: J Emsley 2004
  • Healthy, Wealthy, Sustainable World; J Emsley, 2010
  • H2O – a biography of water; Philip Ball ,2000
  • Oxygen- the molecule that made the world; Nick Lane 2003

These are books about interesting and common molecules. Again these are mostly popular science books that are easy to dip into. The book by Atkins is on the recommended reading list for Cambridge University Natural Sciences.

General Chemistry readers

  • Reactions: The private life of atoms – Peter Atkins  2013
  • What is Chemistry? – Peter Atkins 2013
  • The joy of chemistry- The amazing science of Familiar things: Cobb, Fetterolf 2010

This list includes two ‘newish’ books by Peter Atkins who is another prolific writer of both popular and academic chemistry books. The book ‘What is Chemistry?’ is quite short but is excellent. Well worth a read. It really gets to the most important features of the subject, and is more than accessible to an A-level student.

History of chemistry Books

  • Mendeleyev’s dream: the quest for elements; P Strathern 2001
  • The big bang – A history of explosives; GI Brown, 1998
  • The Periodic Table. Its story and its significance; EF Scerri- a detailed exploration of the development of the periodic table 2006
  • A tale of 7 elements. Eric Scerri 2013

These are books more about the history of the subject than the chemistry but obviously the chemistry features. The ‘Mendeleyev’s dream’ book is actually more about whole history of chemistry rather than just Mendeleyev. ‘The Periodic Table. Its story and its significance’ is an excellent history of the development of the Periodic Table.  I seem to remember it argues that Mendeleyev’s work was based in many other scientists work rather than him being a lone visionary he is sometimes made out to be. Eric Scerri’s new book ‘A tale of 7 elements’ is on my summer reading list but is about the search for the seven missing elements such as Hafnium, Francium and Technetium that were 7 gaps in the late 19th century periodic table.

More advanced science Readers

  • Why chemical reactions happen: James Keeler, Peter Worthers 2003
  • Made to Measure: New Materials for the 21st Century by Philip Ball 1999
  • Chemical Structure and Reactivity: Keeler and Worthers: a degree level book
  • Chemistry³: Introducing inorganic, organic and physical chemistry:  first year undergraduate book

These books are definitely not popular science books for a little light reading. The first two books are on the reading list for pre- Natural Sciences at Cambridge. If you are thinking about applying to do Natural sciences at Cambridge (on the physical side) then you ought to read ‘Why chemical reactions happen’. It is an excellent book that that really does explain why reactions happen. It is not an easy book though as it goes beyond A-level and introduces the ideas of Atomic and Molecular orbitals. Bright A-level students will cope though. It is important to read it from the start and read it all through. Don’t write it on your UCAS personal statement if you have not read it though. One of my ex-pupils who had read it was interviewed by Peter Worthers at his Cambridge interview and there were questions. (He got in!)

Testing for ions and functional groups

I had a couple of requests for a summary of tests for ions and functional groups. There are series of standard common tests but any reaction in the syllabus that involves an observable change could be used as a ‘test’ to distinguish between two compounds.

The standard tests can be found here tests for ions and functional groups. This is not a list of every reaction that could be used distinguish between compounds though. Almost all the group 2 and group 7 reactions can be used.

How would you distinguish these pairs of compounds?

1. KF (aq) and KCl(aq)

2. KNO3 and AgNO3

3. sodium carbonate and potassium nitrate

4. HNO3 and H2SO4

5. NaCl (aq) and KBr (aq)

6. AgCl (s) and  AgI (s)

7. magnesium nitrate and barium nitrate

8. KCl(s) and KI (s)   using only conc sulphuric acid

9  propanone and propanal

10. propanoic acid and hexane

11. cyclohexane and cyclohexene

12. butan-2-ol and 2-methylpropan-2-ol

AQA Organic Mechanisms

I have produced a couple of summary files for AQA organic mechanisms.

The files are below and on the AQA revision guide page.

aqa mechanisms AS

aqa mechanisms A2

Remember you learn mechanisms best by understanding what they mean and by drawing them out lots. Careful positioning of arrows is essential. For AQA an arrow must start from the centre of a bond or a lone pair.

For understanding mechanisms I can recommend mechanism inspector from the RSC. Well worth an explore.