A Level Chemistry for Medical Studies

A Level Science / Chemistry for aspiring medical students

As a Chemistry teacher and tutor with over 20 years’ experience, I am often asked particular questions in Year 11. To help students and parents, I have put together the topics most frequently needing explanation or advice – and useful answers.

Why should we take Chemistry A-Level to study medicine?

Surely Biology would be the favoured qualification as it’s the study of living systems, and after all, we will eventually be looking after living systems.
But the answer on why aspiring medical students should take Chemistry A Level is quite simple….
Medical schools are looking for transferable skills in their applicants, such as being able to:

  • apply knowledge to unfamiliar concepts
  • make decisions based upon data & be able to make exact calculations
  • make decisions based upon the information presented
  • and working under pressure…… (the list is almost endless).

It also needs to be considered that studying Chemistry for medicine helps us to, not only understand what medication and drugs will do, it also allows us to predict how they will interact with our systems, which is vital in giving post diagnosis treatment.

Challenges moving from GCSE to A Level

In my experience, most Year 11 students find GCSE Chemistry straight forward and reasonably easy to explain the theory. This, coupled with some intensive work from March to their exam, is usually enough to get them the grades required to access the appropriate A-levels for the study of medicine.
However, this notion soon unravels during the early part of Year 12. In my opinion, it is because of these reasons:

  • GCSE science is science at a basic level – the level where people can understand and take their knowledge forward into everyday life.
  • The models soon become more complex in Year 12 e.g. “A-level Chemistry starts off hard and gets harder.”
  • The cognitive demand increases by a large amount. Meaning that A-level builds on GCSE knowledge, expecting students to understand that knowledge and be able to apply it to an unfamiliar context
  • The level of learning increases and so the amount of understanding, literacy and numeracy also increases.

What can I do to overcome these issues?

  • Start your consolidation and revision very early on in Year 12.
  • Spend time fully understanding the concepts deeply (my advice is 1 hour extra for every hour spent in lessons).
  • Start practising past paper questions early on. Familiarise yourself with the format of your particular exam boards’ style of questioning.
  • Enrol on revision courses with experts, such as those offered by Justin Craig, to improve your weaker areas.
  • Do not bury your head in the sand. Year 13 builds on the knowledge you have acquired in Year 12. If this is not fully understood, Year 13 soon becomes overwhelming.
  • Year 13 interviews, UCAS applications and the UKCAT / BMAT tests will add to the pressure of your studies. This can soon become a mountain to overcome if your Year 12 preparation is lacking.

Medical Aptitude Tests

These are a key part to most universities’ selection process and need as much preparation as any other test does. A few weeks of work beforehand will not work! Here are some ideas to help you prepare:

  • Read up as much as you can about the process.
  • Access as many past questions as you can. Good bookshops will have these in stock, check online too.
  • Practice doing logic problems from the time you finish your GCSEs.
  • Practice the past questions and learn from your mistakes, particularly your weaker areas.
  • Most importantly, practice these under time constraints. The tests are designed to see how well you work under pressure and can think clearly in those circumstances – all skills needed in the medical profession.

Remember the key to all of this is preparation, preparation, preparation and in this case, the earlier the better!!!