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Study Skills
Study SkillsScience

Study Skills offers tips on how to revise and cope with course work

Your Notes
Improving your notes
Learning the work
General tips
Answering the questions
Exam Skills
More tips

1. Your Notes
  • When revising for an exam, check that your notes are complete and make sense
  • All topics are compulsory and so you can't afford to have gaps in your notes
  • Use dividers to separate your notes into clear sections. Write a summary of the content of each section, or attach a copy of the syllabus for the section, to the divider
  • The most important study skill is to write clear and complete answers when you do the work in the first place
  • If you include your homework and tests, as you should do, make sure that you have done all the corrections!
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2. Improving your notes
  • Firstly, ask your teacher for help. Even if you don't get on well with your teacher, he or she will be pleased if you want to improve and will be willing to help
  • Get together with a group of friends and compare your notes. If necessary rewrite or add to your notes, with your own explanations.
  • Research a topic using your textbook, the library or the web. There are loads of books, revision guides and websites that are useful but again you have to make sure you understand it all. It is not sufficient just to print off lots of web pages if you do not READ them and, more importantly, UNDERSTAND them.
  • Make sure you have a complete set of any past exam papers you have prepared in class with your teacher. Go through the answers carefully and make sure you know how the marks are allocated. If in doubt, ask your teacher. They will probably have a mark scheme for the paper that will give you the correct answers
  • Make sure you understand the work
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3. Learning the work
To revise work effectively, you need to know about your exam
  • Which topics are tested in which paper?
  • What types of questions are asked?
Once you know what topics to cover, you have to work out the best way to learn them. Try to do something active with the material, for example:
  • Your own personal periodic table, or set of periodic tables. Annotate the table with all the relevant details you might find useful - metal and non-metal; acid, basic and amphoteric oxides; the uses of the elements; the trends in chemical and physical properties across the Periods and down the Groups
  • A topic web, or spider-diagram, showing the key words
  • A table showing the key properties of the groups of elements.
  • A chart showing the differences between ionic, covalent and metallic bonded compounds
  • A flowchart showing the key stages in industrial processes such as the manufacture of ammonia, sulphuric acid, iron, steel and aluminium
  • Small cards that can be rearranged to show key facts on a certain topic
  • Use colours to classify items, e.g. metals/non-metals, acid/alkalis/salts, ionic/covalent, etc
  • Draw diagrams that help you to explain some of the environmental aspects of chemistry. You may find good examples on the web, but always try to personalise it so that you will remember it better. Suitable diagrams might cover:
    1. The Rock Cycle
    2. The Carbon Cycle
    3. The Nitrogen Cycle
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4. Practice
  • Writing balance equations - both complete and, if your level requires it, ionic equations
  • Doing calculations of formula masses; reacting masses and mole calculations
  • Labelling diagrams
There is no simple way of avoiding this. It is like practicing maths questions

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5. General Tips
  • Think about whether it would help to learn key words or facts by chanting them or by putting them into a tune. Is background music helpful? (The television is NOT helpful!)
  • MNEMONICS are very useful in chemistry and the other sciences for learning things like the elements in a group; the reactivity series; acids and bases.
  • Would it help to revise with someone (take it in turns to do summaries and explain them to each other etc) or would you concentrate more if you went to the library or stayed at school for an extra hour? Be honest with yourself and think about what works rather than what is easy or nice.
  • Ask your teacher for past papers and test yourself. Sometimes you need to practice writing out the answers under test conditions.
  • Work in concentrated bursts and then change the activity or have a short break rather than trying to work for 3 hours continuously. Be ruthless when people interrupt you - don't answer the phone/read the text/have that drink. Save it for your planned break.
  • Don't try to learn the things you will be given in the examination. You will be given a periodic table with the exam paper. Learn how to use it; don't try to remember all the details. Understand what Atomic Number and Relative Atomic Mass actually mean.
  • Don't ask your teacher which equations you need to know! There are an infinite number of chemical equations, and although you will only come across a limited number during your school courses, you need to be able to balance ANY equation. You could be asked to write a balanced equation for the combustion of methane (CH4), ethane (C2H6) or ethanol (C2H5OH) or any other similar compound.
  • Questions about industrial processes often have an additional part asking for some understanding of the environmental impact of the process. Be prepared to consider factors that may draw on other disciplines such as increase in heavy traffic, dust and noise pollution, as well as more scientific factors such as acid rain and increase in greenhouse gases.
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6. Answering the questions

If your teacher hasn't explained to you how the exams are marked, ask about it. All science questions are marked using a mark scheme. Before you start answering a question, make sure you are clear how the marks are going to be awarded.

Remember: POINT - EXPLANATION - EXAMPLE will be 3 marks, so give an answer - explain the answer - give an example.

Science requires an EXACT VOCABULARY. There are many words that are precise in their use, and you will lose marks for use of the wrong word or a vague, incomplete description. Make sure you know the definitions of the following words, and are clear when you would use them:

  • atom / element / molecule / compound / ion
  • covalent / ionic / electrovalent
  • acid / base /alkali /salt / neutralisation
  • metal / non-metal
  • alkane / alkene
  • monomer / polymer
  • combustion / oxidation / reduction
  • exothermic / endothermic
  • decomposition / synthesis / diplacement
Similarly, you are expected to know the names of chemical apparatus (test-tubes, beakers, evaporating basins, pipettes etc) and to use the name correctly.

Do not use formulae instead of names. If the formula is incorrect you may not get the point for the answer. Do not write NaCl instead of sodium chloride, for example.

Chemicals exist in a variety of states - SOLID (s), LIQUID (l), GAS (g) and AQUEOUS SOLUTION (aq). It may be important to indicate which state the substance is in, particularly when writing equations.

When ever you write an equation - CHECK THAT IT BALANCES.

Whenever you write down the symbol for an element ensure that the first letter is capital and the second letter is small.

Whenever you write down the name of a compound, check the ending of the second part of the name. Should it be -ide, -ate or -ite?

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7. Exam Skills

  • Keep an eye on the time. It's no good spending a long time on a question if the maximum mark is 3. It could mean you don't have enough time to answer the 10-mark question properly.
  • Science examinations do not normally require you to write essay-type answers. However, you should write full sentence answers where necessary, unless it is clear from the space for the answer that one or two words only are required. Above all, avoid unnecessary abbreviations. Examiners do not like them!
  • Mocks and tests are an important way of developing this skill. If you did badly in a test, try to identify the reason. Did you need to read the question more carefully, did you run out of time?
  • Don't be afraid to use empty parts of the exam paper to draw diagrams if they might help you to recall facts, such as the Collision Theory and factors affecting reaction rates.
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8. More Tips

  • Plan your revision carefully so that you have time to fit in everything you need to cover.
  • Be prepared to use a variety of methods.
  • Ask for help and make sure you understand the work you are doing.
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Good Luck

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