Concepts in context
In response to the new A-level chemistry specifications, publishers have rushed to provide new textbooks and new editions of old favourites. The books reviewed here fall into three categories: revised course books for Nuffield and Salters courses; new editions of established textbooks; and books written for the new specs.
Nuffield and Salters If your chosen syllabus is Edexcel's Nuffield Advanced Chemistry, you will need the 4th edition of the student's book and the teacher's guide. Colour appears for the first time in the new student's book, with occasional colour photographs and highlighted headings and definitions, which should help students pick out key facts. Help is given throughout in writing notes, both on theory and practical work. Experiments are an integral part of the course and full instructions are given in the student's book. The order of topics has been revised so that the more quantitative aspects are found in the second year topics.
The teacher's guide outlines the main changes and gives suggestions for timing as well as full technical support for experiments and answers to the numerous review and exam questions in the student's book. For those not taking AS mathematics there is also an appendix, Help with Mathematics. In all, this is a production of the high standard to be expected of the Nuffield Foundation.
Those teaching Salters Advanced Chemistry will need the 2nd editions of the course books, Chemical Storylines (available now) and Chemical Ideas (due in October). Chemical Storylines is central to the whole course. From this students make "excursions" into Chemical Activities, which might be practicals or written exercises, or Chemical Ideas, which covers the chemical principles. Storylines is unlike any other textbook reviewed here. Each storyline gives the chemical context for the concepts studied, for example Developing Fuels looks at petrol and in the process introduces ideas of enthalpy changes and organic chemistry. This new edition updates the applications of chemistry and re-orders parts of the course to accommodate the split into AS and A2. The book is illustrated in full colour with many new illustrations and diagrams. This is a highly motivating approach to A-level chemistry. Students have even been known to read Storylines for interest!
Revised editions For those using other A-level syllabuses, the choice is between established textbooks and new ones, often covering the two years of the course in separate volumes. Both Hill and Holman's Chemistry in Context and Ramsden's A-Level Chemistry in their previous editions have helped numerous generations of A-level students through their courses. In these new editions they retain their familiar layouts. Chemistry in Context is now in full colour, while Ramsden goes for two-colour printing.
In both, content has been culled in line with the new specifications. Of the two, Ramsden has the clearer page layout with checkpoints throughout and main points summarised in the margin of each page. Chemistry in Context has a linked website with detailed answers to assessment questions, while A-Level Chemistry has an accompanying answers key (pound;6).
Lister and Renshaw's New Understanding Chemistry for A Level is another new edition of a well-respected text. The major change here is in the order of chapters to correspond with the ASA2 structure of the new A-level. After introductory chapters to make the links from GCSE, Fundamentals covers the AS content while A2 topics are found under Further Chemistry. The division only falls down in placing Born-Haber cycles under Fundamentals. Rather busy page layouts distract from their content, though there are clear summaries at the end of each chapter. There is now a separately published Course Study Guide (pound;8), which helps with practical work and looks at ways of tackling the various types of examination question. The associated CD-Rom, New Structures of Chemistry for Advanced Level (single user pound;58.75), enables students to visualise 3-D structures of molecules and compounds and also includes a hyperlinked periodic table.
New textbooks Of the new textbooks, Clugston and Fleming's Advanced Chemistry provides a comprehensive coverage of all A-level syllabuses in one volume with a CD-Rom for syllabus matching. In full colour throughout with very good computer graphics, its 32 chapters are divided into double-page spreads, a format familiar from GCSE texts.
The book is clearly aiming for the independent school market in covering topics such as Schrodinger's Equation, Gibbs Energy, Nernst Equation and Diels-Alder Reaction, none of which appears on present A-level syllabuses. Double-page spreads are well laid out with objectives at the beginning of each and practice questions at the end. There are also exam questions at the end of each chapter. A comprehensive mathematics toolbox appears as an appendix. This is an excellent book for the school library.
Several of the new textbooks cover the course in two volumes, one for each year, which should help cash strapped schools, as only one set of each will be needed. Nicholls and Ratcliffe's Chemistry AS, part of the Collins Advanced Modular Science Series, is specifically written for the AQA AS chemistry course. Each chapter contains clearly written text supported by exam questions and key skills assignments. The main points in a section are summarised in key facts boxes. Students like to know exactly what they need to learn and will find this an ideal companion to the AQA course.
Chemistry 1 from the Cambridge Advanced Science Series, was written to provide complete coverage of the AS year of OCR chemistry specification A. Page layouts are clear with judicious use of colour. Self-assessment questions are found throughout the text to help independent study, together with examination type questions at the end of each chapter. Again , this will be a good choice for those using the OCR syllabus.
The last two books reviewed both cover the AS course of all A-level syllabuses. Earl and Wilford's Introduction to Advanced Chemistry is the more expensive at pound;17.99 while Andrew Hunt's AS Chemistry costs pound;13.99. Introduction to Advanced Chemistry is an attractively produced text which students will find easy to use. There are checklists at the end of each chapter together with help with key skills. I fear though that the price may deter many prospective buyers.
Hunt's AS Chemistry is a most impressive book. The text is well-written with excellent diagrams, and margins are used for definitions and test yourself questions. I particularly like the study guides at the end of each main section which give help with organising notes and revision. Key skills are also addressed. AS Chemistry makes exceptional use of information technology. By collaboration with New Media (who brought us the Chemistry Set CD-Rom), a CD-Rom accompanies the book (student disc pound;25.49 + VAT). Throughout the book, links to the CD-Rom are shown by an icon in the text. There is also an associated website where students can have questions answered and download slideshows of guided tours through difficult topics. CD-Rom and website will be available at the end of September. This multimedia package could transform the way our students learn.
Sue Thackray is head of chemistry at the Lady Eleanor Holles School, Hampton, Middx