How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry: Part 1



September 6th, 2016

Last updated: July 13th, 2017

How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry: Part 1

In this blog - the first of a three-part series - Carl sets out the first four of 12 top strategies to securing a Level 7 in your IB Diploma Chemistry. Dedication, discipline and a lot of hard work are key!

The IB Diploma Programme is tough, and chemistry is considered one of the toughest subjects. A prerequisite for degrees in medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and chemical sciences, it is also a highly-valued subject by employers and universities. Many top degree programmes require a level 7, yet typically, only 10% of students achieve that at Higher Level (HL), and around 5% at Standard Level (SL). Unsurprisingly then, the question “how do I achieve a level 7?” is one that students frequently ask. The short answer is through dedication, discipline, and lots – and I mean lots – of hard work!

Here are the first four of 12 top strategies to help you achieve that elusive Level 7.

1. Choose your level carefully

Let’s start by stating the obvious: HL is much harder than SL. Don’t misinterpret the statistics above; more students get a level 7 at HL because stronger chemistry students tend to pick HL, not because it’s easier.

So what are the main differences? HL has additional content that is harder, and it extends some of the core topics and gives them more advanced treatment, often demanding higher mathematical capability. Some of the most challenging chemistry topics you’ll encounter at pre-university level are found in the HL programme.

Depending on your career goals and target university, you may have no choice as the entry requirements will make the decision for you. Most leading universities (i.e., Russell Group members in the UK) asking for chemistry will ask for HL. For example, if you’re aiming to study medicine at Oxford University, you’ll need 39 points and levels 7, 6 and 6 achieved at three HL subjects, of which chemistry is essential.  The same goes for Cambridge University, Imperial College and Edinburgh University.

If HL is non-essential and you’re not sure which to pick, your prior academic performance can, to some extent, help gauge how well you’re likely to do. Assuming your Middle Years Programme (MYP) level accurately reflects your ability, then the norm is you’ll either get the same level at DP as you got at MYP, or you’ll drop a level, perhaps two if you take HL. Going up a level is uncommon.

For example, if you achieved a level 5 at MYP, then you’re likely to get a level 5 or below at DP SL, which may become a level 4 at HL. For GCSE students, a MYP level 5 equates to a B, which means that if you got a B grade in chemistry, you’re likely to get a level 5 or below at DP.

Note these are guiding principles, not absolute rules. Some students find the DP style of learning suits them more and excel at this level.

2. Know what you need to know

In other words, get hold of the subject guide and get acquainted with it.

I’m not sure whether anything like a subject guide existed when I was at school because the question “do we need to know this for the exam?” would be anxiously asked 25 times every lesson. The subject guide removes all doubt and anxiety, telling the teacher exactly what they need to teach, and you (the student) exactly what you need to learn.

The important section is the syllabus content. Here, all essential ‘understandings’ (what you need to know) and ‘applications and skills’ (what you’re expected to do) are listed for each topic. This section is telling you in explicit detail what you’ll be examined on.

Normally, your teacher will ensure you cover the entire syllabus in adequate detail, that you’re covering the correct content for your level and, most importantly, you’re following the current specification. It’s important to realise however that you’ll be examined on syllabus content, not lesson content. That means it’s your responsibility to make sure you cover everything, not your teacher’s. For that reason, the subject guide is an essential part of your Independent Learner toolkit, which brings us to…

3. Be an Independent Learner

‘Independent learner’ is teacher-speak for a student that takes responsibility for their own learning and is self-motivated to study, as opposed to being forced into it. University students are independent learners because they have to be; they go to lectures and tutorials entirely under their own steam (well, usually!) and whilst they have a timetable, attendance isn’t always monitored. Writing up lectures, lab assignments, essays, dissertations and revision is their responsibility to manage. Normally, if they don’t do it, after some nagging from their personal tutor, they’ll eventually fail and will be kicked out. The point is, there is no teacher or parent managing their studies; there are no detentions or letters home to steer them back on track. Success or failure is entirely down to them.

This mindset – that you’re responsible for your own learning – is the one you need to adopt if you’re going to achieve a level 7. It requires a big commitment; for starters, I recommend you devote at least one hour to independent study for every taught hour, which will typically mean about 3-4 hours per week of chemistry on top of classes. This time should be spent:

  • Writing up your lesson notes
  • Reading around the subject
  • Working through exercises and exam questions

Sounds like torture? I said early on that getting a level 7 takes dedication, discipline, and hard work and this is what I was talking about. I assure you though: this is exactly the mindset that successful students adopt. Many students already grasp this at pre-DP level; they’re the ones that come out with 12 A*’s. They’re not geniuses, they’re just focused and determined. And the effort is worth it; think of the satisfaction and the rather exclusive club you’ll belong to when you open the envelope and see that 7!

4. Understanding comes first

At GCSE level, rote learning will get you quite a long way but, as many IB students quickly realise, this and other strategies that worked at GCSE level don’t work at diploma level, with its greater emphasis on applied knowledge. At this level, you need excellent understanding and you need to be able to get that understanding across in far greater detail, and in a far more structured fashion, than was required previously.

My mantra for success at this level is ‘Understand, Apply, Improve’ because I believe mastering IB chemistry is a three-stage process:


  • Ensure the full syllabus is covered and understood
  • Keep good, up-to-date notes
  • Constantly test your understanding
  • Immediately seek help with problem areas


  • Practise past papers
  • Identify weaknesses and get used to exam timings
  • Understand mark schemes
  • Add mark scheme marking points to your revision notes


  • Focus on exam timings and exam technique
  • Use novel past paper strategies
  • Focus on discriminating (‘stretch and challenge’) questions
  • Read the subject reports for hints and tips from examiners

Some of these will be expanded on in parts 2 & 3, but in short, this means: understand first, then focus on application, then aim to perfect exam technique and push yourself by tackling the hardest questions.

It can’t be stated enough that understanding must come first. If you don’t ensure you understand the concepts as soon as you’re taught them, then revision is going to be sheer hell. The realisation that you don’t understand key concepts and so need to teach yourself them, and commit them to memory, and get to grips with how to deal with exam questions, all with only a few weeks to go until the exam, is a recipe for extreme stress.

In the next part of “How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry”, we’ll look at how to test and track your understanding, how to choose an Internal Assessment, and how exam papers are put together.

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.


Chemistry IB

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One response to “How to get a Level 7 in IB Diploma Chemistry: Part 1”

  1. Avatar for budha budha says:

    I have completed bsc major chemistry. Ielts score band 6.not less than 5.5plz advice me which faculty should I get for my higher study.. Plz advice me except oenology.. In case of New Zealand

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