Chemistry is a popular and successful subject at The Perse with almost half of the Sixth Form studying the subject.
Practical work plays a key role in Sixth Form chemistry because it is at the heart of pupil learning. Regular practical work helps pupils develop crucial dexterity, observation and interpretation skills, in addition to providing an opportunity to reinforce and contextualise the relevant concepts.
The study of chemistry develops many transferrable and higher-order thinking skills. It refines students’ scientific enquiry skills; their confidence in selecting the right methods and carrying out practical work; their ability to explain changes observed at macro- and microscopic level; and their capacity to interpret and critically assess others’ interpretations, such as those made in the media.
A Level chemistry is a linear course, with exams taken at the end of the Upper Sixth year. Each class is taught by two teachers, one focusing on organic chemistry and related topics, the other on inorganic and physical chemistry topics. There is no coursework and the practical component is assessed internally.
Edexcel A Level chemistry is a rigorous, academically stretching and well-respected course that develops students’ critical and lateral thinking skills. The content and assessment provides an excellent foundation for pupils who hope to study chemistry or a chemistry-related subject at university, while also accommodating the broad academic needs of pupils whose educational aspirations lie in other fields.
- Learning journey - Lower Sixth
The start of the Lower Sixth year provides an excellent opportunity for pupils to build on analytical and practical skills developed in earlier years. One side of the course moves from quantitative analysis into organic chemistry, starting with hydrocarbons and building up in functional group complexity. During the Lent and Summer terms, pupils are introduced to functional groups not seen in previous years, including ketones and aldehydes, alongside the mechanism by which functional groups are added or substituted onto molecules.
On the other side of the course, the study of atomic structure is followed by the energetics topic, which provides an early opportunity for a wide range of qualitative and quantitative practical work. In the Lent and Summer terms, analysis of bonding and structure provides a foundation for studying the main group elements and their compounds, providing further opportunity for practical analysis.
- Learning journey - Upper Sixth
Pupils studying A level chemistry build on the understanding they have developed in the previous year, with organic chemistry once again present as the cornerstone of one side of the course. Pupils will study carboxylic acids, aromatic compounds, and functional groups containing nitrogen, before tying together all of their organic chemistry studies in the organic synthesis topic.
In the physical chemistry side of the course, students begin the year by exploring equilibrium concepts using both acid-base chemistry and electrochemistry as platforms with which to investigate chemical equilibria both qualitatively and quantitatively. Calculators can largely be put away for the colourful transition metals topic, before ample time is given over to revision on both sides of the course, in preparation for the final exams.
- Providing stretch
We offer a Sixth Form chemistry extension club called the Norrish Society. It is an excellent opportunity to ask questions and delve deeper into the subject. The Norrish Society also provides opportunities to prepare for the Chemistry Olympiad and C3L6 competition.
Each year pupils enter a variety of competitions to extend their knowledge, including the Chemistry Olympiad. In 2020 Perse pupils secured 18 gold, 36 silver and 51 bronze awards in the Olympiad, with one pupil selected to take part in the second round, placing him in the top 50 in the country. In 2015 a Perse Sixth Former was selected to represent the UK at the International Chemistry Olympiad in Azerbaijan, where he was placed first in the UK team, and 45th in the world.
Pupils have also regularly achieved success in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge for Lower Sixth (C3L6) and Schools Analyst competitions. In 2019 four Perse pupils achieved a roentgenium award in the C3L6, placing those students in the top 56 in the country.
We help Lower Sixth pupils secure summer placements. Pupils have been offered prestigious Nuffield Research Placements, while others have won Gold CREST awards for projects completed on placements. Pupils’ work has been published in journals, such as this article on aspirin in The Spectator.
We encourage wide reading to stimulate intellectual curiosity and develop new interests, understanding and skills. Chemistry students are encouraged to consider delving into John Elmsley’s The Elements of Murder, Val McDermid’s Forensics – The Anatomy of Crime and Addy Prissy’s What is Life? How Chemistry Becomes Biology, as well as the Nobel Lectures.
- Beyond the classroom
Chemists frequently come to give lectures as part of our 42 society. Speakers have included Nobel Prize-winning chemist Sir John Walker. The department has also hosted a hands-on lecture about stereochemistry, presented by Dr Richard Stephenson of the University of East Anglia and an insight into cutting edge chemistry using plastic waste, presented by Taylor Uekert.
Our Medical Forum is for those students considering a career in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, to provide information about these professions and to work together on how to put together successful university applications.
A weekly lunchtime club for Sixth Formers, the Norrish Society, helps students delve deeper into chemistry. It provides an excellent opportunity to prepare for university interviews, the Chemistry Olympiad and other competitions.
Twice-weekly clinics are open to all students to give 1-2-1 advice on specific problems and tricky topic areas, in conjunction with revision sessions that run in the Lent and Summer terms.
We make good use of our Cambridge location and particularly enjoy attending lectures at the Cambridge Science Festival.
- Chemistry at university
Pupils considering a career in medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine can attend our Medical Forum. This society offers an insight into these professions and an opportunity to work with peers and advisers to put together successful university applications.
We support all pupils who wish to apply for chemistry or chemistry-related degrees at university through activities including extension classes, personal statement advice and mock interviews, lectures and study-day visits. Each year pupils get experience of research through varied work placements and some have secured Nuffield Bursaries and Gold CREST awards.