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Chemistry International Baccalaureate *Fees payable* at Brentwood School

Course description

What is Chemistry?

Chemistry is an experimental science that combines academic study with the acquisition of practical and investigational skins. It is often called the central science, as chemical principles underpin both the physical environment in which we live and all biological systems.

It is a subject with a lively and interesting content, which relates directly to many aspects of everyday life. It has a unique place in the curriculum; it is a science that is governed by rules and laws, but is also a creative subject.

The study of Chemistry has changed dramatically from its origins in the early days of alchemists, whose quest was the transmutation of common metals into gold. Although today's alchemists are not regarded as being true scientists, modem Chemistry has the study of alchemy as its roots. Alchemists were among the first to develop strict experimentation processes and laboratory techniques. Robert Boyle, often credited with being the father of modern Chemistry, began experimenting as an alchemist.

Despite the exciting and extraordinary development of ideas throughout the history of Chemistry, certain things have remained unchanged. Observations remain essential at the very core of Chemistry, and this sometimes requires decisions about what to look for. The scientific processes carried out by the most eminent scientists in the past are the same ones followed by working Chemists today and, crucially, are also accessible to students in schools.

Because the body of scientific knowledge has grown in size and complexity, and the tools and skills of theoretical and experimental Chemistry have become so specialised, it is clearly difficult (if not impossible) to be highly proficient in both areas. The free and rapid interplay of theoretical ideas and experimental results in the public scientific literature thus maintains the crucial link between these two fields.

Skills you will develop

The study of Chemistry will enable students to develop abilities and skills, which are not only relevant to the study, practice and applications of Chemistry but are useful in everyday life.

It will enable students to acquire sufficient knowledge and understanding to:

  • Become confident citizens in a technological world, able to take or develop an informed interest in matters scientific
  • Recognise the usefulness, and limitations, of scientific methods in aspects of their lives
  • Appreciate that the applications of Chemistry may be both beneficial and detrimental to the individual, the community and the environment
  • Be suitably prepared to continue their study of Chemistry beyond school, where appropriate.

The study of Chemistry will also enable students to develop their ability and skill to:

  • Think and make connections with their learning
  • Understand and question abstract concepts and ideas
  • Communicate scientific observations, ideas and arguments effectively and objectively, both in writing and orally
  • Undertake critical enquiry and reflection
  • Solve qualitative and quantitative problems
  • Analyse, interpret, evaluate and make informed judgements from relevant facts, data, observations and phenomena
  • Use chemical models as a basis for furthering understanding
  • Select and use information from a variety of sources
  • Develop a responsibility for their own learning and to carry out individual research where appropriate
  • Develop self-study skills to aid the transition from school to university
  • Relate the study of Chemistry to other disciplines where there are naturally occurring links in the syllabi
  • Demonstrate the knowledge, understanding and skills specified by examination board syllabi necessary to achieve success in examinations.

Chemistry is also a subject where students can experience a wide range of experimental work and use ICT, as appropriate, to collect and process data. This gives students the following skills, which will serve them well both at university and in their future career:

  • To be able to follow detailed sequences of instructions relating to practical work
  • To carry out experimental investigations where it is necessary to:

- ask questions, predict and hypothesise

- use scientific ideas and knowledge to justify predictions and hypotheses

- select and use appropriate techniques, apparatus and materials

- plan a logical sequence of experimental steps

- recognise, measure and control variables

- interpret and evaluate observations and experimental results

- show initiative, inventiveness and creativity in solving emerging problems

- understand the importance of accuracy and precision

- evaluate methods and suggest possible improvements - draw conclusions based on available evidence and scientific theory. 

IB Chemistry (HL and SL)

Course Specific Objectives

The purpose of the Chemistry course in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is to prepare students for the technological and scientific challenges of the modem world.

Within Group 4, the aims of both the Higher Level (HL) and Standard Level (SL) Chemistry courses are to:

  • Appreciate scientific study and creativity within a global context through stimulating and challenging opportunities
  • Acquire a body of knowledge, methods and techniques that characterise science and technology
  • Apply and use a body of knowledge, methods and techniques that characterise science and technology
  • Develop an ability to analyse, evaluate and synthesise scientific information
  • Develop a critical awareness of the need for, and the value of, effective collaboration and communication during scientific activities
  • Develop experimental and investigative scientific skills including the use of current technologies
  • Develop and apply 21st century communication skills in the study of science
  • Become critically aware, as global citizens, of the ethical implications of using science and technology
  • Develop an appreciation of the possibilities and limitations of science and technology
  • Develop an understanding of the relationships between scientific disciplines and their influence on other areas of knowledge.

Because the Diploma Programme Chemistry course is available at both Standard Level and Higher Level, this accommodates students who wish to study Chemistry as their major subject in higher education (HL) and those who do not (SL).

Each course allows students to develop traditional practical skills and techniques and to increase their skills in the use of Mathematics, which is the language of science. it also allows students to develop interpersonal skills, and digital technology skills, which are essential in 21st century scientific endeavour and are important, life-enhancing, transferable skills in their own right. The assessment objectives for each Chemistry course, whether assessed internally or externally, centre upon the 'Nature of Science' and it is the intention that students are able to fulfil the following:

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • facts, concepts, and terminology
  • methodologies and techniques
  • communicating scientific information


  • facts, concepts, and terminology
  • methodologies and techniques
  • methods of communicating scientific information

Formulate, analyse and evaluate:

  • hypotheses, research questions and predictions
  • methodologies and techniques
  • primary and secondary data
  • scientific explanations

Demonstrate the appropriate research, experimental, and personal skills necessary to carry out insightful and ethical investigations

Both the Higher Level and Standard Level Chemistry courses are highly mathematical in their content and students should be competent mathematicians. Thus students should be able to:

  • Perform the basic arithmetic functions: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
  • Carry out calculations involving means, decimals, fractions, percentages, ratios, approximations and reciprocals
  • Use standard notation
  • Use direct and inverse proportion
  • Solve simple algebraic equations
  • Plot graphs (with suitable scales and axes) including two variables that show linear and non-linear relationships
  • Interpret graphs, including the significance of gradients, changes in gradients, intercepts and areas  
  • Interpret data presented in various forms (for example, bar charts, histograms and pie charts).

In fulfilling the aims of the Diploma Programme, students will study the following specific areas of Chemistry within each of the 'Core Topics' and 'Additional Higher Level' content (AHL):

Topic 1: Stoichiometric Relationships

Core - Introduction to the particulate nature of matter and chemical change, the mole concept, reacting masses and volumes

Topic 2: Atomic Structure

Core - The nuclear atom, electron configuration Additional Higher Level (Topic 12)- Electrons in atoms

Topic 3: Periodicity

Core - Periodic table, periodic trends Additional Higher Level (Topic 13)- First-row d-block elements, coloured complexes

Topic 4: Chemical Bonding and Structure

Core - Ionic bonding and structure, covalent bonding, covalent structures, intermolecular forces, metallic bonding

Additional Higher Level (Topic 14)- Covalent bonding and electron domain and molecular geometries, hybridization

Topic 5: Energetics/Thermochemistry

Core - Measuring energy changes, Hess's Law, bond enthalpies

Additional Higher Level (Topic 15) - Energy cycles, entropy and spontaneity

Topic 6: Chemical Kinetics

Core - Collision theory, rates of reaction Additional Higher Level (Topic 16)- Rate expression and reaction mechanism, activation energy

Topic 7: Equilibrium

Core - Equilibrium Additional Higher Level (Topic 17)- The equilibrium law

Topic 8: Acids and Bases

Core - Theories of acids and bases, properties of acids and bases, the pH scale, strong and weak acids and bases, acid deposition

Additional Higher Level (Topic 18)- Lewis acids and bases, calculations involving acids and bases, pH curves

Topic 9: Redox Processes

Core - Electrochemical cells Additional Higher Level (Topic 19) - Electrochemical cells

Topic 10: Organic Chemistry

Core - Fundamentals of organic chemistry, functional group chemistry

Additional Higher Level (Topic 20) - Types of organic reactions, synthetic routes, stereoisomerism

Topic 11 Measurement and Data Processing

Core - Uncertainties/errors in measurement and results, graphical techniques, spectroscopic identification of organic compounds

Additional Higher Level (Topic 21)- Spectroscopic identification of organic compounds

Optional Topics

 The IB Diploma Programme Chemistry course includes the essential principles of the subject but also, through selection of an 'Option Topic', allows students to follow their particular interests. These options are:

Option A: Materials


Materials science introduction, metals and inductively coupled plasma (ICP) spectroscopy, catalysts, liquid crystals, polymers, nanotechnology, environmental impact- plastics

Additional Higher Level:

Superconducting metals and X-ray crystallography, condensation polymers, environmental impact - heavy metals

Option B: Biochemistry

Core: Introduction to biochemistry, proteins and enzymes, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, biochemistry and the environment

Additional Higher Level:

Proteins and enzymes, nucleic acids, biological pigments, stereochemistry in biomolecules

• Option C: Energy


Energy sources, fossil fuels, nuclear fusion and fission, solar energy, environmental impact- global warming

Additional Higher Level:

Electrochemistry, rechargeable batteries and fuel cells, nuclear fusion and nuclear fission, photovoltaic and dye-sensitized solar cells

Option D: Medicinal chemistry


Pharmaceutical products and drug action, aspirin and penicillin, opiates, pH regulation of the stomach, anti-viral medications, environmental impact of some medications

Additional Higher Level

Taxol - a chiral auxiliary case study, nuclear medicine, drug detection and analysis

How the course is taught

Both the Higher Level and Standard Level courses are taught by two subject teachers. Throughout each course, students will gain an awareness of the role of the collaborative nature of Chemistry in the 21st century and its universal role in the development of new technologies.

As each course develops, reference is made to the historical context of chemical ideas and to the scientists who pioneered such advances.  Key ideas and concepts are developed slowly as the course progresses, thus ensuring that revision is an on-going process. Students who would otherwise find the subject to be difficult are therefore supported throughout the whole length of the course. At the same time students who find the work less demanding are offered plenty of challenges and stimulation.

Practical work and the use of computer software and calculators are interwoven with the teaching programme from the very start and students are supervised through the process of completing their Internal Assessment. Learning resources are available through the Chemistry Department Virtual Learning Environment.

Course guidance materials, which students can expect to receive, are booklets containing a syllabus, scientific data, the programme of study and details regarding the Extended Essay. A course revision guide is also available.


Throughout the Sixth Form, the student is responsible for his/her own studies.

Subject teachers set tasks according to an agreed work programme, which helps students manage their time. All students are expected to engage fully in lessons and need to be willing to share their ideas. They are expected to keep up to date as the sequential nature of much of the course will cause difficulties for those students who fall behind. Students are also expected to be resourceful, committed to intellectual enquiry and to read and research widely in order to support their independent learning. They will need to devote time to honing their problem-solving skills by working independently outside the classroom.

Course content

 Core topics (for all students) include:

  • Topic 1. Stoichiometric Relationships
  • Topic 2. Atomic Structure
  • Topic 3. Periodicity
  • Topic 4. Chemical Bonding and Structure
  • Topic 5. Energetics/Thermochemistry
  • Topic 6. Chemical Kinetics
  • Topic 7. Equilibrium
  • Topic 8. Acids and Bases
  • Topic 9. Redox Processes
  • Topic 10. Organic Chemistry
  • Topic 11. Measurement and Data Processing.

Additional Higher Level (for higher level students) includes:

  • Topic 12. Atomic structure
  • Topic 13. The periodic table—the transition metals
  • Topic 14. Chemical bonding and structure
  • Topic 15. Energetics/thermochemistry
  • Topic 16. Chemical kinetics
  • Topic 17. Equilibrium Topic 18. Acids and bases
  • Topic 19. Redox processes
  • Topic 20. Organic chemistry
  • Topic 21. Measurement and analysis

Optional Topics In addition to the 'Core Topics' above, all students must study and be assessed in one 'Option Topic' selected from:

  • A. Materials
  • B. Biochemistry
  • C. Energy
  • D. Medicinal Chemistry.

The 'Option Topic' is taught during the first term of the Upper Sixth. 

Students will also have to complete a piece of work in what is known as the Group 4 Project which directly relates to the development of experimental and investigative skills. 

The Group 4 Project is a collaborative activity where students from different Group 4 subjects work together on a scientific or technological topic, allowing for concepts and perceptions from across the disciplines to be shared. This allows students to develop an understanding of the relationships between scientific disciplines and their influence on other areas of knowledge. The project can be practically or theoretically based.

The Group 4 Project also allows students to appreciate the environmental, social and ethical implications of science and technology. It may also allow them to understand the limitations of scientific study, for example, the shortage of appropriate data and/or the lack of resources. The emphasis is on interdisciplinary cooperation and the processes involved in scientific investigation, rather than the products of such investigation.

The choice of scientific or technological topic is open but the project should clearly address specific aims of the Group 4 subjects. Ideally, the project should involve students collaborating with those from other Group 4 subjects at all stages. To this end, it is not necessary for the topic chosen to have clearly identifiable separate subject components.

The Extended Essay

Higher Level students may wish to consider Chemistry as the focus for their Extended Essay, particularly if they intend to study Chemistry or a closely-related discipline at university. Students are free to select any topic and it should be noted that the assessment criteria give credit for the nature of the investigation and for the extent that reasoned arguments are applied to an appropriate research question. Students are expected to extend their knowledge beyond that encountered in the Diploma Programme Chemistry course. There must be sufficient explanation and commentary throughout the Extended Essay to ensure that the reader does not lose sight of the purpose of the essay and it must be completed within 4,000 words. Up to five hours of staff supervision are available to assist with the planning, research and execution of the Extended Essay.






Entry requirements

 A minimum of a grade A for IGCSE or GCSE Chemistry is required.


Internal Assessment

Internal assessment is an integral part of the course and is compulsory for all Higher Level students. It enables students to demonstrate the application of their skills and knowledge and to pursue their personal interests, without the time limitations and other constraints that are associated with written examinations.

It consists of one scientific investigation. Training for this is conducted in the latter half of the Lower Sixth and then formally assessed in the first term in the Upper Sixth. It should take no more than 10 hours and accounts for 20% of the award.

External Assessment

 In each course there are three terminal examinations:

Each student will start producing written practical work, which meets the Internal Assessment criteria, from the latter half of the Lower Sixth so that, by the end of the academic year, students will have completed several practice assessments. Further assessments in the form of a complete investigation will then be completed in Upper Sixth. Each investigation is graded out of 24 marks and the marks for the best investigation will be submitted to the IBO for moderation. 


Standard Level

Paper 1:30 multiple- choice questions on core material only. 45 min 30 marks 20% Paper 2: Short- answer and extended-response questions on core material only. lh 15m 50 marks 40%

Paper 3: Questions on core and option material only. 1 hour 35 marks 20% Internal Assessment (See above) 20%

Higher Level

Paper 1: 40 multiple- choice questions on all material. 1 hour 40 marks 20%

Paper 2: Short- answer and extended-response questions on all material. 2h 15m 95 marks 36%

Paper 3: Questions on all core, higher and option material. lh 15m 45 marks 24% Internal Assessment (See above) 20% 

Internal Assessment (IA) consists of 5 skill areas, 4 of which require the submission of written work from the student. The five skill areas, together with their raw marks and % weighting, are:

Written Assessment

Exploration (6 marks; 25%)

Analysis (6 marks; 25%)

Evaluation (6 marks; 25%)

Communication (4 marks; 17%)

Observed Assessment Personal Engagement (2 marks; 8%)

Preparatory Work

Students are provided with introductory material to study before embarking on the course. Students are then assessed on this material within the first week of term.


Future opportunities

Apart from being a subject worthy of study in its own right, Chemistry is a prerequisite for many other courses in higher education, such as the biological sciences, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and environmental science. As a subject, Chemistry is highly regarded by universities and employers due to the skills that it develops and its vast range of applications. At school level, it is often combined with two other subjects, usually Biology, Physics or Mathematics. This is because Chemistry forms a central subject in the study of the sciences. All four subjects would form an excellent science combination for those students who want to become an all-round scientist both at school and beyond.

However, students wanting a broader choice of subjects at A-Level could successfully combine Chemistry with any other non-scientific subjects, opening up opportunities in careers as diverse as law, economics and languages.

Careers open to graduates

Chemistry graduates will find that their degree will be attractive to a wide variety of employers and includes areas such as:

  • Art restoration
  • Healthcare
  • Biological sciences
  • Insurance
  • Chemical industry
  • IT and computing
  • Consultancies
  • Materials science
  • Education
  • Medicine
  • Energy industry
  • Manufacturing
  • Engineering
  • Media
  • Environment
  • Metals and minerals
  • Geology • Meteorology
  • Financial services
  • Nanotechnology
  • Food industry
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Forensics
  • Recruitment
  • Government
  • Research.

In our technological world where the supply of resources is an ever increasing problem, an ability to understand and apply the principles of Chemistry is becoming an ever more important and attractive skill set to possess.

Further information

To support the work of teachers in the classroom, the Chemistry Department has a programme of co-curricular enrichment for its students.

This programme involves the following activities:

  • Access to the Royal Society of Chemistry's 'ChemNet' website facility, which provides on-line tests and activities for all Sixth Form students
  • Subscription to the Sixth Form magazine 'Chemistry Review' (published by York University)
  • Involvement of Lower Sixth students in the 'Chemistry in Action' lectures at the Institute of Education, University of London
  • Preparation for university, involving the following activities:
  • - Background reading - issue of a comprehensive book list (the school library holds several of these books)
  • Weekly enrichment sessions for Lower Sixth students on a variety of issues and topics
  • Preparation for and involvement in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge - a competition for Lower Sixth students, involving monthly on-line tests and a challenging 2-hour written paper in the summer term of the Lower Sixth
  • Essay writing - choice of an essay to research and prepare during the summer holiday of Lower Sixth for presentation to an audience in the September of the Upper Sixth
  • Weekly enrichment sessions for Upper Sixth on a variety of issues and topics, both on the curriculum and beyond
  • Preparation for and involvement in the Chemistry Olympiad - a competition organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry for Upper Sixth students, involving an exacting 2.5-hour written paper in the spring term of the Upper Sixth. This activity also includes past paper practice, completion of AEA past papers and Oxbridge-style questions
  • Interview practice for Upper Sixth students.

The preparation for university programme particularly applies to those students wishing to go to Oxbridge or a good university to study Science, Medicine, Dentistry or Veterinary Medicine. However, all of the above activities are open to any student interested in furthering their skills and knowledge, no matter what their ability or further education intentions.

Students are responsible for making their own notes, alongside those given to them by their teachers. They will also be expected to read through information prior to a lesson, so that problems encountered can be discussed and resolved during the lesson.




How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Brentwood School directly.

Last updated date: 20 December 2016

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