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  • Zain Asif

How to Get a 7 in the IB Chemistry HL/SL Exams 👨‍🔬

This is a step-by-step practical method constructed with highly effective study techniques to tackle all the content in the Chemistry syllabus. I followed this guide myself and it took my grade from a 5 to a 7 in Chemistry HL.

After summarising notes, rereading the textbook and using ineffective techniques for 2 years, I had to change it up. So I researched the best strategies for retaining information for chemistry and experimented with these proven techniques.

Bottom Line: They worked. I tailored them specifically to the Chemistry HL exams and created a step-by-step study method outlined below.

Upfront Summary:

Step 1: Scoping the IB Chemistry Guide
Step 2: Active Recall through Paper 1 MCQs
Step 3: Broad Theoretical Coverage
  • 3.1 Recall Questions ft. Rough Notes

  • 3.2 Active Blurting

Step 4: Preparing for the Exam
  • 4.1 Incorporate P2 Questions

  • 4.2 Space your revision out

Step 1: Scoping the IB Chemistry Guide

The official chemistry guide is paramount for your success in chemistry. The IB is very specific and everything tested in the exams is listed out in the syllabus of this guide. Before learning any topic, it is crucial that you read all three IMPORTANT sections labelled in the diagram below. By doing so, you will be able to fit any new knowledge into the bigger picture.

  • Properly read through and annotate the 'Understandings' to direct your learning before studying a topic. You will gain a realistic overview of what needs to be studied for the exams instead of wasting time learning unnecessary details.

  • The 'Applications & skills' lists every possible calculation the exam can test you on. Finding each of these question types in past papers and practising them is the most underrated way to improve your exam performance!

  • Consult the 'Guidance' section when you're unsure about what's coming in the exam or whether you need to memorise a formula/fact.

Step 2: Active recall through Paper 1 MCQs

Always start studying a topic by testing yourself. In chemistry, I did this by attempting topical multiple choice questions before I started learning the concepts. Even if I didn't remember or know anything about the topic, I forced myself to logically work through these MCQs. They are a good gauge of your knowledge and there are answer options to logically work through so its considerably easier for topics you aren't familiar with.

We aren't taught to do questions before studying so it was hard. But treating this simple practise as a starter before learning really enhanced my actual studying.

For example, if you have a Kinetics test coming up next week: Download or use online question banks to start doing unit 6 paper 1 questions (aim for 20-30). As you cycle through these questions, label the question types and topics you struggled with on the Chemistry guide itself.

Doing this before starting your studying is important because it:

  • Immediately lets you identify your knowledge gaps in a topic you haven't even started studying.

  • Stimulates your brain to actively recall and forces it to work with what you already know about the topic to answer the multiple choice questions.

  • Familiarises you with the specific ways the topic will be tested by the IB.

Remember, the paper 1 exam is now 30% of your entire Chemistry grade. Don't underestimate the importance of doing these questions.

Step 3: Broad Theoretical Coverage

The next step is understanding the key concepts and theoretical knowledge behind the questions and topics we've now familiarised ourselves with. Most of us learn the content anyways, but very few do it efficiently and retain effectively.

For a long time, I paid little attention to the conceptual understanding of the topic. Being overconfident and lazy, I would just do paper 2 questions with the mark scheme open, and hoped I'd understand the content. Big mistake. Unlike other sciences, the average chemistry paper 2 question is 1-2 marks so it was a lot harder to extract the conceptual understandings from them.

One of our IB examiners helped me realise this and said something simple:

The top student is able to understand the questions so well that they can know exactly why they are right or wrong.

If you don't have the key concepts ingrained in your head, you will repeat the same mistakes every time. To get the 7, you MUST connect the key concepts to what the question is asking you.

My Top Resources

Firstly, here are my recommended resources for understanding the broad theoretical knowledge of each unit (the detailed review of IB resources- TBC):

  • Pearson's Chemistry IB Diploma Textbook

  • Richard Thornley's Youtube Channel

  • Cambridge's Chemistry for the IB Diploma Exam Preparation Guide

Ironically, the resources I used never changed. But the learning techniques I used was the reason my grade went from a 5 to a 7. I will now walk you through the specific strategies that boosted my understanding x10 fold.

3.1 Recall Questions (ft. Rough Notes)

So, how does one maximise broad understanding and retention of the key concepts in IB Chemistry?

Write down recall questions whilst learning the content. It forces you to be active. Its very simple and you don't waste as much time with note-making.

The process of converting the study material into questions whilst revising was a game-changing technique that I still do in all my university lectures to this day. Instead of mindlessly making notes that you'll barely use, make questions so you can actively test yourself on them later. Doing this enhances your understanding because your brain has to engage with and recall what you just learnt.

For example, to get a deep understanding of the key concepts for that kinetics test:

After doing the recall questions, the next step is to consolidate your broad understanding of these chemistry topics through "active blurting".

3.2 Active Blurting

After doing the recall questions, the next step is to consolidate your broad understanding of these chemistry topics through "active blurting".

Essentially "blurt" out all the information and equations of a given chapter from memory without using any resources. Use a blank page.
  1. Create a list of prompts or main headings of the topic you are studying. If you're lazy, use the sub-topics of a chapter from the subject guide but preferably personalise your prompts.

  2. Grab a blank page and write or "blurt" anything you remember about each prompt. Try to get as much of the information down. It doesn't need to look pretty, your aim should be to test your level of understanding of that topic.

  3. After you're done, use your IB resources to identify major gaps and write/label them in red on the same page. Don't stress about irrelevant details. Keep referring back to the syllabus guide.

  4. Repeat the 'active blurting' multiple times for each major chemistry chapter. Actively recall the information you learn to strengthen your broad understanding and keep track of the concepts you understand and recall.

If I'm being honest, doing this technique for 10-15 minutes after doing my recall questions required a bit of activation energy. But I assure you it is a very effective method. The key 🔑 is to repeat this process every time you revise a topic; the benefits are invaluable. After a few repetitions, the topic was completely mapped out in my head.

You can be as visual as you want with equations and diagrams mixed in with information and flow charts. It's a very quick way to verify your understanding of the whole chapter after learning and making the recall questions. It forces you to actively test yourself on all the key concepts.

Active blurting proves whether you know the broad concepts of each topic well enough to explain and link them to each other without using any resources.

Step 4: Preparing for the Exam

4.1 Incorporate P2 Questions

Practising paper 2 questions after you gain the broad concepts should become a top priority. After all, the paper 2 exam is 50% of your Chemistry grade in 2021.

These paper 2 questions are difficult before having a strong conceptual understanding of the topics in chemistry. Therefore, I'd strongly suggest gradually integrating them into your revision sessions. However, I wouldn't till your understanding is perfect or you'll never end up doing them.

For example, when studying Kinetics for the first time, there were big holes in my understanding so it was pointless to do p2 questions. However, after doing the recall questions and the active blurting a second time, I had a stronger grasp of the concepts so I tried out 7-10 questions. The third time I was even more confident so I did 25 paper 2 questions. Over time, I replaced practising the previously made recall questions with these past paper questions.

This gradual approach to practise the paper 2 questions meant I didn't ignore the conceptual understandings nor the importance of past paper questions.

4.2 Space Your Revision Out

Spaced repetition is a technique that has been heavily researched but it is very effective for topics in chemistry, which you need to study multiple times. Reviewing topical information and calculations in time intervals is vital when you couple it with the recall questions and active blurting practises.

Allow yourself to forget what you learn so your brain has to work harder to recall it. The more your brain has to "work" to remember the content, the better you will retain.

For example, if you had a week left for a class test, you should do around x3 small revision sessions for that topic spaced it out in the week. Learn the content through the first three steps mentioned above.

Final Words

I remember getting impatient with myself when I got questions wrong or struggled with topics after studying for hours but persistence is crucial. It is completely okay if you haven't memorised every point on the syllabus guide because that can wait till you're closer to the exam. If you can't do a particular question, then you can practise that calculation or that knowledge point in the next revision session. It's a slow process so please be patient. Follow the 5 steps above, integrate these key study techniques into your revision and you can also jump from a 5 to a 7 in IB Chemistry.


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