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GCSE Chemistry Syllabus

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If you’re preparing for the GCSE chemistry exam, the first step is to be aware of what topics make up the syllabus. In this article, we will put the spotlight on the main subject areas in the GCSE chemistry syllabus, explaining a little more about the key topics.


There are 10 subjects covered by the GCSE chemistry syllabus, split across two test papers:


  1. Atomic structure and the periodic table
  2. Bonding, structure, and the properties of matter
  3. Quantitative chemistry
  4. Chemical changes
  5. Energy changes
  6. The rate and extent of chemical change
  7. Organic chemistry
  8. Chemical analysis
  9. Chemistry of the atmosphere
  10. Using resources


The first paper covers topics 1-5, while the second paper covers topics 6-10. Each exam lasts for an hour and 45 minutes and counts towards 50% of the final GCSE chemistry mark. For more information about the GCSE chemistry syllabus, please visit the AQA website.


Atomic Structure and the Periodic Table


The GCSE chemistry syllabus makes it clear that students must learn the structure of the atom, as well as the properties of the known elements in the periodic table. The modern atomic model states that:


  • An atom consists of a nucleus;
  • The nucleus usually comprises of protons as well as neutrons; and
  • Electrons surround the nucleus


When working through the chemistry syllabus at GCSE, students must ensure they have good knowledge of all these basic principles. Once you are comfortable with those, you should be able to learn which atoms represent which elements. Once you’ve identified an element, you can then understand its properties and how it interacts with other elements.


As part of your GCSE chemistry syllabus, it’s likely that you’ll be taught a little about the history of the periodic table. 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. In the GCSE chemistry exam, you will be provided with a copy of the periodic table, but the more you become familiar with it ahead of the exam, the better.


Bonding, Structure, and the Properties of Matter


If you’re looking to achieve higher grades in your chemistry GCSE, this topic is a must know. The AQA GCSE chemistry syllabus dedicates a large section to it, so it’s very possible that at least one question in the exam will be on this topic. Areas within this topic include:


  • Ionic compounds
  • Metallic bonding
  • Metals as conductors


This topic also covers states of matter. There are three different states of matter; solid, liquid, and gas. It is possible for a substance to change state and move from a solid into a liquid, or even a gas. Students should be able to:


  • Predict the states of substances at different temperatures given appropriate data
  • Explain the different temperatures at which changes of state occur in terms of energy transfers and types of bonding
  • Recognise that atoms themselves do not have the bulk properties of materials


This is a hefty topic within the GCSE chemistry syllabus, but if you want to get a good mark, you must dedicate a suitable amount of time to it in your chemistry revision.


Chemical and Energy Changes


Chemical changes in the syllabus covers areas such as acids, alkalis, bases, salts and electrolysis. Acids and alkalis may be something that you’re already familiar with, or you may have to learn about them from scratch. The syllabus states that students should be able to:


  • Recall and describe the reactions, if any, of potassium, sodium, lithium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and copper with water or dilute acids and where appropriate, to place these metals in order of reactivity
  • Explain how the reactivity of metals with water or dilute acids is related to the tendency of the metal to form its positive ion
  • Deduce an order of reactivity of metals based on experimental results.


The energy changes portion of the syllabus requires students to have a good understanding of exothermic and endothermic reactions. Exothermic reactions refer to a chemical reaction, which results in energy being transferred externally.


Endothermic reactions refer to a chemical reaction which results in energy being transferred internally. This means that often there is a decrease in the surrounding area’s temperature.


Chemical Analysis


Chemical analysis is primarily concerned with identifying and analysing substances, which can often (but not always) comprise a range of different chemicals. The GCSE chemistry syllabus covers a range of topics here, including pure substances, formulations and chromatography.


For the typical student, this subject matter can be a little dry, so our advice would be to drill yourself regularly on the key points and review the syllabus to get a good idea of what sections you might be tested on.


You don’t have to fall in love with every GCSE topic; you just have to be smart with your learning strategy. Go through your class notes and take practice chemistry GCSE papers under test conditions, to help you improve your time keeping and boost your confidence.


Chemistry of the Atmosphere


This tends to be a popular topic in GCSE chemistry, as students learn about topics that are gaining real traction in the media, including climate change and global warming.


In this part of the syllabus, students will learn:


  • What causes greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect
  • Climate change
  • The elements that are part of Earth’s atmosphere


Students should also learn how humans may have an impact on the bullet points outlined above.


Revising the GCSE Chemistry Syllabus 


The key to success at GCSE level is to plan your revision well ahead of the exam date. The GCSE chemistry syllabus covers a number of topics, whether that’s chemical reactions, atoms, or acids and alkalis. To cover all of them, you need time to fit enough revision sessions in.


At Exam Papers Plus, we publish GCSE chemistry revision packs that help students prepare for the exam. Our practice test papers can help you become familiar with the types of questions you’ll be asked on the day. They’ll also help you become familiar with the layout of the tests.


As part of the process of creating our CSE chemistry packs, we thoroughly analysed reports from previous years to make sure our questions cover all the topic areas of the exam. We also studied the types of questions that students find most challenging and included examples in our packs, so you’ll have every eventuality covered.


Those studying the GCSE chemistry syllabus will benefit from the following practice resource:


GCSE Chemistry: Key Skills


Related posts:

GCSE Chemistry Study Tips

GCSE Chemistry Help: Preparing for the Exam

How to Pass GCSE Chemistry

GCSE Chemistry Games to Help Your Revision



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