Chapter 9: Compounds of carbon

What are alkanes?

Alkanes are the simplest family of hydrocarbons – compounds containing carbon and hydrogen only. They only contain carbon-hydrogen bonds and carbon-carbon single bonds. The first eight are:

methane             CH4
ethane                 C2H6
propane               C3H8
butane                 C4H10
pentane               C5H12
hexane                 C6H14
heptane               C7H16
octane                  C8H18

You can work out the formula of any of them using: CnH2n+2

The first four alkanes are gases at room temperature. Solids don’t start to appear until about C17H36. The states at room temperature are all shown on the last page of the VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet.

Alkanes are comprised entirely of C–C and C–H covalent bonds, which both have very low ΔEN (0.0 and 0.3, respectively). Therefore, alkanes can only form dispersion forces with other molecules. The strength of dispersion forces depends on the number of electrons in a molecule. Methane has very weak dispersion forces (and therefore a low boiling point), but dispersion forces increase as the alkane chains get longer. That’s why alkanes with longer carbon backbones have higher boiling points.

Alkanes are non-polar and are thus virtually insoluble in water. They dissolve well in non-polar solvents such as cyclohexane (think: “like dissolves like”!)

What are alkenes?

Alkenes are a family of hydrocarbons (compounds containing carbon and hydrogen only) that contain at least one carbon-carbon double bond (C=C). The first eight are:

ethene                 C2H6
propene              C3H8
but-1-ene           C4H10
pent-1-ene         C5H12
hex-1-ene           C6H14
hept-1-ene         C7H16
oct-1-ene            C8H18

General formula: CnH2n

Side-chains

Alkanes or alkenes with side-chains (such as CH3 or CH2CH3) are described as branched. Branched alkanes or alkenes have prefixes attached to the name, for example:

methylpropane:   (CH3)2CCH3
methylbutane:  (CH3)2CH2CH3

How to name organic compounds

We need to learn IUPAC nomenclature for VCE Chemistry. Read/watch the following excellent resources:

How to draw organic compounds

Carbon atoms have four electrons in their outer shell. (We therefore say that carbon has a valency of four.“) Carbon thus forms exactly 4 covalent bonds with up to 4 other atoms. Since pairs of electrons repel each other (this is called VSEPR theory), the pairs of electrons in each covalent bond are repelled as far apart as possible from each other. This results in bond angles of 109.5° around the central carbon atom.

carbon tetrahedral

When drawing organic molecules, we must remember to draw a tetrahedral shape around each carbon atom. In other words, the carbon backbone should be zig-zagged, not straight!

Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you’re interested in resonance, the phenomenon that gives benzene rings their incredible stability, watch the next few minutes of Crash Course Chemistry below.

Further information on resonance in benzene is available from Kahn Academy here.

Read: Heinemann Chemistry 2 Chapter 9

Chapter 1: How did Chemistry begin?

What’s an element?

Elements are:

“…each of more than one hundred substances that cannot be chemically inter-converted or broken down into simpler substances and are primary constituents of matter.”

Each element is distinguished by its atomic number, i.e. the number of protons in the nuclei of its atoms.

The periodic table is a tool for organising elements according to their chemical and physical properties. Major contributors to the periodic table include Dmitri Mendeleev and Glenn Seaborg (only these two are on our VCE course).

Mendeleev

mendeleev and his periodic table of the elements

Dmitri Mendeleev made the first modern periodic table. He arranged elements by atomic mass and found repeating properties (which he called periods). Gaps in these periods allowed Mendeleev to predict correctly the existence of elements that were undiscovered at the time.

There are two key differences between Mendeleev’s periodic table and our modern periodic table:

  1. He arranged elements by atomic mass, not by atomic number. This caused some elements to be the wrong way around (e.g. tellurium & iodine, pictured below). We now arrange the elements in order of increasing atomic number.
  2. He didn’t include any noble gases. They were discovered later by William Ramsay.

iodine tellurium

Glenn T Seaborg

Glenn T Seaborg discovered 10 transuranium elements (in the f-block) while doing atomic research during the Second World War. He was the only person to have an element named after them (Seaborgium) while they were still alive.

Source: allperiodictables.com

There have been many suggested modifications to the periodic table since its invention in 1869. Two such improvements are a helical structure and the addition of extra blocks to accommodate heavier elements.

A more modern periodic table!

Click here for instructions on how to make your own 3D periodic table with a g-block (pictured below). The g-block allows provides space for dozens of new transuranic elements, some of which will likely be discovered in the next decade or so.

A 3-dimensional periodic table with a g-block (front)
A 3-dimensional periodic table with a g-block (front)

Read: Heinemann Chemistry 1 Chapter 1

Chapter 2: A particulate view of matter

We begin our journey into Chemistry with atomic theory, which sits on the boundary between Chemistry and Physics.

Chemistry is applied Physics! Source: xkcd.com

Professor Brian Cox gives an excellent introduction to Atomic Theory in his documentary In Search of Giants.

The following infographic summarises how each model of the atom contributed to our current understanding of atoms.

Source: VCEasy.org

Let’s take a look at how the electrons are arranged around a nucleus (this is called electron configuration). First, we need to understand that electrons, like all subatomic particles, behave as both particles and as waves. This is called the wave/particle duality, and it is a key principle of quantum mechanics. An excellent introduction is shown below.

Electrons are arranged around the nucleus in subshells. Each subshell has a name, which consists of one number and one letter.

Subshells are filled from lowest energy level (near the nucleus) to highest energy level (furthest from the nucleus). The first seven subshells in the sequence are shown below.

The Aufbau Principle (shown below) helps you to remember the order in which the subshells are filled. You should be prepared to draw the Aufbau Principle quickly during a Chemistry examination.

Crash Course Chemistry’s Hank Green explains electron configuration beautifully.

Click here for two more difficult worked examples.

Read: Heinemann Chemistry 1 Chapter 2

Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet

Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet image
Click to download my Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet

The VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet contains answers to many questions you’ll be asked in the end-of-year examination. Unfortunately for students, however, the information it contains is neither explicit nor complete. Students need to know how to use the data booklet if they are to make the most of it.

Many formulae and definitions still need to be learned. For example, the data booklet doesn’t give you calorimetry formulae, and hydrogen bonds aren’t shown on DNA nucleotides. Trends are missing from the periodic table, and the electrochemical series comes with no annotations whatsoever! All this extra information needs to be memorised for VCE Chemistry.

I’ve annotated a real VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet to help you understand it. You can download it here.

Features include:

  • Trends are now shown on the periodic table (page 3);
  • Electrochemical series is fully labelled and explained (page 4);
  • 17 equations and 4 gas laws are given on page 5;
  • NMR data is now labelled to help you identify functional groups (pages 6 & 7);
  • Infrared absorption data is now pictured with 3 peaks described (page 7);
  • Amino acids are now labelled “polar/non-polar” and “acidic/basic” (pages 8 & 9);
  • Number of C=C bonds is now included for fatty acids (page 10);
  • DNA structure is explained in much more detail (page 10);
  • Colours of two indicators are corrected (page 11);
  • Ka is explained (page 11);
  • Solubility rules are added on the back.
Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet
Every page is colour-coded and annotated with explanations

Chemistry data booklets make great revision tools. Check out the following data booklets from around the world:

The most beautiful Chemistry videos I’ve ever seen

Beautiful Chemistry banner
Image via BeautifulChemistry.net

I’ve discovered the most beautiful Chemistry website ever created via someone’s Twitter feed. It was created by several researchers at the Institute of Advanced Technology at University of Science and Technology in China. The goal of this project is to bring the beauty of chemistry to the general public through digital media and technology.

The first project of the collaboration used a 4K UltraHD camera to capture beautiful chemical reactions in specially-designed glass containers that eliminate the problems of refraction and reflection caused by rounded beakers and test tubes. I also love how the researchers play with time, slowing down and speeding up the videos at just the right moments. The video footage is then annotated and matched perfectly with background music to give a truly mesmerising result. Here are three of my favourites:

Precipitation reactions (my favourite)

Metal displacement reactions

Bubbles!

As a visual learner and a huge fan of new ways to pique people’s interest in science, I got in touch with Yan Liang, an Associate professor at the Department of Science and Technology Communication at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC).

Yan Liang, like the visionary data-visualisation gurus David McCandless and Hans Rosling, is passionate about bringing hidden data to the public domain in a form that’s really easy to digest. When I asked him what inspired him to make these videos, he said:

“To me, science is beautiful and full of wonders. However, the beauty of science is often hidden inside research laboratories and buried in scientific literature. By creating engaging visuals and make them available to the general public, I believe more people would appreciate the beauty and wonders of science, and hopeful get interested in science.”

Just like the All-Natural Banana poster series I posted one year ago, the goal of the BeautifulChemistry.net project is mostly about education and scientific outreach.

“The goal is to bring the beauty of chemistry to the general public. To many people, Chemistry might usually be associated with pollution, poison, explosions, etc. We want to show them the other side of chemistry, which is much less well-known. We also want to get more kids and students interested in chemistry and inspire them to learn more chemical knowledge.”

Since Yan Liang, Edison Zheng, Jiyuan Liu, Xiangang Tao and Wei Huang launched Beautiful Chemistry on September 30th, 2014, they have received over 110,000 unique visitors and over 2 million page views. The project has been a huge success, and has already inspired young people worldwide to pursue Chemistry.

“People love our videos of chemical reactions. Some people commented if they saw these videos when they were in high schools, they might work harder and learn more chemistry. A 15-year old student from Germany and others told us our videos inspired them to shoot their own videos of chemical reactions. Artists like these videos and many request our footage to make music videos.”

They’ve got some exciting plans for the future, too. Yan Liang tells me they’re planning to use microscopes to film future videos and that they’re developing a fashionable clothing line-up as well!

Beautiful Chemistry Metal Displacement Clothing for Women
Reaction between Zn(s) + Pb(NO3)2(aq) to produce beautiful crystals of lead

There are currently 33 gorgeous 4K videos on their website, and there’s even a Chinese version as well. Check out their website and subscribe to their blog here. You can see more of Yan Liang’s projects, including amazing scientific illustrations, at l2molecule.com.

Significant Figures: 6.0 Rules

Ruler

Significant figures tell you how accurately a number is known. This invariably depends on the precision of your instruments.

To illustrate this, use a pencil and a ruler to draw a square with sides of 8.109435 cm in length. Now, calculate the area of the square that you’ve drawn.

A ruler can only measure length to within ±0.1 cm. Our square therefore has sides 8.1 cm in length (not 8.109435 cm) because our measurements are limited by the accuracy of the ruler. The area of our square is therefore 8.1×8.1=66 cm², not 65.762936019225 cm², because there was no way to measure all of those decimal places precisely using a ruler.

Accurately-known digits are known as significant digits. All other digits are described as not significant. We must always round our final answer (not the intermediate steps) to the correct number of significant digits by following the six rules below.

1. Numbers without a decimal point

  1. First non-zero digit is significant
  2. Last non-zero digit is significant
  3. All digits in-between are significant
  • 45 is to 2 significant figures (s.f.)
  • 1,240 (3 s.f.)
  • 68,686,000 (5 s.f.)

2. Numbers with a decimal point

  1. First non-zero digit is significant
  2. All digits afterwards are significant
  • 1.2 (2 s.f.)
  • 6.810 (4 s.f.)
  • 900,001 (6 s.f.)

3. Scientific notation

Scientific notation is a way of writing numbers in the form:

a × 10 where 1 ≤ a < 10.

Count the number of significant figures in a to find the number of significant figures in the number (a × 10b).

  • 5.56 × 103 is to 3 significant figures
  • 2.012 × 10-4 is to 4 significant figures

4. Conversions

Some unit conversions are exact and are said to have an unlimited number of significant figures.

  • 1 minute = 60.0000000000… seconds (infinite s.f.)
  • 1 metre = 100.0000000000… metres (infinite s.f.)

Temperatures usually have 3 (sometimes 4) significant figures when converted into Kelvin!

  • 10°C = 283 K (3 significant figures)
  • 100°C = 373 K (3 significant figures)
  • 4000°C = 4273 K (4 significant figures)

5. Addition and subtraction

Rule: Always round your final answer (not any intermediate answers!) to the smallest number of decimal places.

  • 441 + 65.42 = 506 (use zero decimal places)
  • 200.1 – 144.2456 = 55.9 (use 1 decimal place)

6. Multiplication and division

Rule: Always round your answer so it has the same number of significant figures as the input value with the smallest number of significant figures.

  • 481.56 × 14.5 = 6980 (use only 3 s.f.)
  • 7800 ÷ 41.1 = 190 (use only 2 s.f.)

Remember to round your ANSWER (not the intermediate steps) to the correct number of significant figures.

Questions? Comments? Still confused? Leave a message in the comments below. I’ve tried to make sig figs as simple as I can in this post.

More great resources:

Crash Course Chemistry Explains All!

Help! My exam is in 3 days’ time and I haven’t studied for it. What should I do?

jameskennedymonash Beat Exam Stress

First, relax.

The priority at this late stage is that you enter the examination hall well-rested, well-fed and with an appropriate level of stress.

1. Sleep early every night

  • Go to bed before 10pm (or 9pm with an exam the next day)
  • Wake up naturally. If you’re waking up too late, go to sleep at 7pm.
  • Avoid backlit screens for one hour prior to sleeping. Backlit screens emit light in the 484-nanometre range, which excites melanopsin in the retinal ganglion cell photoreceptor. This disrupts your circadian rhythm and keeps you awake!

2. Eat healthily

  • Eat regular meals at regular times.
  • Eat plenty of fruit. (Five per day.)
  • Drink plenty of water.

3. Get some lighter exercise

  • Avoid exhausting sports around exam time (e.g. rugby).
  • Do more walking, jogging, and lighter sports at exam time (e.g. badminton).
  • Drink plenty of water(!) Aim to drink 3 litres per day.

Research has shown that you perform difficult tasks (such as a Chemistry exam) much better under moderately relaxed conditions. The famous Yerkes-Dodson curve illustrates this beautifully.

The Yerkes–Dodson law is an empirical relationship between arousal and performance level. Source: Uni of Minnesota
You want to be on top of that blue curve.

More information about the Yerkes-Dodson curve.

Light exercise will help you to position yourself at the tip of that blue curve, which will optimise your state of mind for learning as much as possible in the few days you’ve got left.

Second, do targeted revision.

4. Mise en place (get everything ready)

5. Spend 3½ hours doing a practice examination

  • Spend 3½ hours doing the exam in semi-exam conditions.
  • Mark it immediately afterwards.
  • Keep it for next time: you’ll use the incorrect questions to guide your theory revision (step 6).

6. Spend 3½ hours reading & annotating your textbook

  • Read and annotate the textbook chapters relating to questions you got wrong.
  • DON’T READ YOUR NOTES. Read the textbook instead: it’s much clearer.
  • Re-do those questions now you’ve learned the theory behind them.
  • Follow steps 1-4 on How to use a Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow. This includes making vocabulary lists and beautiful, clear theory notes to go on your wall.
  • Repeat steps 5 and 6 (in this article) every day. (Study at least 7 hours per day.)

Finally, get help.

7. Get help!

  • Contact your teacher with any questions you have; exam content you don’t understand or worries you have about the exam.
  • Talk to a friend if you’re stressed about the exam.
  • Check out the resources below if your stress levels are still too high.

8. More resources

Veritasium image

10 Best Science Channels on YouTube

1. Veritasium blows your mind by breaking misconceptions

2. Periodic Videos: experiments you’d love to do but can’t

3. SciShow blasts fun facts

4. Numberphile makes you LOVE mathematics

5. AsapSCIENCE: fascinating hand-drawn mini-tutorials

6. MinutePhysics: fascinating mini-Physics tutorials

7. Vsauce investigates fascinating questions

8. SmarterEveryDay explains cat-flipping, and more

9. Science Channel gives you the latest Science news

10. NASA gives you real-life science inspiration

Are there any that I missed from this list? Add them in the comments section below.

15-Step Checklist when Teaching a New Class

Students in classroom

It’s so much easier to change your teaching style at the beginning of a year than in the middle. This is because new students in a new class after a long summer break are much more receptive to change than the ones who are already used to the way you teach. In fact, most students return from their summer vacation eagerly expecting something new!

The following checklist is based on what I’ve learned since I started teaching in September 2006; and I believe it’s a great way to start teaching a new class.

Part A: Get to know your students

1. Make a grades database in Excel

Start with the following columns: Surname, First name, Email address and Gender.

Make columns for any compulsory assessment tasks (raw score and percentage). If any assessment tasks are submitted late, just add a comment to the relevant cell in the spreadsheet. Nothing more needs to be recorded in this database. Keep it really simple!

2. Set up group email lists

Use your email client (e.g. Outlook) to create groups for (a) your students and (b) your students’ parents. You’ll use these to distribute resources and reminders in future.

3. Email the parents

Send an introductory email to the parents and attach the course outline. For most students, this will be the only time you ever email their parents. Just send them one message to establish contact at the start of the year, and they’ll feel welcome to email you if they have any concerns regarding their child’s progress in your subject. Remember to put their addresses in the bcc field to hide their addresses from each other!

4. Prepare start-up packs for your students

See next week’s post on creating start-up packs for VCE Chemistry students, or make a similar start-up pack for the students in your subject.

5. Put students’ birthdays into your calendar

Take the time to put all your students’ birthdays into your calendar at the start of the year, then wish them a happy birthday face-to-face on the day. This builds rapport, and students really appreciate it!

Part B: Get to know your curriculum

6. Read and annotate all your textbooks

Teachers need to be very familiar with all the resources they give their students. Just as you’d pre-watch a YouTube video before you show it to the class, you also need to pre-read the textbook before you endorse it and use it in class.

Unless you’re already done so, read all the textbooks for all the subjects you’ll be teaching from cover to cover. Make notes in the margins as you would expect your students to do. Highlight important facts carefully and summarise every paragraph all the difficult sections in your own words. These will be the words that you write on the whiteboard (along with any important diagrams) during the lesson.

See my post on How to Read a Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow for more information.

7. Add the following to your course plan:

Your school will give you a plan for the course you’re going to teach. However, these plans don’t always contain all the information you need. Get a copy of your course plan and add the following columns to it:

  • Textbook chapter references for each week
  • Any extra resources you want to use (e.g. YouTube videos) – you can always use more later; add them to the course plan if you do.
  • Assignments / tests and their due dates. Give each assignment/test a name and stick to it. Label how much each assignment/test counts towards the student’s final grade.
  • Experiments. Label how long each experiment takes and plan which days to do each of them for the entire term in advance.

8. Gather misconceptions for each topic

Dialogues about misconceptions are a brilliant way to introduce new Chemistry topics. Derek Muller, founder of the YouTube channel Veritasium, explains this beautifully.

Using your own experience marking tests and examinations, annotate your own textbook with misconceptions that students have about each topic. For example:

Great resources include:

9. Find out what’s going to be on the tests and exam!

Not all schools teach all topics on the curriculum, and not all schools test all the topics in the examination. Find out the topics to be tested on the tests and examinations and tell the students in advance (with textbook chapter references) so they can plan their revision.

Part C: The first few lessons

10. Monthly Seating Plans

Allow the students to choose their own seats in the first lesson. Sketch a map of the room so that during the introduction session, you can label who chooses to sit where. Tell the students that you will modify the seating plan every calendar month to break up students who don’t work productively together.

Be very strict about maintaining the seating plan. This creates an atmosphere of order, structure, fairness and respect very early in the year. Be strict about punctuality and homework as well.

11. Introduction lesson

  1. Stand in a circle: “What’s your name” and “tell me something interesting about you”
  2. Ask around the circle again: “What is [Chemistry/Physics/History]?
  3. Sit down. Teacher answers questions 1 and 2 for the class. Distribute the start-up packs and show their contents.
  4. Show students the textbook and get them to write their names in it. Don’t be afraid to write in your textbook!
  5. Revision of fundamental concepts from last year (a worksheet). Use this to recap the required knowledge for this course.
  6. Dictate classroom rules & homework expectations into students’ notebooks
  7. Show the students your office
  8. Homework is to make a name plate to put on your desk (be strict about this)
  9. Dismiss

12. Second lesson

  1. How to Read the Textbook: 6 Rules to Follow
  2. How to take great notes (see my post on this in November 2014)
  3. Start teaching the theory behind first topic to be learned. Follow textbook closely.

13. Third lesson (experiment/demo)

Do the first week’s experiment in the third lesson if possible. For year 11, doing flame tests in watch glasses is a great place to start. Keep the students motivated by questioning every aspect of the experiment: why use methanol, not ethanol? (Try both!) Why does methanol emit light when it combusts? (Electrons absorb energy/emit quanta of light) Why does the presence of metals change the colour of the flame? (Electrons at different energy levels in different elements emit light with different wavelengths when falling back to their ground state, producing different colours).

Flame tests (YouTube frame)

14. Do a feedback survey

Use SurveyMonkey to set up a very simple, anonymous survey and send it via group email to your students on Friday afternoon. There should be very few questions:

  1. Which class are you in? (Tick-boxes)
  2. How would you rate Chemistry lessons so far? (1-5 rating)
  3. (Any other questions you want to ask)
  4. Is there anything you particularly (dis)like about your Chemistry lessons so far? (Large comment box)

Thank the students for their honest feedback on Monday. Honest feedback builds rapport!

15. Plagiarism & Referencing Session (optional)

To establish an honest work ethic in the classroom, you can give your students a one-off session on Plagiarism & Referencing. Use PowerPoint such as t h e s e and give all students a printed handout. The purpose of this session is merely to raise awareness that copying is detrimental to student learning and should include:

  • what plagiarism is (and why it hinders learning);
  • the severe punishments for plagiarism in academia and in industry;
  • how to locate good learning resources (with emphasis on the textbook!); and
  • how to reference those resources in an assignment (using Harvard or APA style).

In some schools, the library staff are happy to arrange (and teach!) these sessions for you. Arrange this Plagiarism & Referencing session early in your course if you think that copying and cheating is a widespread problem in your class. ■

Is there anything I’ve missed out? Write in the comments section below.

How to Pronounce Chinese Names

People who don’t speak Chinese find it very difficult to pronounce Chinese names correctly. Chinese names are written using the pinyin transliteration system, in which some letters of the alphabet have very different sounds to English.

Here’s a handy table of the 25 most common Chinese surnames and how to pronounce them in English.

How to Pronounce Chinese Names graphic james kennedy monashClick to download PDF version.

Guo should pronounced “Gore”, for example, and Sun should be pronounced “Soon”. Zhou should be pronounced similar to “Joe” and Xie should be pronounced similar to the English word “Shear”.

Australia is the third most popular, and fastest-growing emigration destination for international students from China. There are around 20,000 Chinese students currently studying high-school examinations in Australia, and another 50,000 studying at universities and TAFEs.

How to Make an Exam Revision Timetable

This is the post where I divulge how I achieved an ATAR of over 99. I was in a government school at the time and didn’t have any home tutoring. So how did I do it?

Examinations, like sports, require tenacious practice until you’re good at them. To excel in an examination, you need not only strong subject knowledge (e.g. Chemistry), but also great examination skills, which include the following:

  • Using exam-specific language
  • Working to a strict time limit
  • Working in silence in a big hall
  • Coping with the stress that examinations bring

Follow these 8 rules to practice examination skills effectively and you’ll maximise your performance on examination day.

1. Revision is a full-time job (38 hours per week)

To get enough spaced repetition for all the subjects you’re studying, you’ll need to study full time: that’s about 38 hours per week.

This is about the same amount of time as you usually spend in school (7×50-minute lessons plus 2 hours of homework per night). You can fit 38 hours of revision comfortably into just 6 days of the week, leaving your Sundays completely free to relax and catch up on sleep. Start full-time revision several months before your big exams.

2. Revise in 3.5-hour blocks

This will train you to sit and focus for an entire examination. In 3.5 hours, you’ll have enough time to finish an examination paper and then mark it immediately afterwards.

3. Revise during regular, scheduled revision sessions at the same times every day

Research has shown that people recall more information when they’re in a similar physiological state to when they learned it: at the same time of day, and with similar hunger and stress levels.

Revise for 2 of these 3 sessions, 6 days a week:

  • Morning study session: 9:00am to 12:30pm
  • Afternoon study session: 1:30pm to 5pm
  • Evening study session: 6pm to 9:30pm

Try to revise for morning examinations in the morning, and afternoon examinations in the afternoon where possible.

4. Create a revision timetable and stick to it

Get a giant wall calendar (minimum size is A3) from Officeworks and split each day into thirds. Each third represents one of the three study sessions mentioned above.

Get coloured stickers from Officeworks and use them to label your examinations. Use a different colour for each subject. Working back from those examinations, put more stickers on the chart to denote which subjects you’ll study in each study session.

Rules when filling your timetable:

  • Revise for 11 sessions each week (about 38 hours)
  • Revise for no more than two sessions in a day.
  • Take one day off each week.
  • Use your free time to relax or get some exercise.

5. Revise in exam-like conditions!

Disconnect from all social media until after your examinations have finished. Just leave one tweet/status update saying “Preparing for exams now full-time until November XXth. Wish me luck!” and delete all the social media apps from your phone. People will understand!

  • Revise in a comfortable, clean, quiet, uncluttered room. (Some students in China rent hotel rooms at this time of year to help them revise more effectively!) Is your study place as clean and quiet as a hotel room?
  • Revise sitting upright at a desk without a computer present. Don’t cross your legs. Use a desk that’s high enough, and sit 10cm from the edge of the desk. Remove all non-study-related objects from your desk and put them behind you.
  • Don’t listen to music while revising. Not only will music distract you (no matter how much you insist otherwise!), but it’s also forbidden in the examination hall.
  • Eat and drink only things that are allowed in the examination while you’re revising. For the vast majority of people, that’s water only!
  • Only two pieces of technology are allowed: your scientific calculator and an analogue clock. (Why? That’s all you’ll get in the examination hall!)

6. Practice examination sessions (50% of study sessions)

In half of your revision sessions for each subject, do a past paper examination and mark the paper immediately after you’ve finished it. Circle any questions you didn’t get full marks on: you’ll use these as the basis for your next note-taking session for that subject (step 7).

7. Note-taking sessions (the other 50% of study sessions)

Use your textbook, your teacher and your Chemistry notes to correct any questions you answered incorrectly in your previous practice examination. Make detailed theory notes from the textbook on concepts you don’t fully understand and arrange them neatly on your wall. Make these notes colourful and large enough to be legible from a distance of 2 metres.

Not only will this help you to get 100% in those topics next time, but a bedroom wall covered with succinct study notes also look really impressive to anyone else who sees them!

If you start revising early enough, you’ll have time to make great theory notes from the entire textbook. Your bedroom wall should be plastered in study notes for all your subjects.

8. On examination day

  • Don’t revise on the morning before examinations. This will only make you feel rushed and more stressed in the morning. Use your time more wisely by making sure you get to school on time and instead.
  • Don’t listen to music on examination days until after your examination is over! Songs stay in your head for a long time after you’ve heard them, and they’ll distract you slightly from the material you’re being tested on.
  • Bring water in a transparent bottle into the examination hall.
  • Wear layers of clothing that you can add/remove easily. The temperature in examination halls can be unpredictable.
  • Always let invigilators know about errors in the examination paper. However, only tell them about the errors that might affect your score!

Sticking to these 8 tips earned me excellent grades in school, and I believe that you can maximise your potential as well by following the same advice.

Agree/disagree with any of these? Leave your comments below.

The 6 Best Graduation Speeches on YouTube

graduation caps james kennedy monash

It’s graduation time for Year 12 students in Australia. Emotions are high as students reflect on their years at school and look forward to university and the many years of adulthood that lie ahead. Graduation is a time of emotional speeches and life advice, and this post is no exception.

Here are my six favourite graduation speeches on YouTube. Watch them and be inspired.

1. Steve Jobs on “connecting the dots” (2005)

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

2. JK Rowling on “blaming your parents” (2008)

“There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson on “thinking outside the box” (2012)

“You realize when you know how to think, it empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think. Now, let me tweet that”.

4. Oprah Winfrey on “doing what makes you come alive” (2013)

“Theologian Howard Thurman said it best. He said, ‘Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.'”

5. Bill Gates on “being an activist” (2007)

“Don’t let complexity stop you. Be activists. Take on the big inequities. It will be one of the great experiences of your lives.”

6. Barack Obama on “sacrifice and decency” (2009)

“Acts of sacrifice and decency without regard to what’s in it for you – those also create ripple effects – ones that lift up families and communities; that spread opportunity and boost our economy; that reach folks in the forgotten corners of the world who, in committed young people like you, see the true face of America: our strength, our goodness, the enduring power of our ideals.”

Know of any more that should be in this list? Share them in the comments section below.