Always warm up before going to class

England’s Rugby Team warms up before training

You perform much better when you warm up before strenuous physical exercise. The same applies to Chemistry, too: if you warm up your brain before coming to class, you’ll feel more alert during the lesson and you’ll learn heaps more as a result. Here are some of the benefits of warming up before coming to class.

warm up before coming to Chemistry science class

The best warm-up: read the textbook before class

One of the best warm-up drills is to read the relevant textbook section before going to class. Try to pre-read your textbook section no more than 24 hours before the lesson takes place; for example, during breakfast. Even though not all of the information made sense to me during this initial pre-read, it will at least make you understand the lectures a little better. Knowing key definitions before the lecture begins is crucial to understanding much more of what the lecturer is saying. You’ll also walk into the classroom with questions already in your head, ready to ask. This impresses the teacher and your classmates.

Learn more about how to use a textbook here.

During the lesson: make Cornell Notes

FOCUS during the lesson and make Cornell Notes while the teacher is talking. In addition to writing down key information the teacher tells you and writes on the board, write down any questions you might want to ask them later. Cornell Notes are an excellent way of doing this: you put your question in the Cue Column and leave the right part blank: you can fill this in with your answer at a later date (or by asking the teacher at the end of the lesson). Trying to formulate questions to pose to the teacher while you listen to a lesson is a good way of committing the information being learned to your long-term memory. This works because you’re invoking higher-order thought processes and learning more actively.

Read more about active learning here.

After the lesson: review your notes within 24 hours

Students who review their notes achieve higher grades than those who don’t. Repetition is key: the more times you see, hear or read something, the more you’ll remember it. Re-read your notes one day, one week and one month after you write them to keep them fresh in your mind.

Forgetting Curve
In the same way that repetitive songs get stuck in your head, repetitive study gets stuck in your head, too. Click to enlarge.

With this in mind, review your notes within 24 hours of the lesson and again at regular intervals afterwards. You’ll need to continually improve your notes after you’ve made them: answer questions you left blank in the Cue Column, insert definitions to confusing words, and label the diagrams you left blank during the lesson. Stay ahead of that forgetting curve!

Don’t have time to pre-read the textbook? Nonsense!

Skim-reading your textbook section over breakfast takes about 10 minutes, and reading and highlighting key definitions takes just another 2 minutes. By investing 12 minutes of time before class, you’ll learn more during the lesson and waste less time afterwards trying to decode what the teacher was saying. You’ll also have the confidence and the ability to answer to more questions in class. Your peers will start to see you as the person who always knows the answer to the teacher’s questions, which gives you a self-fulfilling reputation for being ‘smart’.

Reviewing and fleshing our your notes after class doesn’t take long, either. The exact time depends on the difficulty of the topic. Remember that the time you invest doing the above three things will pay off during the examination. If you don’t have time to do these three things, then make time. Get reading!

How do you warm up before class? What study habits help you the most? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Make Your Own 2015 VCE Revision Timetable

Click to download by Sample 2015 VCE Revision Timetable
Click to download by Sample 2015 VCE Revision Timetable

You’ve got 100 days until your English examination and full-time revision should begin from today.

How to Make a Revision Timetable

First, print my 2015 wall calendar in A3 size or larger. The left, middle and right of each day-box represents each of three study sessions:

  • Morning session: 8am to 12pm (make a dot to the left)
  • Afternoon session: 1pm to 5pm (make a dot in the middle)
  • Evening session: 6pm to 9:30pm (make a dot to the right)

Next, use coloured stickers from Officeworks (or coloured markers) to label your examinations. Use a different colour for each subject. Working backwards 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:

  • Plan 100 revision sessions in the 100 days before your first examination
  • Try not to plan revision sessions on school days – save that time for homework!
  • Adjust the number of sessions you will have for each subject: you might want to focus more on some subjects than on others, or prepare for them all equally. It’s up to you.
  • Revise for 12 sessions each week that you’re not in school
  • Revise for no more than two sessions in a day
  • Avoid the evening session when possible.
  • Use your free time to relax or get some exercise.
  • You may move a study session but you are not allowed to cancel it

Make Your Own Revision Timetable

Blank 2015 calendar
Click to download a printable 2015 calendar

This strategy worked extraordinarily well for me during my A-level studies. I studied this much (48 hours per week) and achieved an equivalent ATAR of over 99. What’s your revision strategy? Leave your ideas in the comments section below.

Procrastination, Motivation & Burnout

Procrastination, Motivation & Burnout
Be in the 3rd section. Click to enlarge

Inspired by the enthalpy diagrams we’re currently drawing for Unit 4’s thermochemistry chapter, I thought I’d put a timely reminder on the site about how stressed you need to be in order to maximise your academic performance in Year 12.

Most of the Year 10-12 students I’ve encountered in my teaching career have been in stages 2 or 3 of the above curve, but I’ve certainly taught students in each of the five stages. I’ve seen the characteristic signs of each stage.  Research has shown that being on top of that curve maximises your performance in a given task. Therefore, your goal as a student is to maintain your position in that third quintile: to stay motivated but not lazy; and to stay productive without feeling stressed.

1) Procrastination

In stage 1, students have no idea what they want to do after Year 12. They don’t study particularly hard, they don’t enjoy reading, and their ‘default state’ is not studying: it’s usually surfing the Internet, playing computer games or playing sports.

Symptoms of stage 1 include:

  • “I’ll be alright in the exam”
  • “I’ve didn’t finish the homework the teacher set me”
  • “I didn’t really understand that topic but I’ll be fine anyway”
  • “I vaguely remember learning this” (referring to the start of Unit 3)
  • “Honestly, I’ve never read the textbook”
  • “I’ve done one practice paper – and that was during class”

2) Laziness

In stage 2, a student’s goals and ambitions are defined only very weakly. Most students in this stage haven’t yet decided what they want to study at university, and are looking to “keep their options open” without actively looking for a career or course that they want to pursue. Some students in stage 2 have a very vague goal but they’re not taking any action towards achieving it. There are more students in this stage than in any other.

Symptoms of stage 2 include:

  • “I didn’t do that homework because the teacher won’t check it anyway”
  • “Do Checkpoints questions? That will take me HOURS!”
  • “Some students work so hard: they study about 3 hours per night”.
  • “I don’t like writing in textbooks”
  • “I’ve always been good at Science. I’ll be alright in VCE.”

3) Motivation

Stage 3 is ideal: the student has a clear goal for the next few years and is committed to pursuing that goal. They know which university courses they need for their future career, and they’re studying diligently to get the required ATAR for that course. All students should endeavour to be in stage 3.

The following statements are typical of a student is in stage 3:

  • “I need a 42 or above in Chemistry to get into Medicine at Monash”
  • “Could you please check over these questions for me? I got a couple wrong.”
  • “I need an ATAR of 86 to get into my preferred course. I need to stay near the top of my class”
  • “I study every day according to the revision timetable on my wall unless something urgent comes along. If I miss a self-study session, I reschedule it.”
  • “I’m under pressure to succeed – but I have the confidence that with enough hard work, I can achieve my goals”

Read an interesting story about motivation from the APS here.

4) Stress & Anxiety

Stage 4 is when stress becomes intense and counter-productive. A student who is too stressed will perform below their optimal level. Students in this stage have either: (a) no clearly-defined goal and thus little intrinsic motivation – just pressure from external sources; or (b) have a clearly-defined goal but are motivated too much: they thus stress themselves out physiologically, which hinders their ability to study.

In both cases, the symptoms of stress & anxiety include:

  • “Chemistry really annoys me. There’s so much work to do.”
  • “I feel overwhelmed with all the stuff we’re expected to learn.”
  • “I didn’t get much sleep because I was worrying about the Chemistry SAC”
  • “I suck at Chemistry”
  • “Chemistry’s definitely my 5th subject”
  • “I’m going to fail”

Click here to learn more about 50 symptoms of stress.

Click here to take a quick stress/anxiety quiz.

5) Burnout

Avoid this stage at all costs. Students who have burned out have given up on their goals because they felt overloaded with pressure. The most dangerous aspect of burnout is that students will actively quash their ambitions in an attempt to de-stress themselves. Students in this stage need support from external sources (friends, parents, and counsellors) and need to take a short (~7-day) break from studying.

Symptoms of burnout include:

  • “University? I hate university!”
  • “Who needs an ATAR, anyway?”
  • “I’d rather walk the dog than do anything related to study!”
  • “I’m doing amazingly well in World of Warcraft. Soon, my character will be worth a Bitcoin or two.”
  • “I never want a job.”

When students burn out, after sarcastically making some silly, low-level goals for a week or two, they usually re-appear in stage 1: procrastination. The cycle then begins again: they’ll need to be re-motivated with new, meaningful goals to get back into stage 3.

Learn more about the differences between stages 4 and 5 here.

Need to go from stages 1 or 2 to stage 3?

To escape procrastination and laziness, make a goal for the next few years. Imagine your ideal life in five years’ time as if nothing could hold you back. Your goal might be to become a doctor, to start your own business, or to buy a house: keep the goal large but attainable. Everything you do every day should be done with that goal in mind: will playing more computer games get that house purchased? Will watching more TV help you get that masters degree? Remind yourself why you’re studying VCE. The ‘why’ will be different for every student. Study daily with that greater goal in your mind and you’ll feel much more motivated to keep going.

Learn more about motivation and getting a strong work ethic here.

Need to go from stages 4 or 5 to stage 3?

Take a week off to relax and do something you really enjoy. Relieve some of the counter-productive stress that’s built up within you and you’ll feel refreshed afterwards: you’ll be in a better state to continue studying. Daniel Pink gave an excellent TED talk on how excessive motivation made people’s ideas more narrow-minded, and in a complex subject like Chemistry, a narrow focus can actually be a hindrance to your understanding because you need to synthesise information from several different sources. Taking a break will actually improve your performance.

Learn more about how to tackle burnout here.

What are your thoughts? Are there more than 5 stages? In which stage are most of the students you teach? Comment below.

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.