PRE IB: Why Chemistry?

This blog was written by Dave Allen, an experienced IB Chemistry teacher. To read more Chemistry blogs for students and teachers, click here.


This is the first blog post of four offering students advice on the IBDP Chemistry course (both SL and HL). The four posts will consist of information on the following:

  1. Why Chemistry? What is the attraction of Chemistry and what can you expect from the course
  2. The Basics – knowing your moles
  3. The Basics – knowing your bonds (and structures)
  4. Practical (lab work) – the importance of it and how to write up a good lab report.

As stated above, the aim of this actual blog post is to give you some ideas of what you will be letting yourself in for if you do decide to choose IBDP Chemistry.

In the author’s opinion, Chemistry is the central science. It complements the other two sciences nicely (Biology pairs with Chemistry well and so does Physics) where the other two sciences do not pair up as smoothly, Biology and Physics seem to miss something.

Chemistry is the study of the world around us – atoms, what they are made up of and what they form when they join together. Let’s be fair, without Chemistry there really wouldn’t be much out there in the universe!

It also involves practicals (lab work) where you either get to plan and carry out investigations or test concepts you have already been taught. Mixed in with this I am sure your teacher will use lots of demonstrations to help you understand things.

So what skills/strengths/characteristics do you need if you are going to study the course? Something I always tell my students is that you need to have a good imagination. Chemistry covers the atomic world – it’s a world we cannot see so a good imagination is imperative to help us picture what is happening.

Another characteristic of good Chemists is that they are flexible and adaptable. Chemistry involves studying some ideas that are, well, downright bizarre. For example, electrons have negative charges but put two next to each other in an orbital and they don’t repel each other. Or that electrons are found in orbitals (OK, I hope you knew that!) and low energy orbitals are closer to the nucleus than high energy levels… Except some electrons are in low energy levels but further away from the nucleus than other electrons in higher energy levels.

These are just a couple of examples of things that you have been taught pre IB DP Chemistry which are not quite correct. One of the reasons for this is that the ideas are so complicated you are not ready for them at pre DP level!

So, if you are open to new ideas and not too rigid in your approach, are able to adapt to new situations and put faith in your teacher when they tell you seemingly impossible things you should ensure you pick Chemistry!


Want to get ahead in the IB? Attend a Pre IB Summer School in Oxford, UK or Boston, US to meet students from all over the world and be taught by world-class IB teachers.

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