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A Comprehensive Guide To IB Chemistry In Singapore

PART 1 – INTRODUCTION

International Baccalaureate (IB) Chemistry is a fun but challenging subject to master. If you are reading this article, it probably indicates that you or your child is interested in the subject. In that case, you have come to the right place! Check out our comprehensive IB Chemistry guide to learn more about the IB Chemistry syllabus. Hence, you would have a better understanding of whether this subject is suitable for your child.

PART 2 – AN OVERVIEW OF IB CHEMISTRY

IB Chemistry Student Reading Chemistry Textbook

Before we explore IB Chemistry further, it is crucial for us to understand a bit more about the IB curriculum. The latter is an education programme highly regarded as one of the top curricula in international education. International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) students enrolled in the programme have to undertake six subjects from the following six subject groups:

  1. Studies in language and literature 
  2. Language acquisition
  3. Individuals and societies
  4. Experimental science
  5. Mathematics
  6. Arts

IB Chemistry is classified under Group 4 – Experimental Science, which is designed to educate IBDP students to think critically about the world we live in. The IB Chemistry syllabus aims to this goal by combining academic study with the acquisition of practical and investigational skills.

Parents wishing to enrol their children in the programme should know that IB Chemistry is available at the standard level (SL) and higher level (HL). As the name implies, HL subjects are more advanced than their SL counterparts, covering more materials and going into greater depth and complexity for each topic. As a result, HL classes require more teaching hours to cover the entire IB Chemistry syllabus

2.1. Differences between SL and HL in IB Chemistry

So should your child take IB Chemistry as an SL or HL subject? This decision plays a significant role in your child’s overall IB scores. Therefore, it is essential for you and your child to choose wisely. To help simplify your decision-making process, it is advisable to first know the differences between SL and HL IB Chemistry.

Topics covered under SL and HL IB Chemistry

The main difference between SL and HL IB Chemistry lies in the amount of content your child has to study and how much material is covered during the programme. Students taking SL Chemistry will learn up to 11 topics, while those taking HL Chemistry will cover the same 11 topics but in greater depth. You can check out our handy infographics below to get an idea of the IB Chemistry syllabus your child will be learning when they opt for either class.

SL and HB IB Chemistry topics

Exam format

SL and HL IB Chemistry Infographic

Naturally, the distinction between both syllabuses will impact the assessment criteria as well. The IB Chemistry exam format comprises two components for SL and HL – internal (20% of the total score) and external (80% of the total score) assessments. 

The former requires IB Chemistry students to engage in laboratory investigation and subsequently provide a write-up of up to 4000 words on a topic pertaining to the respective IB Chemistry syllabus. Their write-up is assessed based on the following five criteria – Personal Engagement, Exploration, Analysis, Evaluation, and Communication.  

Meanwhile, the latter assessment consists of three written papers – Paper 1 (Multiple Choice), Paper 2 (Short-Answer and Extended Response Questions), and Paper 3 (Data-Based/Experimental Work Questions and Short-Answer and Extended Response Questions). Students taking SL IB Chemistry are only required to complete 30 questions for Paper 1, whereas students taking HL IB Chemistry have to answer 40 questions.

Additional factors to consider

Beyond understanding the differences between SL and HL in IB Chemistry, let us share several other factors you should consider to have a clearer idea of whether to enrol your child in SL or HL IB Chemistry.

Factor #1: Your child’s strengths and weaknesses

Your child’s strengths and weaknesses

As we mentioned earlier, HL subjects cover more material and require more teaching hours to complete. This also means that students need to devote more time and attention to learning their HLs. So if your child tends to struggle with science subjects, it might be best to stick to SL IB Chemistry.

With lesser coverage of the IB Chemistry syllabus for each topic, SL IB Chemistry will not demand as much of your child’s focus to understand the material. This does not mean that SL IB Chemistry is easier to master. But your child will likely feel less frustrated and stressed when learning the subject.

Factor #2: Time and workload

Teachers are constantly working against the clock to ensure they cover every material in the IB Chemistry syllabus for each semester. As a result, they might not have sufficient time to clarify every doubt each student has. This can make it challenging for students who have fallen behind to catch up. 

While IB Chemistry tuition can help tremendously, you should balance your child’s time and workload delicately to ensure they do not burn out. So if your child already has plenty on their plate, you might want to consider lightening the workload by opting for SL IB Chemistry.

Factor #3: University course requirements

IB Chemistry Course Units

Every university has a specific set of criteria for its courses, generally requesting that students possess a particular set of HLs, as well as obtain certain grades in each subject or a specific set of scores across their HL selection to qualify for the programme. 

If your child has a dream course they wish to enrol in, both of you should consider checking to see if HL IB Chemistry is a requirement to apply for the programme. Even if there is no specific requirement, consider the degree your child wishes to pursue. For example, if your child wants to study Biochemistry at university, it makes more sense to take up HL IB Chemistry to stand them in good stead for their classes.

Factor #4: Overall IB scores

Overall IB Scores

Every university has a different selection policy for its programmes. Some universities prioritise the overall IB point total, while others prefer students who perform exceptionally well in specific HL subjects. 

For the former, your child should score as close to 45 points as possible while undertaking the relevant subjects that best support their application. In contrast, for the latter schools, your child may want to prioritise getting an excellent grade in the relevant HL subjects to enrol in their desired course.

This also ties back to the initial point about understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, if your child excels in science, they may consider taking HL IB Chemistry, as they stand a better chance of obtaining a 7. Conversely, if they are weak in the subject, they may want to take it as an SL instead so that they have less material to learn, which will hopefully allow them to obtain a better grade for the subject.

Either way, if your child has an interest in a programme that lists IB Chemistry as a requirement, it might be advisable to enrol them in IB Chemistry tuition classes to improve their chances of scoring well on their assessments, ensuring that they qualify for their desired course.

2.2. IB and A-Level Chemistry: which is more challenging?

Many parents are likely to be more familiar with the GCSE Chemistry syllabus than the IB Chemistry syllabus since the former is the de facto curriculum adopted by the Ministry of Education (MOE). Furthermore, most tuition centres in Singapore offer Junior College and O-Level Chemistry tuition but not IB Chemistry tuition.

So here is a question that many parents will undoubtedly ask when researching the two curricula: which is more challenging? Naturally, many parents will want to enrol their children in the easier of the two curricula to avoid stressing their children and to ensure they have a better chance of scoring well on their exams and qualifying for their desired university programmes.

However, this matter is entirely subjective. After all, every child learns differently. Some might struggle with IB Chemistry but excel in GCSE Chemistry and vice-versa. With that said, let us give you a rough idea by tapping into our tutors’ experiences teaching both syllabuses to make a comparison based on coursework and exam difficulty.

First things first, it is vital for us to clarify that this comparison is between IB Chemistry and A-Level Chemistry. This is because the IB SL and HL programmes are only available to students who have graduated from their GCSE O-Level exams. In fact, IB Chemistry is the equivalent of Junior College level Chemistry. 

Coursework

IB Chemistry requires students to demonstrate a more holistic understanding of the subject compared to GCSE A-Level Chemistry. This is partly achieved through an internal assessment (IA) – worth 20% of the final grade – which evaluates students based on how well they can understand and engage with the study material.

As a scientific assessment, the student’s background research is expected to be solid. Moreover, their approach should be unique and not something straightforward or copied from another source. Naturally, this presents a greater challenge to students, demanding they demonstrate creativity, research skills, management skills, communication skills, and specialist knowledge to excel. However, it helps develop students’ independent research skills in a way that A-Level Chemistry does not.  

Another thing to note about both syllabuses is that they cover the same topics with some exceptions. For example, IB Chemistry offers one of the following subjects: Medicinal Chemistry, Materials Science, Biochemistry, and Energy as an additional topic. Conversely, this option is not afforded to students enrolled in GCSE A-Level Chemistry. This allows IB Chemistry students to explore these topics in-depth, which can help them to make an informed choice about their careers.

Exam difficulty

Please bear in mind that what we share is entirely subjective and based on the opinions of our IB Chemistry tuition teachers. Our tutors believe that the tough A-Level Chemistry exam questions (meant to separate the A* and A candidates) are generally more challenging to tackle than the IB Chemistry questions.

However, on balance, the nature of the IB Chemistry exam questions, such as the rule of students being unable to use their calculators during the multiple-choice paper, gives IB Chemistry a slight edge in terms of developing an all-rounded approach in problem-solving for students.

Which is more suitable for your child?

At the end of the day, your decision should prioritise what is best for your child’s learning needs. We believe that the IB Chemistry syllabus better equips students for university-level study by providing them with a broader understanding of practical Chemistry and developing their research and communication skills. 

For this reason, IB Chemistry can provide your child with a more holistic development. Plus, the IB programme is one of the most widely accepted curricula in the world. So if your child wishes to study abroad, they can consider enrolling in the IB programme. Conversely, the GCSE A-Level programme is more suitable if your child wants to attend our local universities. 

PART 3 – IB CHEMISTRY TIPS AND RESOURCES

3.1. How to perform well in IB Chemistry

Now that you have read through a brief overview of IB Chemistry, you probably have a clearer idea of whether your child is suited for the subject. However, this decision only signifies the start of your child’s learning journey. Naturally, as a parent, you want to support your child in their learning endeavour and ensure they perform well in the subject. So how can you achieve this goal? Read on to find out!

Tip #1: Help your child build a strong foundation

Any well-built structure requires a solid foundation. This thinking applies to your child’s studies too. Foundational concepts are essential when amassing knowledge, as a thorough understanding of such information significantly reduces the time it takes to learn more advanced topics. This is because the various topics in the IB Chemistry syllabus build on their predecessors. Without a strong foundation, your child may find themselves falling behind the pace. 

Regular revision is crucial in this regard. Perhaps you can devise a revision schedule with your child to ensure they get sufficient practice while having ample breaks in-between to avoid burning out. Additionally, we recommend scoping through the IB Chemistry guide to better understand the vital topics your child should focus on during revision.

Tip #2: Provide your child with practice papers

Teen students finishing assessments

Considering the external assessment encompasses 80% of your child’s IB Chemistry grade and comprises multiple short-answer and extended-response questions, it is essential for your child to brush up on their problem-solving skills.

In fact, we will posit that whether your child can score a 7 in their IB Chemistry exam depends heavily on their ability to solve chemistry problems. Hence, you need to ensure that active problem-solving forms the centre of your child’s study routine. One way to achieve this is by providing your child with mock exam papers to practise. 

The memorisation of the IB Chemistry syllabus will only take your child so far. Without understanding how to apply their knowledge of the chemistry concepts and formulas, your child will struggle with solving the exam questions that appear in their external assessment.

Tip #3: Teach your child to utilise mind maps

With that said, it is still crucial for your child to retain key concepts and information in their head for their exams. But with so many topics in the IB Chemistry syllabus to cover, you may be wondering how your child can memorise all the essential information. 

The answer lies in mind maps! They are an excellent revision tool to help your child improve their retention skills. Furthermore, the information your child internalises and notes down in their mind maps form a set of comprehensive notes they can utilise for future revisions. 

Instead of sifting through numerous pages in their textbooks for future revisions, your child now has a few pages of condensed notes containing the essential concepts to look through before their tests. 

Tip #4: Ensure your child gets sufficient rest before their exam

Student rest before exam

As your child approaches the date of their IB Chemistry exams, they might feel pressured to cram to ensure they are well-prepared for the test. However, burning the midnight oil, especially the night before the exam, often has the opposite effect. Your child will find it challenging to absorb new information when their brain is tired. Instead, you should ensure that they turn in early the night before the test. Subsequently, they should have a well-balanced and nutritious breakfast to kickstart their day.

Tip #5: Register your child for IB Chemistry tuition

It may seem like the obvious solution, but IB Chemistry tuition may be exactly what your child needs to excel in the subject. A reliable tutor can clarify your child’s doubts about a particular topic and provide helpful tips to help them obtain good grades in their exams. Since most tuition classes feature smaller group sizes, the tutor can dedicate more time and attention to explaining the concepts in detail. This way, students can better grasp the IB Chemistry syllabus.

3.2. Essential qualities to look for in an IB Chemistry tutor

Qualities to look for IB Chemistry Tutor

Yes! IB Chemistry tuition can make a world of difference to a student’s grade. After all, it is about ensuring your child receives the proper guidance. Not all tuition centres in Singapore provide IB Chemistry tuition. But there is a fair amount that offers this programme.

So how can you select the ideal tutor for your child? Well, it is vital to note that every tutor has a unique teaching style, which may or may not be compatible with your child’s learning needs. So it is not as simple as choosing a tutor with a stellar reputation and expecting immediate results. With that said, there are a few essential qualities to look out for as you begin your search.

Quality #1: Familiarity with the syllabus

Most students in Singapore take the public education route, which means they are not exposed to the IB Chemistry syllabus. As a result, most Chemistry tutors are also not familiar with the IB Chemistry syllabus.

But being familiar with teaching Chemistry does not mean that the tutor is well-equipped to teach IB Chemistry, as the syllabuses are different. Therefore, it is imperative that the tutor you hire is qualified to teach IB Chemistry. They should either have experience teaching the subject or have studied the IB Chemistry syllabus so that they are familiar with the material and examination format.

Quality #2: Able to guide students in their Chemistry IA and EE

The internal assessment (IA) and extended essay (EE) contribute significantly to your child’s overall IB Chemistry score. As such, you would want a tutor with a wealth of knowledge in guiding your child to excel in their extended essay and internal assessment projects, thereby improving their chances of performing well in the subject. 

The ideal IB Chemistry tutor must also be able to guide students to come up with the correct experimental procedures and help them analyse their results in the event that the student is unsure of how to proceed with their IA or EE.

Quality #3: Able to provide additional learning resources

Exposing your child to additional learning resources can significantly enhance their learning of the IB Chemistry syllabus. A reliable tutor should have a collection of high-quality learning materials to support their teaching of the subject. This can greatly benefit your child, as exposure to a broader range of questions can allow them to better prepare for their exams.

Quality #4: Passion and dedication

While it is essential for tutors to have knowledge of the IB Chemistry syllabus, your preferred candidate should also demonstrate a passion for the job. A passionate and dedicated tutor can grab your child’s attention and drive engagement, leading to more effective learning. Plus, a tutor who is committed to the role will likely be prompt with their replies whenever your child has a doubt they wish to clarify.

Quality #5: Reliable testimonials from past students

Reviews are excellent starting points if you are unsure of where to begin. A reliable IB Chemistry tuition centre will have garnered multiple testimonials from past students or parents of these said students thanking the tutors for their guidance. These reviews can provide you with an understanding of the tutor’s teaching style and strengths, letting you know if they are suitable to guide your child.

3.3. Frequently asked questions about IB Chemistry

Do you still have several lingering questions about IB Chemistry? In that case, we will be glad to answer them. Having taught the subject for over 10 years, our tutor, Mr Alex Toh, has encountered multiple common queries about IB Chemistry. Let us consolidate these questions and seek to clarify your doubts. 

Question 1: Why should my child take the IB examinations in Singapore

While this question does not pertain specifically to the IB Chemistry syllabus, it remains a common question we encounter among parents. Given that MOE adopts the GCSE curriculum, it is natural for parents to consider it more advantageous to have their child study GCSE syllabuses, including A-Level Chemistry. However, both programmes have different learning outcomes.

Ultimately, your decision should rest on what is best for your child’s learning needs. The IB curriculum requires students to take subjects across an extensive array of disciplines so that they are well-prepared for the independent learning and academic rigour expected of university students. If you want your child to have a more holistic development, you can consider enrolling them in the IB programme.

Question 2: Do universities prefer IB or GCSE A levels?

This query is a common follow-up to the previous question, as parents naturally want their children to enrol in the best universities. The good news is that our local universities do not prioritise accepting students from a particular type of Chemistry course despite the public education system in Singapore focusing on the GCSE O-Level and A-Level curricula.

However, if your child wishes to study abroad, it may be preferable to enrol in an IB programme, as it is the most widely accepted curriculum anywhere in the world. The programme is also recognised by prestigious educational institutions, including Cambridge, Harvard, and Oxford.

Question #3: Is IB Chemistry or GCSE Chemistry more challenging?

It is impossible to say which syllabus is more difficult since every student learns differently. But on balance, our tutors believe that IB Chemistry provides greater balance in a student’s learning outcomes, thus ensuring a more holistic development. However, if you notice that your child is struggling with the curriculum, it is crucial for you to be there for them to help them cope with exam stress and lend a guiding hand.

PART 5 – CONCLUSION

We understand that parents only want what is best for their children. As such, they might have concerns about whether the IB Chemistry syllabus is suitable for their children, especially given the subject’s reputation as a challenging study.  We hope what we have shared in our guide helps clarify any doubts you may have about your child studying IB Chemistry.

However, parents should not overtly concern themselves with the subject’s rigorous and academically challenging syllabus. Yes, doing well in IB Chemistry is no easy feat but not impossible. You can provide your child with a head start by enrolling them in an experienced and reliable IB Chemistry tuition centre like Studious Minds. 

At Studious Minds, we offer various classes, including IB and Secondary Chemistry tuition. Our tutor, Mr Alex Toh, is well-versed in the syllabus and expectations of each subject and possesses over 10 years of experience guiding students to excel in Chemistry. Do not hesitate to contact us today to learn more about our classes and IB tuition rates if you wish to register your child for our programmes.

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