Chemistry Task Words

Chemistry VCE task words verbs for Chemistry education and instruction
Click for a PDF version of these task words

RTQ! This is one of the most common sources of errors in Chemistry examinations. When I sat 2014’s VCE Chemistry examination, I lost 5 marks in the paper for not reading the question! Your teachers will have told you to ‘read the question’ or ‘RTQ’ as well.

Task word errors can be avoided in two ways. First, learn the exact meanings of each task word. This is particularly important for EAL Chemistry students. Second, highlight the task words in a question (just as you would highlight the important information in a complicated titration question).

For example: “Explain how the different intermolecular forces in butane and butan-1-ol give these two compounds different boiling points. 3 marks

In your answer, you will need to explain the effect of intermolecular forces. This means you’ll need to write why the butan-1-ol forms hydrogen bonds (due to the polar nature of the hydroxyl group) whereas butane forms only dispersion forces with its surrounding molecules (due to the non-polar nature of the molecule). You’ll also need to make some kind of comparison (which is hinted at by the word, ‘different’) in order to get all 3 marks.

Example 3-mark answer: “Butan-1-ol forms intermolecular hydrogen bonds with the surrounding molecules due to the polar nature of the hydroxyl group (O-H bond). Butane forms only dispersion forces with its surrounding molecules due to the non-polar nature of the molecule. Hydrogen bonds are stronger than dispersion forces and thus require more energy to break. This results in a higher boiling point for butan-1-ol than for butane”.

One mark would be awarded for each of:

  • Explaining the intermolecular bonding of butan-1-ol
  • Explaining the intermolecular bonding of butane
  • Comparing the relative strengths of the two and relating this to boiling points

In a 2-mark answer, the student might omit the comparison step:

Example 2-mark answer: “Butan-1-ol forms intermolecular hydrogen bonds with the surrounding molecules due to the polar nature of the hydroxyl group (O-H bond). Butane forms only dispersion forces with its surrounding molecules due to the non-polar nature of the molecule.”

In a 1-mark answer, the student might only mention one of the two molecules, or might only make a comparison without explaining why these two compounds display different types of intermolecular forces.

Example 1-mark answer: “Hydrogen bonds formed by butan-1-ol are stronger than dispersion forces formed by butane and thus require more energy to break. This results in a higher boiling point for butan-1-ol than for butane”.

In that latter example, the student didn’t explain the reasons for the differences in intermolecular bonding – they merely stated them.

Task word Chinese Description
Calculate 计算 Write the value of a number (include equations)
Compare 比较 Write the similarities and differences between
Evaluate 评价 Write arguments for and against
Define 确定 Write the exact meaning of
Describe 描述 Write details about (a thing or a process)
Discuss 讨论 Write reasons for and against
Distinguish 区分 Write the differences between two or more things
Explain 讲解 Write details to give the reader an understanding of
Find/State Write (sometimes by doing calculations)
Identify 鉴定 Write which one
Illustrate 说明 Write something and draw a labelled diagram as well
Indicate 表明 Write which one (usually on a given diagram)
List 列出 Write a list
Outline 轮廓 Write a summary
Suggest 建议 Write a reason for a phenomenon
To what extent 到什么程度 Write whether a reaction is complete (→) or incomplete (↔).

Watch task words in the examination… and make sure you answer the question!

3 Things You Take With You from Year 12

1) Friendships

Memories and connections are some of the most valuable things you’ll take with you from Year 12. Keep in touch with as many people as possible both officially (using alumni networks) and unofficially (using social media). People move in different directions after graduation and you’ll be surprised at how your friendships evolve, too: classmates who were mere acquaintances during school might become very close friends in five years’ time. Keep in touch with all your classmates to make sure you don’t miss out on these future business connections, too. You might even meet again one day sitting opposite each other at a job interview!

2) ATAR

Remember that your ATAR is only a means to a much more meaningful goal: it’s the key to a university course of your choice. Strive for an ATAR that’s high enough: there’s no need to stess yourself out by aiming for a ‘perfect’ score of 99.95. Your ATAR is like a disposable key: it gets you into university but doesn’t help you while you’re there. Nobody asked me what my A-level results were throughout my undergraduate years at Cambridge. High-school results simply weren’t important.

3) A Relentless Work Ethic

You’ve worked harder in Year 12 than you’ve ever worked in your life. If you want to be successful, you’ll have to maintain this level of hard work – or even increase it – to accomplish your goals in life. You’ve learned the difficult way that in Year 12, going to school and doing all the required homework isn’t enough. You’ve figured out in Year 12 that you have to spend hours reading the textbook by yourself, doing practice question sets that aren’t on the course, and making summary notes that your teacher will probably never see in order to get a high grade.

The relentless work ethic you’ve garnered will help you to conquer bigger obstacles in the years that follow. Give every major event in your life at least as much passion, dedication and preparation that you gave to your VCE examinations and you’ll be sufficiently prepared for the challenges that await you in the future. VCE is pre-season training for life.

Is there anything I’ve missed from this list? Is an ATAR more than just a “key to a university course”? Let us know in the comments section below.

The Chemistry behind the Tianjin Explosions

Two massive explosions rocked the Chinese city of Tianjin on Wednesday 12th August, 2015. Click for video.

As a Chemistry teacher, my initial reaction to the enormous explosions at a hazardous chemicals storage facility in Tianjin, China this week was a need to find out what exploded and why. As soon as the news broke, I started following #Tianjin on Twitter and getting alerts from Google News. Here’s what I’ve learned about the Chemistry behind these two fatal blasts. We know there were several dangerous chemicals on site. We also know that firefighters were present at the facility putting out a fire before the first explosion. The second explosion was much larger than the first, with the two blasts measuring the equivalent of 3 and 21 tons of TNT, respectively. The second, larger blast was so powerful that it caused a magnitude 2.9 earthquake in the surrounding area. For a surface explosion to cause a measurable earthquake is rare.

Here’s my understanding of what happened.

Stage 1: Fire

An unknown substance caught fire inside one of the storage containers at the facility. Firefighters arrived at the scene to douse the flames with water.

Stage 2: Water touches calcium carbide, producing acetylene gas

CaC2(s) + 2H2O(l) → Ca(OH)2(s) + C2H2(g) ΔH = -127.7 kJ/mol

Calcium carbide, CaC2(s), is an unstable compound that’s used in the production of acetylene (ethyne) and also in steelmaking. When water (or moist air) touches calcium carbide, it fizzes gently, releasing acetylene gas, C2H2(g), which, when mixed appropriately with air, explodes upon ignition. The reaction above is only slightly exothermic, and the ethyne gas released is colourless and odourless: it’s possible that the firefighters didn’t even notice that the gas was being produced.

Stage 3: Flames ignite the acetylene gas, causing the first explosion

After the ethyne had mixed sufficiently with the surrounding air, one part of this explosive gas mixture was ignited by the pre-existing flames, causing the first explosion.

C2H2(g) + 5/2O2(g) → CO2(g) + H2O(g) ΔH = -1299 kJ/mol

Eyewitness reports have estimated this first explosion to be equivalent to 3 tons of TNT, which equates to 12.5 million kilojoules of energy. Using n = E/ΔH, we find that around 9662 moles of ethyne appears to have exploded. Using V = n×VM, we can calculate that at 25°C and 1 atm of pressure, that explosive gas would have occupied a volume of 236719 litres. Using r = (3V÷4π)1/3, we can approximate the ethyne gas to have occupied a sphere 76 metres in diameter, which is (very approximately) consistent with what we’ve seen in the video footage.

Interestingly, we can do a simple stoichiometric calculation using m = n×Mr and calculate the initial mass of calcium carbide that decomposed: 9662 × 64.1 = 619 kilograms. At a density of 2.22 g/cm3, those 619 kilograms would have occupied 279 litres in powdered form: this is about the same size as three large luggage cases.

A quick search on Chinese wholesale directory Alibaba.com shows that very few companies offer calcium carbide in such small quantities, which might help narrow down which company was responsible. Interestingly, the raw material for that first explosion was worth a mere US$400 at 2015 wholesale prices… but the consequential damage was far more costly.

Stage 4: High temperatures caused nearby ammonium nitrate to detonate at >240°C, causing the second explosion

Temperatures of over 3000°C were generated by the combustion of the ethyne in stage 3. The immense heat from that initial fireball heated the surrounding containers to above 240°C, which initiated a runaway decomposition reaction of ammonium nitrate, NH4NO3(s), which was stored nearby. The reaction is shown below.

NH4NO3(s) → N2(g) + 2H2O(g) + 1/2O2(g)  (ΔH uncertain)

The enthalpy change for the reaction above wasn’t easy to find, but this book by Sam Mannan claims it to be 0.175 million kilocalories per tonne, or 732,000 kilojoules per tonne. Analysis of the video recordings have estimated this second explosion to be around 21 tons of TNT equivalent, which equates to 88 million kilojoules of energy. Using calorimetry formula m = E/heat of combustion, we can estimate the mass of ammonium nitrate in this second explosion to be 8300 tonnes, which seems extremely high: four times as big as the Texas City Disaster of 1947. Either the second Tianjin explosion was the biggest ammonium nitrate disaster in history, or I’ve made an error in this part of the analysis. Let’s wait for more information and see.

The above reaction has caused hundreds of fatalities worldwide in the last 100 years. Smaller incidents occur every 2 or 3 years worldwide, around half of which are fatal. Gases are produced under extreme temperature and pressure, which expand outwards and destroy almost everything in their path. Ammonium nitrate is supposed to be handled and stored under very strict government regulations. These rules aren’t always followed (or understood) in rapidly-developing countries such as China.

The Aftermath

The products of these two explosions are calcium hydroxide, carbon dioxide, water vapour, nitrogen and oxygen, which pose zero risk to nearby residents. However, the main concern now is that other (non-flammable) hazardous chemicals such as sodium cyanide, NaCN(s), might have been tossed into the air following the first two explosions. Residents living within 3 kilometres of the blast site have been evacuated as a precaution.

Fortunately, satellite imagery shows that almost all of the smoke plume was blown eastwards over the ocean, and not back westwards and back onto the city. We’ll get a clearer picture when China’s chemical experts report their findings in the next few days or weeks.

Australia’s Future is in STEM

A recent report by PriceWaterhouseCooper predicted that 44% (5.1 million) of the jobs that exist in Australia today are at risk of ‘digital disruption’ by 2035. PwC predicts that computerisation and technology will not only create new jobs in the next 20 years but will ultimately supersede much of the existing workforce as well.

In order to realise our full potential, Australia needs an appropriately skilled workforce; a workforce fit for the future. PwC has concluded that expanding our STEM industries (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) would maximise economic outcomes for Australia in the next few decades.

The Australian economy has benefited greatly from economic reforms and from increasing demand for natural resources, mostly from China, which drove most of Australia’s growth in the early 2000s. At the same time, the PwC report says, economic growth from productivity has halved and Australia needs to develop a strong STEM foundation to guarantee economic growth after the current commodity boom has finished.

Download the full PDF report from PwC here.

Jobs most at risk from computerisation by 2035

STEM jobs being automated PwC 2015
Accountants and cashiers are most likely to become automated

Jobs least at risk of automation by 2035

STEM jobs not being automated PwC 2015
Health, education, advertising and IT are least likely to become automated

While it’s important to choose a future-proof career in one of the fields above, the benefits of doing so extend far beyond the individual level. PwC has predicted that Australia could gain a $57 billion economic boost between 2015 and 2035 if it switched just 1% of its workforce into STEM occupations. Australia’s prosperity in the next few decades appears to be highly dependent on our nation’s commitment to STEM.

Conclusion: schools and STEM businesses need to do more outreach

“Business also has the opportunity to better connect with students. This can be done by profiling emerging STEM careers, talking about workforce needs, offering workforce and internship experiences and breaking down the stereotypes and barriers that still remain today. It’s not new, but scope exists for a much more coordinated approach to engaging with the potential STEM workforce.”

Download the full PDF report from PwC here.

What’s in a name?

what's the most intelligent baby name in australia

I’m excited to say that my wife and I are expecting our first baby in November: we’re expecting her to be born shortly after the VCE Chemistry examination! Like most new parents, I’ve been pondering baby names in the last few weeks. In particular, I’ve been looking for a girl’s name that’s traditional, popular and sounds intelligent.

The first two criteria are easy to satisfy: we can look to the Royal Family for traditional names; and the most popular baby names of 2015 are just one Google search away. However, the third criterion is a bit more difficult: what’s the most intelligent girls’ name? With this question in mind, I set out to find the most intelligent first name in Victoria based on empirical evidence from three publicly available databases.

Method: combine three public databases

I downloaded the list of 40+ VCE study scores for 2014 from the Herald Sun’s website. I cleaned the database using Microsoft Excel and obtained a neat, searchable list of 13,478 students and their VCE results that looked like this:

what's the most intelligent name in Australia
Total number of records in my database: 13,478

I removed outliers by deleting all the rare names from the list. Only names with 5 or more high achievers (40+) were included in the final analyses. Admittedly, this removed most Chinese students from the database because they have very unique first names, but I’ll expand on the implications of this later.

I then merged this database with the list of surnames and their prevalences that I obtained from IP Australia, and a similar list of first names from the NSW Government website. Now, I could query my database with interesting questions such as, “Which first name got the highest average ATAR in 2014?” and “Which surnames had the highest proportion of 40+ study scores?” The results were fascinating, and will be of some help when deciding a name for a newborn baby.

Results

Table 1: Students called “Victor” achieved the highest mean ATAR in 2014

The 50 first names in Victoria with the highest ATAR (2014)
Victor is the most academically successful name in Victoria for 2014

The ATARs of students called Victor were far higher than the ATARs of students with any other first name. (Is that because we live in Victoria?) I’ve coloured the names blue, pink or green to represent whether the names are male, female or both.

Table 2: Hilary, Judy and Derek had the highest proportion of 40+ study scores in 2014

I added some more columns to the spreadsheet to estimate what percentage of students born with those 50 first names in 1997 in Victoria achieved a 40+ study score in at least one subject. According to my estimates, every student called Hilary, Judy or Derek achieved at least one study score of 40 or above in their 2014 VCE examinations. Correct me if I’m wrong.

forty plus first names
Students with these names excelled in at least one subject. Percentages are estimates based on 1997 population information.

Where are all the Asian names? I mentioned earlier that I removed all the rare names to eliminate outliers from the database. (This is standard practice.) The vast Chinese character set gives rise to literally millions of possible first names, which means that many Chinese students have unique first names and most of them were therefore excluded from my previous analysis. For a truer reflection of the influence of Chinese-background students in VCE, we need to look at students’ surnames instead.

“…every student called Hilary, Judy or Derek achieved at least one study score of 40 or above in their 2014 VCE examinations.”

Table 3: Students with the surname “D’Souza” achieved the highest mean ATAR in 2014

I re-ordered the list of 13,478 students to show the mean ATAR for each surname. Surprisingly, the highest achieving surname was D’Souza, which was originally Portuguese but is now found worldwide. According to Wikipedia, “A prominent family carrying the spelling de Sousa emigrated from Portugal to Goa during mid 1956 before leaving to Hong Kong. This was followed by a third relocation in the mid 1960s, where they now reside in Melbourne, Australia. The family donated their property in Hong Kong to Franciscan nuns.” Their success in Melbourne continues to this day.

top 50 surnames in vce 2014
Academically well-rounded students get a high ATAR

Chinese surnames dominated the rest of the top 50. The second-place surname, Chin, for example, comes from Qin Shi Huang, the first ever Emperor of China. He was born in 269 BC and is still regarded as one of the boldest emperors in Chinese history. It’s also believed that the English name for ‘China’ was derived from Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s name.

A few English, Korean, Irish and Vietnamese surnames also made it into the top 50. Kennedy was 273rd out of 379 surnames.

Table 4: Chinese surnames dominate 40+ study scores

An ATAR is an aggregate score of 4 to 6 subjects including English and (usually) Maths, and thus provides an indication of how well-rounded a student is academically. Next, instead of finding lists of well-rounded students, I wanted to find out which students excelled in just one or more subject. I chose study scores of 40 or above as a benchmark. I then divided the number of students with each surname who achieved at least one study score of 40+ by the number of people in Victoria who had that surname. The result is a fairer indication of which students excelled in one or more area, but didn’t necessarily excel in all subjects. The results were fascinating!

surnames with 40 plus atar
50 Shades of Red: these students excelled in at least one subject

Three Sri Lankan surnames and 47 Chinese surnames dominated the top 50. Interestingly, an estimated 23% and 22% of students surnamed Jayasinghe and Ranasinghe achieved a study score of 40+, respectively, which is many times higher than the VCE student population as a whole.

Conclusion: Names Matter!

Evidence has shown that boys who are given girls’ names (e.g. “Sue”) are far more likely to exhibit poor behaviour and low academic outcomes than their peers with more appropriate, boy-ish names. . A study involving 5,000 job applications revealed that applicants with “Black-sounding” names like Lakisha and Jamal were 33% less likely to land a job interview than their equally-qualified counterparts with “White-sounding” names such as Emily and Greg. In South Carolina, Patrick McLaughlin presented evidence to support the Portia Hypothesis, in which women with masculine-sounding names were more likely to succeed in the legal profession than an otherwise-identical counterpart.

Exactly how much do names matter? To what extent does a name determine your destiny? Let me know in the comments section below.

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.