How to Deal with Exam Stress

How to Deal with Exam Stress Infographic from StopProcrastinatingApp.com
Source: StopProcrastinatingApp.com

It’s that time of year when students are starting to plan their exam revision. Getting to grips and memorising all you have learn over the past year is only half the battle, as new research from productivity website Stop Procrastinating has found that 64% of students believe that exam stress and anxiety is affecting them so much that it will lower their performance and affect their grades.

The poll of 2000 undergraduates heading into their final exams found that 66% of students believe their stress levels are greater than in the past due to modern day problems, such as the difficult jobs market. They feel that a lower grade could affect the rest of their lives, closing doors to opportunities and causing them to miss out on jobs.

The survey found that procrastination was a major cause of stress. Students today have more opportunities for distraction with the rise of the Internet, smart phone and social media. A massive 45% of students surveyed said they wasted time on the Internet or social media instead of revising.

There is good news, however. The survey also found the strategies and solutions that students find most effective. By using Internet blockers while revising, taking more exercise, and by breaking down revision into manageable, bite sized-chunks, students are finding ways to cope and succeed.

The full list of effective revision strategies is available at Stop Procrastinating’s website here.

The Cornell Note-Taking System

I relied heavily on The Cornell Note-Taking system during my Cambridge undergraduate course because it forced me to make my own (great) notes. I learned this technique in first year of undergraduate and used it right through to my final masters year.

An interesting study found that students who reviewed their own notes outperformed students who reviewed notes given to them by their teacher. Several interesting studies have found that students who hand-wrote their notes learned more than those who typed them. The best notes are therefore hand-made, self-made and Cornell Style.

To make your own Cornell Notes, start by drawing a giant 工 on the page. The left portion should be around 7 cm wide and is called the Cue Column. This is where you’ll put your subheadings, all of which should be written as questions. In the larger column on the right, answer your questions by writing notes in the usual manner. Keep the bottom four centimetres of each page as a summary or conclusion. Get a great Cornell notes summary sheet here.

Once you’ve made your Cornell Notes, use your Cornell Notes in the following five ways:

1) Record

During the lecture, use the note-taking column to record the lecture using telegraphic sentences.

2) Question

As soon after class as possible, formulate questions based on the notes in the right-hand column. Writing questions helps to clarify meanings, reveal relationships, establish continuity, and strengthen memory. Also, the writing of questions sets up a perfect stage for exam-studying later.

3) Recite

Cover the notetaking column with a sheet of paper. Then, looking at the questions or cue-words in the question and cue column only, say aloud, in your own words, the answers to the questions, facts, or ideas indicated by the cue-words.

4) Reflect

Reflect on the material by asking yourself questions, for example: “What’s the significance of these facts? What principle are they based on? How can I apply them? How do they fit in with what I already know? What’s beyond them?

5) Review

Spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes. If you do, you’ll retain a great deal for current use, as well as, for the exam.

Making your own notes is a very efficient way to learn. Any teacher who gives pre-made notes to their students is depriving their students of the opportunity to learn for themselves. It’s fine to give some notes to students as an example, but the vast majority of student notes should be written by the students themselves (even if they’re copying most of it from the whiteboard). Try the Cornell note-taking system for a week and see how it improves your understanding of Chemistry.

An excellent example of the Cornell note-taking system used in Chemistry. Making Cornell Notes made me understand much more in my Cambridge University lectures. Click for source.
Cornell Notes helped me enormously in my Cambridge University lectures.

Do you have a special note-taking system that works well for you? Do you prefer it when teachers give you notes? Do you know someone who uses a special note-taking method and achieves high grades? Let me know in the comments section below.

How to Read a Book

Source: Livinganawesomelife.com

Reading is the key to developing a comprehensive understanding of any subject by yourself. By the end of Year 12, you’ll need to have mastered the skills of independent readingnote-taking, and asking for help. Today, we’ll focus on the first of those key skills: independent reading.

There are three main types of reading: inspectional, analytical and synoptical reading. How you read depends on your purpose for reading.

1) News articles require Inspectional Reading

In a magazine or academic journal, skim over the headlines and pictures to find articles that might interest you. I recommend reading New Scientist as an excellent source of up-to-date science news. I used to read this magazine each morning before reading the day’s textbook chapter(s) while I was a student in Cambridge. Inspectional reading involves skim-reading then re-reading if the article is particularly relevant to you. You might even want to cut it out and keep it for future reference.

2) Your Chemistry textbook requires Analytical Reading

The key to analytical reading is to make annotations and excellent notes. If you’ve purchased a printed copy of the book, then you’ve purchased the right to annotate that book with ink, Post-it Notes® and highlighters. In difficult/technical sections of the book (such as the introduction page to NMR spectroscopy in Heinemann Chemistry 2), summarise each paragraph in 7 words or fewer in the margin. Transfer your notes to A4, lined paper and file your notes in an organised way. Note-making is the best way to learn while you read a technically difficult text such as your Chemistry textbook.

3) When you have an assignment due, you’ll need to do a Synoptical Reading of your source materials

When you need to build a bibliography, you’ll need to glean pieces of information from many sources and summarise them into your own words. You’ll also need to keep a properly-formatted references list to append to your assignment. You can read the entire text or just relevant parts – but make sure your reading is varied. Read books or articles from the references sections of books that are particularly relevant to your assignment. When writing your essay, much of the structure of the essay will ‘magically’ emerge when you link together in a logical way the dozens of sentence-long summaries that you created during your synoptical reading.

How do you read?

Is there a special reading/note-taking technique that works well for you? Do you make flashcards or mind maps? Let us know in the comments section below.

3 Skills to Master Before the End of Year 12

Master Reading, Note-taking and Asking for Help
1: Reading; 2: Note-taking; 3: Asking for help

Studying is actually really simple. Master these three simple principles while you’re in Year 12 and you’ll be on the path to excellent learning outcomes in university.

1) Analytical Reading

We learn the majority of our information by reading. It’s your responsibility as a student to make a careful, analytical reading of the textbook in order to understand all the concepts taught on your course. Beyond Year 10, the pace of your lessons will increase and you’ll find that simply paying attention in class will not be enough to gain a full understanding of what’s being taught. The earlier you master the skill of analytical reading, the more you’ll learn from your university investment. University lecturers don’t have time to explain all the concepts to every student in person!

Learn how to use a textbook here.

2) Note-taking

Annotate the textbook as you read it. Paraphrase and summarise your notes onto paper and organise them obsessively into large, lever-arch folders. Colour-code all your subjects: Chemistry has always been a ‘green’ subject for me. In lectures, don’t rely on the printed notes/slides provided by your lecturer. High-achieving students make their own notes during the lecture. Cornell Notes helped me enormously in Cambridge: master this skill if you want to thrive in university.

Learn how to take great notes here.

3) Asking for help

After Year 10, teachers will check your homework less frequently. Don’t use that as an excuse to slack off. As you grow into adulthood, you need to become a self-motivated learner. You’ll need to be proactive and get help when you need it. Share your assignments with your peers, attend group study sessions, and knock on your professor’s door when you want some advanced Chemistry questions answered. University teaching staff don’t have time to check every student’s progress all the time – but if you approach them and ask them for help, they’ll definitely be delighted to help you out. Make the most of your university experience by being proactive and asking for help.

Learn more about asking for help here.

That’s all there is to it!

Are there any crucial study skills I’ve missed from this list? What else do you need to master before you go to university? What do you wish you knew before you started undergraduate degree? Write to us in the comments section below.

How to ask your teacher for help: sample phrases

Students who ask more questions get higher grades

Asking for help can sometimes be a daunting task. Half of students aren’t in the habit of asking questions to their teacher when they need help – and it’s those students who get lower grades. Sending an email is a particularly good way to pose questions to your teacher because the teacher will respond when they have time. This means you might get a better-researched, more informative answer than if you asked them during the lesson.

But what should you write? If you want Chemistry help, try emailing your teacher with some of these phrases. Adjust each one to fit your specific situation.

When you want to arrange a time to meet

  • “Mr Kennedy, are you free period 7 tomorrow to go over Hess’ Law calculations?”
  • “Dear Sir, I’ve read through the textbook chapter and it still doesn’t make sense to me. Could you please explain it to me during a free period some time this week? Thank you!”
  • “Dear Miss, I’ve attempted some of the homework questions and I just don’t know where to start. Could I meet up with you this week so you can explain it to me? I’ve been reading the textbook chapter and it still doesn’t make sense to me! Thank you”

When you want your work marked

  • “Dear Sir, I’ve finished worksheets 3-6 on titrations. Could you please check my answers? They’re attached. Thanks!”
  • “Dear Miss, Do you have answers to questions 1-25 that we did on Friday? Or, even better, if I give you my answers next lesson, could you correct them for me? Thanks!”

When you want to learn a particular topic

  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, Could we please go over benzene rings in class? I’m not sure I understand them. Thanks”
  • “Dear Miss, Can we please do a summary of bonding next lesson? I think I need to learn this again before the test. Thanks!”

When you want more practice materials

  • “Sir, Do you have any more Unit 1 practice papers? I’ve finished the two you already gave us in class. Thanks”
  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, Do you have any practice questions on buffer solutions? There seems to be only one question on this in the Heinemann Chemistry textbook. Thanks”

When you think the textbook or teacher is wrong

  • “Dear Teacher, When we went through worksheet 7 in class, you wrote the relative molar mass of sodium thiosulfate to be 135.1. Isn’t it actually 158.1, which means the answer would actually be 0.309 M?”
  • “Dear Mr Kennedy, On page 185, the textbook has the structural formula for sucrose without a hydroxyl group on the sixth carbon atom. Could you please check it? Is the book correct? Thanks!”

When you’re absent from class

  • “Dear Mr K, Sorry I missed Thursday’s lesson. I was ill at home and missed two days of school. Could you please send me any work that I missed? Thank you”
  • Dear Miss K, I have a Biology excursion on Monday and therefore won’t be able to do the SAC. Can I please reschedule it for another time next week? Thank you”

Finally… when you want some specific Chemistry help

  • When asking questions to your teacher, it’s important that you number each question in the email. This makes it much easier for your teacher to refer to them in their response.
  • Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about asking for Chemistry help. Just send the email or knock on your teacher’s door. Don’t apologise for asking your teacher questions! It’s your teacher’s responsibility to help students: they enjoy doing this, and this is why they chose to teach!
  • An example “help” email is shown below.

“Dear Mr Kennedy, I have some questions about titrations:

(1) Why do titrations using 0.10 M ethanoic acid and 0.10 M hydrochloric acid require the same titre volume even though one is strong and one is weak?

(2) What’s the “pH range” referring to in the indicators section of the data booklet?

(3) I think I got question 4 wrong. Could you please check it for me?

(4) What’s the difference between benzene and cyclohexene?

(5) What are three different definitions of oxidation and reduction? I can only think of OIL RIG!

Thanks!”

High-Achieving Students Ask for More Help

Student performance graph

I’ve been there: the teacher has moved onto a topic about which you understand nothing, and you’re sitting in class waiting patiently for the next topic, which you hope you might actually understand. Students in these situations often shy away from asking questions in class because they’re afraid that they’ll interrupt the lesson for the other students. Most hide the problem and stay quiet until the next topic comes along. It’s sometimes only when the class sits a standardised test that the issue is even brought to the teacher’s attention.

Here’s some (modified) meta-data from students I’ve taught in the past year. I searched my inbox for the surname of every student I teach then counted the hundreds of questions they’ve asked me collectively since the start of the academic year. I grouped the students into quartiles and plotted the average number of questions asked in the last few months versus their current academic performance.

Results were shocking: not only did the higher-achieving students ask me more questions by email than the lower-achieving students, but the correlation was surprisingly strong (R² = 71%). This begs the question: do high achieving students get higher grades because they ask for more help? Is there a causal link between getting more help from a teacher and achieving a higher grade? Common sense suggests that there is.

What does this mean for you?

Students should ask for more academic support in order to maximise their learning. In particular:

  • Always email your tutor with academic questions. Number each question for easy reference in later emails.
  • Remember the 5-minute rule: ask for help from your teacher or tutor if you make zero progress on a question for more than 5 minutes.
  • Ask to see your teacher or tutor if you don’t understand something. Just ask them to “explain [topic] to me because I didn’t really understand it in class”. They’ll be happy to explain it to you.
  • Don’t get put off if your teacher seems too busy to help you right now. Just ask them, “do you have time tomorrow?” and schedule a more convenient time to meet.

In university, teachers don’t pay such close attention to the individual progress of each student. After Year 12, you’ll be mostly on your own. You’ll have to be proactive, take responsibility for your own learning and ask for help when you need it.

Are you a top-achieving student who learns all by themselves? What are your thoughts? Leave your feedback in the comments section below.

VCAA 2015 Examination Timetable is Out Now!

VCAA exam timetable

The VCE Chemistry examination is on Tuesday 10 November 2015.

  • ENGLISH & EAL: Wednesday 28 October 2015 at 9:00am
  • PSYCHOLOGY: Thursday 29 October 2015 at 9:00am
  • BIOLOGY: Friday 30 October 2015 at 9:00am
  • CHEMISTRY: Tuesday 10 November 2015 at 9:00am
  • PHYSICS: Wednesday 11 November 2015 at 2:00pm

Now that you know your examination dates, make a 100-day revision timetable as soon as possible. Learn how to make an exam revision timetable here. I’ll put an example on this website early next week.

Which Chapters of Heinemann Chemistry 1 do we need to learn in preparation for Units 3 and 4?

Chapters for Heinemann Chemistry 1
Click to download PDF version

My favourite Year 11 VCE Chemistry book explains all the concepts you need to know for Units 1 & 2. If you’re in Year 12 and you want to refresh your memory of the essential topics from last year’s course, these are the chapters you should spend the most time reading.

  • Skip the sections in red;
  • Read the sections in yellow and make careful annotations;
  • Study the sections in green because they are assumed knowledge in the Year 12 course.

Remember to check out the related post:

Which Chapters of Heinemann Chemistry 2 do we need to learn for the examination?

Good luck!

Which Chapters of Heinemann Chemistry 2 do we need to learn for the examination?

Chapters for Heinemann Chemistry 2
Click to download PDF

My favourite VCE Chemistry textbook contains some extra information that isn’t part of the VCE Chemistry Study Design, which almost certainly won’t be on the end of year examination. Use this chart to help you find your way through Heinemann Chemistry 2:

  • Skip the sections in red;
  • Read the sections in yellow and make careful annotations;
  • Study the sections in green meticulously and make concise notes on all of their contents.
  • Chapters 19 to 22 (in blue) explain the “detailed studies”, and students need to study just one chapter out of these four. Many schools choose the chapters on ammonia or sulfuric acid.

The Study Process

The Study Process diagram by James Kennedy
Click to enlarge “The Study Process” flowchart

It amazes me how many students get low grades because their notes are disorganised or because they get resources from the wrong places. If you’re not getting the grades you expect, and your study notes are a bit of a mess, follow this simple 5-step strategy to get more out of your VCE Chemistry lessons.

1) Annotate the textbook.

Your primary resource is always the textbook. Annotate your textbook with pens, highlighters and Post-it® Notes. Circle key words and draw a line through question numbers once you’ve completed them (see step #3). Cross out titles of sections that are not on your course: your teacher can help you with this. Put bookmarks (pieces of paper will do) at your current position in the textbook and at the corresponding answers page at the back. Annotate every page of the textbook before you learn a new topic in class. Annotate your textbook from cover to cover as soon as you can at the start of the year.

2) Make textbook summary notes on A4 paper.

Throughout the year, use your annotated textbook to make your own textbook summary notes. Many of these notes will have been copied from the whiteboard during Chemistry lessons, but you’ll still need to supplement these notes with things you learn from your own reading as well. I recommend writing these summaries on loose sheets of A4 paper and organising them in sequential order in a ring binder. Feel free to use both sides of the paper. Some students prefer to use A4 notebooks, which also works fine, but it’s very important that you don’t limit yourself to a “one page per section” rule. This becomes very restrictive later on.

3) Complete textbook questions and Checkpoints questions in an exercise book.

Third, you need a exercise book. This is an A4 notebook that you use to complete question sets from four main locations: (1) the textbook; (2) from any other worksheets your teacher provides; (3) from Checkpoints; and (4) from Lisachem and other textbooks. When you’ve finished a block of around 20 questions, check your answers using the answer keys provided and mark them very critically. This is an excellent learning exercise. Use a red pen to note where you went wrong, and mark your own work as harshly as the harshest-marking teacher you’ve ever had. Your teachers don’t have time to mark all of these questions for you; but if you don’t understand why you got a question wrong, do approach your teacher or tutor and ask for an explanation. They’ll be happy to help you out.

4) Everything else provided by your teachers is just supplementary material.

Finally, there are supplementary resources provided by your teachers. Even if you use these a lot in class, remember that they’re not your main study resource. Even if your teacher gives you printed PowerPoint slides, work booklets or lecture notes, they’re still just supplementary to the primary study resource, which is always the textbook. If your teacher gives you any of these extra resources to use in class, use them in class only, and at home, all of your studies should follow steps #1 to #3 above. Nothing replaces the textbook in terms of depth and accuracy. Extra materials provided by your teacher are always secondary to the main text.

5) Don’t trust resources that you find by yourself.

Most of the resources that students find by themselves will be either unprofessional or irrelevant to VCE. Resources from interstate or overseas might use different vocabulary or cover topics that are beyond the scope of our VCE course. Don’t spend time studying resources you’ve found by yourself unless your teacher or tutor has approved them.

Following these five steps should take about 3 hours per week per subject.

Remember that your textbook is your primary resource. Teachers and tutors just help to help bring the textbook to life: they help you to understand it faster and more comprehensively than you could on your own. Tutors provide 1-on-1 motivation and accountability by giving you personalised homework and questioning during your tutoring sessions. Tutors have the time to check your work carefully and get personalised feedback on all your written answers, which teachers seldom have the time to do.

Create a 2m² Study Space at Home

Source: Maroon White, FSU

Choose a space, at least two square metres in area, where you will do nothing but study. It should be located in a bright, warm, comfortable part of your home with very few distractions. It should be a space that faces a wall or a window, and should not be in the middle of a room where other people might continually walk by. When I say “study space”, I’m referring to a high desk (for good posture), a hard chair (to help you concentrate) and the space that immediately surrounds them.

Remove every object from that 2m² space. If the desk has drawers, empty them. Clean the desk and its surroundings and remove all distractions from nearby (such as a TV, a radio or a buzzing light).

Place only study-related objects in your study space. Textbooks, files, notebooks and plain paper should all be on the desk. Stow the computer away while you’re studying, and only get it out when you need to write an assignment. Because the vast majority of your reading should be done from textbooks, your computer should not be a permanent fixture in your study space. Shut it down and keep it away.

By this point, your study space should look something like these:

Notice how libraries provide you with exactly this type of space? This is the ideal study space: clean, quiet, purpose-built and distraction-free. Source: NYU

Many people say they can’t study in their bedroom. Studies have shown that geographical separation between work and play puts people in the right mindset to do both. Therefore, studying at the same desk that you use to play computer games could be a huge hindrance to your studies. The minority of people who can study in their bedroom have made it a “study space” instead of a place to relax and play.

I study best in libraries because being surrounded by other studious people helps to keep me motivated! Libraries in the UK are strictly silent – so even if your friends are there, they can’t distract you. Natural-looking light fixtures in my Cambridge college library also kept me alert late into the evening while I worked. Find a 2m² study space in your home and make it look like a library. Or, of course, study in your nearest library!

Here are those points again, summarised:
1. Choose at least 2m² in your house as a designated “study space”.
2. Add a high desk and a hard chair;
3. Clean the desk, chair and surroundings;
4. Only put study-related items in that space;
5. Never do anything except for study in that space;
6. Keep your study space immaculately clean and tidy.

Annotated VCAA Data Booklet 2015 Edition

Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet
Click to download Annotated VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet 2015 Edition PDF (6.1 Mb)

VCAA has released a new Chemistry Data Booklet to accompany its new Chemistry Study Design. The changes are subtle but important: a few new elements have been added to the periodic table and the unconfirmed elements have been removed. The whole booklet has been reformatted into tables that make the data easier to look up.

There’s a wealth of information in these data booklets but you have to know what to look for. I recommend asking your students to annotate the new Chemistry data booklet with as much information as they can. Many answers to examination questions require you to refer to this data booklet, and the quicker your students can do that, the more likely they are to finish the exam.

Annotate your 2015 data booklet with your students, and ask:

  • Where are the oxidants in the electrochemical series?
  • What is the structural formula of an R3-CH carbon environment?
  • What are the names of the functional groups in the 1H NMR part structures shown?
  • Are the chemical shifts in 1H NMR spectra strictly limited to the ranges supplied in the data booklet?
  • Are students aware that proximity to a highly electronegative atom can cause a large increase in a proton’s chemical shift?
  • Which fatty acids are polyunsaturated? How can you tell?
  • To which atoms do hydrogen bonds form on nitrogenous bases?

Download my Annotated VCAA Data Booklet 2015 Edition here.

Please remember that students still need to use a clean, unannotated data booklet for all SACs and examinations!