Relating Chemguide to individual syllabuses

I get the occasional e-mail which says something like: "There's much more on Chemguide than I need for my syllabus. Would it be possible for you to mark each section in some way so that it is easy to find out what I need to look at and what I can ignore?"

The answer is that it is possible, but it isn't going to happen! There are two quite different reasons for this - one practical and one philosophical.

From a practical point of view it would be a total nightmare for me. Syllabuses keep changing, and even if I only tried to track the syllabuses used by UK students, trying to accurately track what was required for each of them and then keep on top of the changes as syllabuses evolve would involve huge amounts of time for the rest of my life - and be totally tedious and boring to do!

Then try to imagine the mess of colour coding or symbols which would have to accompany every single reaction or explanation. I want Chemguide to look straightforward and uncluttered so that you can read whatever you need to find out about without distraction.

The philosophical reason is more complicated - and you may well not like what I have to say!

If you are studying chemistry at A level (or one of its equivalents - IB, Scottish Highers, or any other syllabus for 16-18 year olds), you should be trying to learn two quite different things. Obviously, you should be learning enough chemistry to give you the result you need. But you should also be learning to be a good student.

Most current UK A levels make it very easy to learn the chemistry. Anyone who tells you that A level standards now (2017) are the same as they were 25 years ago is deluded.

In 2017, 31.7% of students doing A level chemistry got a grade A* or A; 97% passed with an E or better. In 1993, 16.8% got a grade A (A* didn't exist then) and 79.9% passed.

A number of factors have caused this. Masses of stuff has been cut from chemistry syllabuses over the years. That's no bad thing, and I have no desire whatsoever to return to the factually over-loaded syllabuses of the past. There are also sources of help available to you now which simply didn't exist years ago - sites like Chemguide, for example, and books designed to cover particular syllabuses.

And exams themselves have got easier, even with the recent changes to the A level system. For most (but not all) Exam Boards, what you are asked is very directly related to the syllabus. With some syllabuses it is easy to tie perhaps the majority of individual questions to specific statements in the syllabus.

So why I am telling you all this? Because I'm trying to suggest that you have got it too easy - and that this is actually harming your future progress!

Suppose you get your good chemistry grade and then go off to university - it doesn't matter particularly whether it is to do chemistry or not. Suddenly, you aren't being spoon-fed any more. You have to dig information out for yourself, and be pretty much responsible for your own progress - and it can be very hard if you have never had to do it before. The point is that if you have everything laid out on a plate for you at A level and never have to make any real effort apart from doing a bit of learning, you aren't being a student.

It is much better to learn how to study in the supportive atmosphere of a school or college than to have to learn to do it at university when there are so many other distractions.

Finding your way to the information you want on a site like Chemguide is all a part of being a good student. Using a syllabus and past papers to tell you what you need to look for is a part of being a good student. Following up the odd unnecessary lead just because you are interested is a part of being a good student.

That's why Chemguide is about helping you to understand chemistry rather than teaching you to do particular exam questions. Using the internet to help you to understand chemistry is good for you - not just because you are finding stuff which makes things clearer, but because you are getting into the habit of making an effort and taking some control over your learning. Using sites like Chemguide, you are doing absolutely the right thing for both now and the future - but I wouldn't be doing you any long term favours by making it any easier for you to find the information you want for a particular syllabus!

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© Jim Clark 2007 (updated September 2017)