Chemistry » GCSE

Tutoring Chemistry

Posted 4 days ago by Alice Farrell

Chemistry is a brilliant subject to teach: there is a huge range of content, from the smallest atoms right the way up to our planet and the atmosphere.

Because of the variety of topics within Chemistry, there is rarely a chemistry student who hates every single aspect of the subject, just as there is rarely one who loves them all. This can be useful; you can use the bits your student does know to encourage them and boost their confidence before tackling the slightly trickier stuff. For example, electrolysis tends to be very difficult, and many students are less than fond of the maths content.

Enthusiasm is key – bringing your own love of the Chemistry to your lessons will bring it to life for your tutee. If your student is struggling to understand something, try going back to basics and then building up. For example, if a student doesn’t understand why copper metal is formed on the cathode, start by asking a question such as “Have you come across positive ions being attracted to negative ions?”, so they get a chance to respond with a confident “Yes”. Then go on to explain how all that is needed is to apply this knowledge to electrolysis; it is simply the positive ions in the solution moving to the negative charge on the cathode.

Enthusiasm is key – bringing your own love of the Chemistry to your lessons will bring it to life for your tutee.

Preparing for your first lesson

Before your first lesson, find out which exam board your student is on. You can use the relevant exam board website to find the exam syllabus and identify the topics your student will need to know. I like to go through a past paper in my first session with a new student, as this gives a good overview of the student’s strong and weak areas.

I’d advise coming armed with a few general questions as well as a past paper – this makes you both feel more comfortable and helps you to get to know the student before you start tutoring. I will usually ask how much they enjoy Chemistry, and which specific topics they like and which they don’t. I then go on to run through some past paper questions with them, which helps me to gauge their current academic capability. From there, I’ll have a good idea of which areas my student will need support with in future lessons.


At the end of each lesson, I like to ask my student if there are any particular topics they would like to cover in the next session. This gives me time to find relevant resources in between lessons.

Past papers are great for testing knowledge and practicing exam technique, but try not to limit yourself. When used too much, they can become tedious for the student, making it less likely that they will retain the chemistry you cover.

Past papers are great for testing knowledge and practicing exam technique, but try not to limit yourself.

The following websites are fantastic for finding additional questions and activities to go through with your student:

  • Pass My Exams has useful suggestions for how to explain topics in a way that’s easy for students to understand, starting with basic concepts and building up.

  • Doc Brown offers much more specific content. It includes resources for all topics on all exam boards, so can be used to find teaching material for all GCSE students. It is incredibly useful for students on exam boards which you may not have come across before, and gives enough detail for you to teach every topic on their course.


I don’t understand the Maths here

Chemistry students often struggle with some of the titration questions or acid/base problems. My advice is to focus on the science behind the maths. If they understand the science in a titration experiment, then the maths necessary for a question makes much more sense than if you just hit them with a succession of numbers with no context. Make sure you explain why you have multiplied one thing by another, or scaled something up, and everything will fall into place.

Why does that happen?

Chemistry is all about asking why. Why does this react? Why do these separate? Why does this change colour? But the great thing about Chemistry is that the answer almost always relates back to the fundamentals: the atoms, the electrons, the intermolecular forces, so you can build from there. If your student doesn’t understand the fundamental stuff, then that’s probably why they’re struggling with the question at hand, so remember that you can always go back to basics. If your student has a good understanding of the essentials, the whole subject will become much more accessible.

Why I love tutoring Chemistry

I love studying Chemistry myself, and tutoring it is no different. It’s a great feeling when you know you’ve taught a student something they didn’t know before, and an even better one when you’ve helped them to discover a real love for the subject.

Written by - Steven Asquith

Steven Asquith is in his first year studying Chemistry at Durham, and has completed over 80 hours of tuition with MyTutor.

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