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Getting To Grips With The Key Themes In Chemistry

By Yann, published on 08/11/2018 Blog > Academia > Chemistry > GCSE Chemistry: Atomic Structure And The Periodic Table

A subject like chemistry can be an exciting subject to study as a GCSE. However, chemistry curricula, like many subjects within the sciences, comprise a huge number of different topics that students are expected to get to grips with.

The number of topics you have to study as part of your chemistry GCSE may vary depending on factors such as:

  • Which exam board you’re studying with; and
  • Whether you’re taking chemistry as a single science or as part of a combined science GCSE.

However, there’s no getting around the fact that there will be a lot to learn, especially if you’d like to do well in your final GCSE chemistry exam.

Some of the main areas you’re likely to come across during your GCSE chemistry studies include learning about atomic structure as well as learning about the periodic table.

This article highlights why these topics are so important when learning about chemistry, and also provides a few tips on ways you can revise for these topics and for your exams more generally.

A picture of an atom. The composition of atoms is something you should learn about during your chemistry GCSE. Atomic structure is one topic that you’ll almost certainly learn about during your GCSE chemistry studies. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, geralt, Pixabay)

The Importance Of Knowing About Atomic Structure In The GCSE Chemistry Syllabus

Atomic structure is one of the bread and butter topics of chemistry. It’s important to have a good understanding of atomic structure and what it is in order to then understand why atoms and elements behave the way that they do.

As a result, it’s incredibly likely that your teacher will have spent time with your class teaching you about atomic structure. Although it is a topic covered in class, due to its importance within the world of chemistry as a whole, it’s also an excellent idea to revisit and revise this topic before you sit any GCSE chemistry exams.

Over time, scientists’ understanding of how atoms are structured has improved, and as a result, atomic models have changed over the centuries to reflect such changes in understanding. You may have learnt a little about this history in class.

For instance, John Dalton’s concept of the atom back in the early 1800s did not include consideration of electrons. This came with J J Thompson’s work and the introduction of the “plum pudding” atomic model. Since then, other developments have been made, including work by James Chadwick, to lead to the atomic model that is known and studied today.

In a nutshell, the current atomic model assumes that atoms are made of a nucleus. That nucleus usually contains protons and neutrons, and that nucleus is surrounded by electrons. By understanding how many protons are present in an atom (known as the atomic number) you should be able to work what element it is.

The study of atomic structure isn’t solely limited to understanding atomic models, however, as other areas also need to be considered, such as understanding the difference between the atomic number and mass number of an element and understanding what isotopes are.

You'll undertake a lot of different experiments as part of your chemistry GCSE. GCSE chemistry can feel difficult at times to revise for, but good revision techniques can help. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, bdyczewski, Pixabay)

Why Do I Need To Learn About The Periodic Table As Well?

The periodic table is perhaps one of the most famous things you’ll learn about during your chemistry GCSE. Even people who weren’t particularly adept at chemistry will likely have some knowledge of the periodic table and the major elements that feature within it, such as:

  • Hydrogen (H);
  • Helium (He);
  • Potassium (K); and
  • Magnesium (Mg), among many, many others!

As part of your GCSE chemistry syllabus, it’s highly likely that you’ll be taught a little about the history of the periodic table, and you may well come across the name Dmitri Mendeleev, who was a Russian chemist credited for making an early version of the periodic table in 1869.

Although Mendeleev’s version of the table is not quite the same as the modern periodic table that is so well-known today, it was a great stepping stone.

The modern periodic table comprises periods and groups.

When looking at a periodic table, you can see that various elements are arranged in rows according to their atomic number. These rows are also known as periods. Another key feature of the modern periodic table is the fact that elements that have similar properties, such as Helium and Argon or Lithium and Sodium, are displayed together in vertical columns, which are also known as groups.

In order to do well in a chemistry GCSE exam, it’s vitally important that you understand the principles behind the periodic table, including the different groups within the table and how each group’s properties differ.

One helpful way you can help improve your knowledge of the periodic table is to buy a copy of the periodic table and to hang it in your house. Or, for an even cheaper option, you could take a picture of the periodic table and save it as a picture to your phone. Being able to regularly look at the table may help you to remember where various elements are placed, and which elements are grouped together.

However, this is just one suggestion to help you with your chemistry revision. Let’s look at a few more revision tips below.

There are plenty of ways to revise for a GCSE in chemistry GCSE chemistry is a GCSE that requires some amount of revision before sitting your final exam. (Image Source: CC0 1.0, moreharmony, Pixabay)

Ways To Get The Best Possible Results In Your GCSE Chemistry Exam

Studying for GCSEs can be a really stressful time. Not only do students have a whole range of subjects to revise, whether that’s maths, statistics, English, and the rest, but it can also feel as though it’s hard to dedicate an equal amount of revision time to each subject.

For instance, some students may be tempted to spend more time revising subjects that they’re naturally interested in or have better marks in, and as a result, may spend less time revising subjects that they find trickier.

Ideally, as part of a balanced revision schedule, you should be able to dedicate your time fairly evenly across all subjects. This should mean that you have enough time to work towards getting that 7, 8, or even 9, in your favourite subject, while also ensuring that you’ve revised enough to not fail another subject.

To achieve this, there are a few revision techniques you could look to employ.

Give Yourself Plenty Of Time To Revise

Although the image of a bleary-eyed student staying up all night in a desperate attempt to finish revising for their upcoming exams is a tried and true image in our collective consciousness, it doesn’t mean that extreme cramming for exams is a good way to revise.

For subjects, such as but not limited to chemistry, you might find it much easier to revise for your upcoming GCSE exams if you give yourself some plenty of time in advance to prepare for them.

That way, you should have enough time to revise the whole chemistry curriculum and perhaps even revisit or relearn areas that you aren’t as confident about. Everyone finds certain aspects of a subject challenging and other parts easier.

Whether you struggle to learn about:

  • The states of matter;
  • Electrolysis; or
  • Organic chemistry,

Adding some extra time into your study schedule to address these problem areas should be beneficial in the long run, especially if it’s an area that you know is highly likely to be tested in the actual exam!

Ask For Help If You Need It

When revising for any GCSE subject, including chemistry, it’s also ok to accept that you may not have a handle on every topic within the syllabus and as a result may need some extra help as part of your preparations for your upcoming chemistry exam.

If, for instance, you’re struggling with the different groups of the periodic table, or feel like you need to know more about the history of the atom, including the evolution of different atomic models, then do feel free to reach out to your chemistry teacher to ask for some extra help.

Equally, you could also consider hiring a chemistry tutor in the run-up to your exams. Sites such as Superprof have a wide network of tutors who can help students both during term time and exam time to improve their knowledge of any areas of the chemistry curriculum that you might not be confident about.

Ultimately, the best chance of revision success is to find the revision techniques that work well for you. When it comes to preparing for your GCSE chemistry exam, this may mean:

  • Revising topics like the periodic table, atomic composition, or the fundamentals of atoms, elements, and compounds;
  • Going through past exam papers from your exam board; or
  • Having some additional hours of tuition with an experienced chemistry teacher.

Through some trial and error, you’ll hopefully get to know how you best learn and revise chemistry, which in turn should put you in the best possible position to do well when exam time finally comes around!


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