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!

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Coming to Australia!

An Evening with Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson in Melbourne August 7th 2015

Think Inc as officially announced Neil deGrasse Tyson’s 2015 Australian tour.

Buy tickets to see Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Melbourne MCEC here.

You might remember when I put Neil deGrasse Tyson’s viral video The Most Astounding Fact up on this website. I love that video because it communicates the importance of Science at a level deeper than any other. It’s a video I try to play to all my classes just once at an appropriate time in the year because it teaches what Tyson calls the Cosmic Perspective.

I’m thrilled to say that Think Inc has announced this week that the legendary Neil deGrasse Tyson, passionate science communicator and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, is doing a four-stop tour of Australia including Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra from August 7th-23rd 2015.

See the organisers’ official announcement here.

Got 600 Hours to Spare? Become Bilingual!

hello in many languages

In 2011, 17% of Australians21% of Americans and 53% of Europeans spoke two languages fluently. Being bilingual not only opened them up to new cultures, and earned them more money, but also, according to several recent studies, protected them from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Here are 9 great reasons why you should learn a new language.

Bilingual people in Europe

1. Bilinguals have higher cognitive processes.

As Maria Konnikova writes in the New York Times: “[A bilingual child]… develops enhanced executive control, or the ability to effectively manage what are called higher cognitive processes such as problem-solving, memory, and thought. [A bilingual child] becomes better able to inhibit some responses, promote others, and generally emerges with a more flexible and agile mind. It’s a phenomenon that researchers call the bilingual advantage.”

2. Bilinguals are better able to attend to important information and ignore the less important.

Cognitive neuroscientist Ellen Bialystok has spent her career studying how bilingualism sharpens the mind. She said in an interview with the New York Times in 2011: “We asked all the children if a certain illogical sentence was grammatically correct: “Apples grow on noses.” The monolingual children couldn’t answer. They’d say, “That’s silly” and they’d stall. But the bilingual children would say, in their own words, “It’s silly, but it’s grammatically correct.” The bilinguals, we found, manifested a cognitive system with the ability to attend to important information and ignore the less important.”

3. Bilinguals are better at multitasking.

Bilingual people are not only accustomed to switching rapidly between two languages, but they’re also thought to process the semantics of each language simultaneously at a subconscious level when they’re communicating using just one language. Sustained practice at processing two tasks simultaneously when they speak primes bilingual people to be slightly better at multi-tasking simply because they practice it on a daily basis.

4. Bilinguals are somewhat protected from the effects of dementia.

A 2006 paper by Bialystok et al. showed that bilingual dementia patients showed an onset of symptoms 4.3 years later than their monolingual counterparts. The disparity is thought to be explained by the increased cognitive load demanded by comprehending and speaking in two languages. The brains of bilingual patients with Alzheimer’s disease function cognitively at the same level of monolingual patients who have suffered less brain degeneration.

5. Bilinguals are better at spatial working memory tasks.

A 2013 article by Luo et al. tested the spatial working memory of monolingual and bilingual adults of different ages. The researchers found that bilingual people outperformed their monolingual counterparts in spatial working memory tasks at all age levels. (Having a strong spatial working memory helps with navigation, direction, location, and visually processing spatial orientation of objects in our environment.)

6. Being bilingual improves cultural awareness.

Language is inextricably linked with culture, and learning a language involves a developing a heightened awareness of the culture that speaks that language. Bilingual speakers can understand jokes and sayings in two languages as well as any mistranslations between the two that might not make sense to a speaker of either language. Being bilingual often leads to being bicultural.

7. Bilinguals earn more money worldwide.

Generally, employers see being bilingual as a valuable skill. Bilingual people more than their monolingual counterparts in many parts of the world. In Florida, bilingual workers earn $7000 per year more than their monolingual counterparts. In many American states, bilingual teachers receive a $5000 annual bonus. It’s also no coincidence that Luxembourg, with 99% of its population bilingual, has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.

8. Being bilingual makes travelling easier and cheaper.

I know from experience that if you only speak English in China, life can be confusing and expensive (unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have bilingual people on hand to help you out). Travellers who don’t speak Chinese can only visit high-end hotels and restaurants, and they need an expensive bilingual travel agent to book tours. When I was in Beijing in 2011, Great Wall tours were five times more expensive if you booked via an English-speaking agent instead of directly with the Chinese tour operator. Long-distance bus tickets were double the price for those who couldn’t haggle in Chinese, and China’s leading plane-ticket website is about 20% cheaper if you purchase via the Chinese-language version of the site instead of using the translated English version. Finally, of course, being fluent in Chinese earns you much more respect from the locals when you visit China.

We can’t choose our first language. However, we can choose our second, third and fourth languages. I studied English, French, German and Welsh in school but still chose to learn Mandarin Chinese after graduation from high school. Chinese attracted me because it trains parts of the brain that English doesn’t: it’s visual, logical and of increasing importance culturally and economically worldwide. For me, Chinese was the key to a fascinating culture very different from my own.

9. It takes only 600 hours of dedicated study to learn many new languages!

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the US Department of State has compiled approximate learning expectations for a number of languages based on the length of time it takes to achieve “proficiency” in each language. The good news is that some (French, Italian, German and more) can be learned in only 600 hours of dedicated study.

How many languages do you speak? What’s your next language?

For free language-learning materials, click here.

Which language will you choose to learn next? Can you think of any downsides to being bilingual? Put your ideas in the comments section below.

How to get ahead in Chemistry

Source: RT

1. Do all the required work for your course.

This includes the required textbook questions, any weekly quizzes and worksheets or booklets that are provided by your teacher.

2. Read the textbook one week ahead of the course

Refer to the course outline and read the textbook chapters before we study them in class. It makes a huge difference to your level of understanding.

3. Check your weekly quiz answers very critically

Compare your answers in the weekly Chemistry quizzes with the ideal answers on the examiners’ reports. (These will be sent out after each quiz has been completed.) Textbook questions are a bit like reading comprehension questions: they test your understanding of what you’ve just read in the textbook. Weekly quizzes are written in a much more similar style to the VCE Chemistry examination you’ll sit at the end of the year.

4. Re-do any SACs that you did not get 80% in

Ask your teacher for a SAC follow-up exercise if you achieved less than 80% in any SAC. Hand in the SAC follow-up exercise to your teacher when completed for marking. (Only your first SAC score will count; however, this strategy is an excellent way of highlighting areas in need of improvement, and then improving on them.)

5. Complete Checkpoints Questions

Your goal is to complete all of the questions in the Checkpoints book before 20 July 2015. Complete Checkpoints questions on the topics you study as you progress through the year.

6. Complete Dimensions worksheets

Your teacher will sometimes set Dimensions worksheets as an assignment in your VCE Chemistry course. You can always ask your teacher for extra Dimensions worksheets. Note that some of the questions in Dimensions worksheets extend a little further than the scope of our VCE study design.

7. Refer to additional textbooks (and do some of the questions)

Use additional textbooks for alternative explanations of the same topics. Please don’t use Google to find Chemistry information because about a third of the results are awful (answers.com and answers.yahoo.com are two such examples). Use HeinemannDimensions and StudyON instead: these are the three best textbooks for our course. Complete questions from these textbooks for additional practice on certain topics as required.

8. Complete past examination papers

By June 2015, you will have finished studying all of Unit 3. You will therefore be able to complete Unit 3 practice examination papers from VCAA’s website (or from your teacher/tutor) by this time. Complete past examination papers in exam-like conditions and check your answers critically using the examiners’ reports provided.

9. ASK YOUR TEACHER/TUTOR FOR HELP!

If you get stuck, just ask your teacher/tutor for help. Send them an email saying “Sir, I have no idea how to answer this question!” or knock on their office door for advice. They’re always happy to help!

Remember the 5-minute rule. If you’re stuck (i.e. making no progress) on a single question for more than 5 minutes, ask for help and move on. Re-do the question once your teacher or tutor has responded with tips as to how to answer the question.

Do you know of any more study tips that aren’t in this list? Add them in the comments section below.

How to Make Time for 100 Days of Revision

Revision Timetable for GCSE studies
A well-planned revision timetable

Students who aim for a Study Score of 42 or above complete at least 20 practice papers for each subject they’re studying and correct them critically before examinations begin. High-achieving students print these 20 practice papers and make a detailed revision schedule before full-time revision sets in.

Learn how to make a quality revision timetable here.

Twenty practice papers, with proper correction and revision of theory, require 20 days to complete. A student studying 5 VCE subjects therefore needs 100 Days of Revision before their examinations begin.

VCE exams begin on October 28th, 2015, and 100 Days of Revision therefore begins on July 20th, 2015 for students who want to excel. Most schools plan to finish teaching Unit 4 at the end of August, which is just 40 days before the final examination. Forty days allows you only 8 days of revision for each of your 5 VCE subjects, and this simply isn’t enough practice for students who want to excel.

The best way to make time for 100 Days of Revision is to study Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 during this upcoming Easter Holiday.

In this upcoming Easter Holiday, by yourself, or with the help of a home tutor, you can study the topics that your school has planned to teach after July 20th, 2015. Typically, this is Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 (Chapters 23 to 28 in the Heinemann Chemistry 2 textbook). By studying this topic early, you’ll save time later in the year, which will allow you to complete 20 practice exams per subject instead of using that time to learn new theory.

Easter Holiday Tutoring 2015

If you want to learn Unit 4’s Area of Study 2 this holiday, and free up your homework schedule later in the year, get in touch for a short-term set of tutoring sessions in April 2015. I am offering new students a short-term Easter Holiday tutoring package for $300.

The $300 tutoring package includes:

  • Chemistry Unit 3 & 4 diagnostic test;
  • Quizzes based on knowledge areas that need to be improved upon (as identified in the diagnostic test);
  • Three home tutoring sessions of 2 hours each, which includes:
    • Critical review of the student’s homework answers;
    • 1-to-1 teaching of Unit 4 Area of Study 2 (Chapters 23-28) with homework exercises and quizzes;
    • Answering any Chemistry questions the student has accumulated while doing homework exercises.
  • Personalised Chemistry study timetable for the whole year; and
  • 24/7 email and phone support for the duration of the Easter Holiday.

The program includes 6 hours of home tutoring and requires 15 to 18 hours of self-study to be completed by the student during the holiday.

Get ahead in Chemistry this Easter. I am available for VCE Chemistry tutoring on the following dates and times.

Monday 30th March 2015 to Friday 3rd March 2015: 9am – 5pm daily
Monday 6th April 2015 to Friday 10th March 2015: 9am – 5pm daily

*UPDATE: I am now fully booked for the 2015 Easter Holiday. Fill in the contact form below to enquire about term-time tutoring at evenings and weekends.

Request VCE Chemistry tutoring using this online form.

More information about my tutoring services can be found here.

Foldable Biomolecules

Hydrolysis (or formation) of a triglyceride
Hydrolysis (or formation) of a triglyceride. Click to download PDF version for printing.

Visualising reaction mechanisms in VCE Chemistry can sometimes be difficult. Making plastic models helps, but I’ve been thinking that it would be much more convenient if students had their own paper version of molecular models that they could keep for themselves and use at home.

That’s why I created Foldable Biomolecules. Each Foldable Biomolecule is a PDF template that students can fold into a shape that demonstrates a chemical reaction clearly. Pull apart the edges of each sheet to visualise a hydrolysis reaction, and push them back together to visualise a condensation reaction.

foldable biomolecule: triglyceride
Click to download Foldable Triglyceride
foldable biomolecules: biodiesel
Click to download Foldable Biodiesel
foldable biomolecule: dipeptide
Click to download Foldable Dipeptide
foldable biomolecule: triglyceride
Click to download Foldable Sucrose
foldable nucleotide PDF
Click to download Foldable Nucleotide v2

These paper-based biomolecules are downloadable, shareable and much quicker to set up than their plastic counterparts.

You can also download the complete set of Foldable Biomolecules as a single PDF here.

Five most important things in any classroom

Students in a classroom
Students studying in a classroom. Source: theguardian.com

At the beginning of each academic year, I ask my VCE Chemistry students what the most important things are in the classroom in order to learn Chemistry. Typical answers include ‘pens’, ‘notebooks’, ‘tables’, ‘chairs’ and ‘a teacher’. I have a different view.

1. Students

Students are the most important ‘things’ in the classroom if any learning is going to happen. No learning happens without students present!

2. Textbooks

The primary source of information is not the teacher. It’s the textbook. The textbook explains every topic on the course concisely and accurately, and teaches students all the theory required for the end-of-year examination. Textbooks contain so many practice questions that some students don’t even complete all of them. Before hunting for extra resources or question sets, do all of the questions in the textbook first.

Learn how to use a textbook here.

3. Stationery

Pens are more important than notebooks because the textbook is designed to be annotated. The giant margins in a textbook (which aren’t there in novels) are placed purposefully to accommodate students’ personalised notes. Students should use at least two different colours of ink to annotate their textbooks, and they should highlight important definitions and phrases as well. (They should translate words, too, if they are fluent in another language.) Teachers will need to guide and encourage students through this process initially. Some students enter your classroom with an aversion to writing in textbooks.

4. Notebooks

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).

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.

Learn how to make great notes here.

5. Teacher

A teacher’s role, in addition to providing academic and moral support, is to bring the textbook (or the subject) to life. A teacher is the difference between reading a play and watching a play. A teacher makes the subject more engaging, more interesting and more relevant by bringing their own experience, funny stories and exciting experiments into the curriculum. Great teachers make even the dullest academic subjects exciting to learn. They serve to inspire and guide students to an extent that technology will never be able to match.

Not in my top 5…

  • PowerPoint slides
  • Internet access
  • iPads, laptops and other gizmos
  • interactive whiteboards
  • laboratory equipment & chemicals
  • printed notes for students
  • past examination papers

What do you think of my low-tech “top 5″ list? Should technology be in the top 5? Will technology reduce the need for teachers? Is something other than the textbook the primary learning resource in your classroom?

Let me know in the comments section below.