We have met Chemistry before. Lower Secondary Science gave us a taste of it, introducing us to atoms and their dance — the shuffling, twirling, and changing of partners during a chemical reaction.

Experiments in the laboratory have also been exciting, with the flame, colours, and sound. But not everything was fun and some of us have been scarred by Chemistry. There seems to be a lot to memorise and and very little to make sense of. The cheem words littered in notes and exam questions also did not help.

Worse, there is no way out! Chemistry has inadvertently been made compulsory since most schools do not offer Combined Science (Physics, Biology).

Yet, before you enter the near year with apprehension, there are a few good reasons to be hopeful. All you have to do is to be patient and give the subject, and yourself, a chance to find the chemistry.

1. It is a fresh start in Secondary 3

We have always been warned not to screw up Lower Secondary Science as it provides a crucial foundation for what is to come. Not wrong, but it is exaggerated as a scare tactic to make you pay attention in class!

In fact, Chemistry in upper secondary is designed as a standalone course. You will start from scratch and begin from the very basic: how all matter is made up of tiny particles in random motion. It is only after this introduction that you will delve into what these particles are and what forces hold them together.

So like a good movie, Chemistry in Upper Secondary can be appreciated on its own. The prequel is not at all necessary.

2. Chemistry is not just for the ‘science people’

While we classify Chemistry as a science subject, you do not have to be a ‘science person’ to like it and excel in it.

Chemistry is essentially a lens to make sense of the world, much like art and poetry. It is a language that provides you with the rich vocabulary to describe the structure of all matter and natural phenomena.

And practical work is very much like cooking and handicraft, albeit with a different setting in the laboratory. You will learn to measure with precision and whip up interesting chemicals, from crystals to colour-changing solutions.

Perhaps the only technical part is stoichiometry, whereby you need some mathematics to calculate the exact number of particles and predict the amount of product you will get at the end of a reaction. But the good news is it takes up just 15% of the exam and it does not go beyond multiplication and division.

3. Chemistry is no longer plagued by rote memory

We usually associate science with painful, pointless memory work.

But things are shaking up with the recent syllabus changes. Don’t believe? Just look at what the syllabus document prepared by Cambridge says:

This syllabus is designed to place less emphasis on factual materials… This approach has been adapted in recognition of the need for students to develop skills that will be of long term value in an increasingly technological world rather than focusing on large quantities of factual materials.

MOE & UCLES

Unlike other subjects, you can bring in the greatest cheat sheet of all time for Chemistry exams: the Periodic Table. Elements are laid out neatly, organised into columns according to their reactivity.

Furthermore, there are now more data-based questions. Instead of recalling specific definitions, you simply have to infer from the data and give any sensible suggestions.

4. Just Google lorh

COVID-19 made life difficult with HBL. But it also gave us many websites offering free education resources.

This is not a paid advertisement, but a really good one is BBC Bitesize. The notes are comprehensive and comprehensible. They are also highly relevant as the UK GCSE is pretty much like our N Level and O Level in Singapore.

This is not self-praise (or maybe it is), but Chem Not Cheem will endeavour to provide more timely notes that will always remain free. Unlike BBC Bitesize, we are run by Singaporean teachers currently teaching in secondary schools.

You can also find supportive online communities that listen and advise. SGExams on Reddit is a wholesome forum where people share about school work, mental health, and career options. And if you need urgent help with your homework, you can turn to Peakture. It is a live Q&A app, where you can screenshot chemistry questions to get them answered, usually within a day.

5. And you have your greatest supporter, your teacher

Most crucially, your subject teacher will be with you all the way. They will help you make sense of difficult concepts, encourage you when the going gets tough, and discover your strengths.

All you have to do is ask. Be unafraid to raise your hand and clarify in class or to arrange for a consultation after school.

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