How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry: Part 3



November 9th, 2016

Last updated: July 31st, 2018

How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry: Part 3

In the concluding blog of this three-part series, Carl sets out the final four strategies that will help you to secure a level 7 in your IB Chemistry. Using past papers and mark schemes effectively, asking for feedback and support from your teacher or tutor, and remembering to have a life outside of your studies are all key!

9. Use past papers

Past papers are an essential part of your exam preparation, serving four purposes:

  1. To prepare you for the style and difficulty of IB questions
  2. To help with exam technique and timings
  3. To help you understand the keywords and key points needed by mark schemes
  4. To build confidence by demonstrating that you can answer ‘real’ questions

Whilst past papers are important, doing lots of them won’t guarantee you a level 7. This is because the papers you sit will contain novel and challenging questions – known as “discriminating questions” – that are designed to only be accessible to top candidates. You can only prepare for these by thoroughly understanding the subject, and improving your problem-solving skills by practising hard questions.

Instead of endlessly working though as many past papers as you can find, a more sensible strategy is:

  • Answer five sets (i.e. papers 1, 2 and 3 for one exam season) of past papers with access to your notes and without time constraints.
  • Answer five sets of past papers under strict exam conditions (timed, no access to notes).

Doing them timed and without notes is essential. If you had all day to work through them, IB exams would be relatively easy. It’s often the pressure of the ticking clock that makes an ordinary question much harder. Doing past papers under exam conditions greatly improves exam technique and will get you used to the strict timings.

Once you’ve completed a past paper, use the mark scheme to familiarise yourself with exactly what was needed to score full marks. If you didn’t score full marks, make sure you understand why and if necessary, go and review the theory again and seek help if something is not clear. If you missed off some key marking points, add these to your revision notes so that you won’t miss them in your answers next time.


10. Understand mark schemes

I am sure the frustration of understanding a topic well, yet failing to write down exactly what the mark scheme wanted, will be familiar to many students. More exposure to mark schemes helps understand their ‘language’ and overcome this common frustration.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the case that you have to write down exactly what is on the mark scheme. Examiners can exercise judgement to assess whether what you’ve written is equivalent to what is required, as can be seen in the following question:

(a) Define the term buffer solution.     [2]

Mark scheme answer: a solution that resists changes in pH / changes pH slightly / OWTTE;

when small amounts of an acid/H+ or a base/alkali/OH are added;

Here, we can see that:

  • There are two marking points separated by a semi-colon (as you’d expect for a two-mark question)
  • There are many ways to word the first marking point, indicated by OWTTE (or words to that effect) and some possible answers are shown separated by a slash
  • The word small is underlined, meaning it’s essential for the second marking point.

Now have a look at a student’s response to this question:

A buffer solution is a solution prepared by mixing a weak acid with its salt, such as ethanoic acid and sodium ethanoate. At equilibrium, the solution has large amounts of weak acid and the ethanoate ion because the salt fully dissociates. This means that when acid is added, it reacts with the ethanoate and the equilibrium shifts left to oppose the change whereas when base is added in the form of OH, it reacts with the weak acid and the equilibrium shifts right to oppose the change.”

Great answer, sadly no marks! This is partly through not understanding command words; the question wants a simple definition of a buffer solution, not an explanation of how they work. The understanding required for the first marking point (resisting changes to pH) is not stated explicitly, and the idea that buffers can only deal with small changes to pH is missing.

This mark scheme also shows how concise you can be in your answers, which is very important when you’re up against the clock. Effective communication is emphasised over elegant prose and grammatical accuracy in IB chemistry, so you don’t need to churn out an elaborate 87-word answer when 15 words will do.


11. Get feedback

Learning is a complex process and no magic formula works for every student. One thing education research agrees has an enormous impact on learning is feedback. To understand feedback, picture yourself on a journey towards your goal of achieving a level 7. For most of you, there will be a gap between your current performance and your ideal performance. Feedback helps close that gap and consists of:

  • helping you understand something better
  • showing you how to succeed in questions
  • focusing you on a task
  • guiding you to reflect on your learning and progress
  • providing support and encouragement
  • making the learning experience enjoyable
  • showing you how to revise more effectively and improve exam technique

Obviously, feedback should come from a person, preferably somebody qualified to give it, such as your teacher or tutor. A book or video may help you understand something by explaining it in a better way, but it won’t correct you if you’ve misunderstood something critical, or challenge you by getting you to apply your understanding in different contexts.


12. Have a life!

Achieving a level 7 does mean making sacrifices and to some extent, you need to put some things on hold for two years whilst you focus on studying. However, this does not mean a nightmarish existence where you eat, sleep and drink chemistry 24/7 at the expense of your health and sanity! It’s vital to take time out to do something relaxing and enjoyable several times a week. I had a student whose revision timetable was carefully mapped out for each day apart from Friday nights and Saturday, which they’d labelled ‘Fun Things’.

Whatever your fun things are, take a day out of your weekly study programme to do them!



There are no short cuts to a level 7 and it’s a long, hard road. But to quote one of my students, think of the IB as two years of your life that you are banking for your future. Achieving a level 7 takes hard work and dedication but as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easily.

You may find the following blog post useful:

How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry: Part 2

More about Carl

Carl qualified as a teacher in Chemistry in 2013, and now works as a tutor with Owl Tutors.

Carl is a highly-qualified tutor, teacher and examiner of chemistry with an outstanding track record of helping students to achieve top grades in science.

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2 responses to “How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry: Part 3”

  1. Avatar for Lucia Lucia says:

    Thank you…..but where do I find parts one and two?

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