Monthly Archives: October 2013

Book: IELTS to Success

IELTS for Success

Great IELTS advice for native speakers of English
184 pages, ★

I took IELTS recently and achieved the highest grade, band 9. IELTS is the examination system by which Australia (and many other countries) tests the English level of new immigrants.

Scores range from band 1 to band 9. Someone at band 4 is a “limited user”, band 7 is “very good”, and band 9 is “expert”. Band 7 is usually high enough to enter most professions—however, the bar is being raised to band 8 in many industries.

Most IELTS books cater to the lower bands—4, 5 and 6, across which, you can make improvements simply by learning new vocabulary and making fewer grammar mistakes. I used to teach IELTS to this category of students. Many of the other IELTS books out there will ask you to practice prepositions, spelling, word lists and simple punctuation page after page. Most native speakers, however, don’t need that kind of practice.

IELTS for Success aims to raise your score from 7 to 9, which is much more difficult to do. Only knowledge of the IELTS test can do this. The book tells you the marking criteria and the style of writing the examiners are looking for—after which, native English speakers can achieve a band 9 score.

The writing section is the trickiest. IELTS examiners are looking for a very particular style of essay. A good IELTS essay describes the merits of both sides of a given argument before reaching a wishy-washy conclusion, in which you’re allowed to sit on the fence. TOEFL, however, which is used in the United States, asks for a strongly-opinionated, one-sided argument that merely acknowledges the counterargument in no more than one sentence. IELTS for Success tells you all these tips and more.

IELTS for Success is the best IELTS book that’s aimed at native speakers.  It gives you “knowledge of the test”, as I call it, without the mid-level English practice. 

Best VCE Further Maths Revision Method

This is what ideal exam revision looks like.


For the tiles on your wall:

  1. Number all the bullet points in the Study Guide/syllabus.
    (There are 50 bullet points in VCE Further Maths)
  2. Make an A5 tile that represents the essence of that bullet point in a colourful graphic.
  3. Compile them in numerical order and stick them on your wall.

This improves your content knowledge (i.e. makes sure you’re familiar with the entire syllabus).

For the practice at decoding the exam:

  1. Do all the past exam papers you can find under exam conditions.
    Limit yourself to one exam per day.
    Look up and use the posters to help you answer the questions (if needed).

This improves your exam skills (i.e. makes sure you know how the examiners tend to phrase their questions, and gets you used to writing with a pen under timed conditions).

VCE Further Maths sheet 1 VCE Further Maths sheet 2VCE Further Maths sheet 3…and that’s it!

If you make posters based on the syllabus, then complete all the past exam papers before the exam, then you’ll maximise your potential and get a pleasant surprise on results day.

Click the posters above to download them. They’re my examples for your inspiration.

Good luck!

Book: Heinemann Chemistry 2 Enhanced (VCE Units 3 & 4)

Heinemann Chemistry 2 Enhanced cover

The best textbook for VCE Chemistry Units 3 & 4
496 pages, ★★★★★

Heinemann Chemistry 2 Enhanced (Heinemann 2) is the best VCE Chemistry textbook in existence. There are two other major brands (Nelson and Jacaranda) but Heinemann 2 beats both of them in terms of comprehensiveness and clarity.

I read the whole book from start to finish in preparation for teaching VCE Chemistry. I love the clarity, the use of full colour and the connections to real life in this book. I also love how the most difficult unit,  Unit 4, consists of hard and easy chapters in alternation! Left-brained chemical production processes are interspaced with right-brained “chemistry in society” chapters, which are easier to understand. The whole book is organised according to the VCE Chemistry Study Design, too—and the Key Knowledge from the Study Design are pasted at the start of each chapter.

Heinemann 2 isn’t perfect, though. I noticed two errors:

Page 91: the infra-red (IR) spectrum of ethanol is wrong. Compare the book’s example (top) with a typical example found online (bottom):

Ethanol WRONG Infrared Spectrum

Ethanol Infrared Spectrum

Why is the O-H stretch in Heinemann 2‘s spectrum so narrow and short?

Page 445: the bottom paragraph on tin plating is very unclear. The book uses “tin” to refer both to the “tin can” and to the “tin plating”, even though only the latter is actually made of tin. An extract from Heinemann 2 is below.

Confusing Extract from Heinemann 2

…that’s confusing!

With the exceptions of IR spectroscopy and tin plating, Heinemann 2 gives you comprehensive coverage of all the topics in VCE Chemistry. As long as you look up those two topics on ChemGuide, Heinemann 2 is the only textbook you’ll need to buy. ★★★★★

More resources might pique students’ interest, though. Try these websites:

  1. ChemGuide — succinct, text, covers VCE well ★★★★★
  2. Richard Thornley — tutorials for VCE and a little beyond ★★★★★
  3. Kahn Academy — tutorials for VCE and far beyond ★★★★★
  4. ShowMe — covers most of VCE ★★★★

And try these iPhone apps for organic chemistry:

  1. Organic Chemistry Nomenclature — revision flashcards ★★★
  2. MolPrime — great for drawing organic molecules with your finger ★★★
  3. ChemSpider — look up properties of the molecules you drew in MolPrime! These two apps work seamlessly together. ★★★

Book: Watching the Tree

Watching the Tree

Charming, delightful, concise reflections on Chinese life and culture.
248 pages, ★★★★★

Adline Yen Mah is one of my favourite Chinese authors. Her websites and focus on increasing the awareness of Chinese culture to “anyone who is willing to learn”! She’s even created free children’s books and an iPad app to help spread knowledge of Chinese culture worldwide.

Watching the Tree is a collection of charming reflections about the author’s grandfather and the stories he told. Her grandfather tends to connect Chinese and western ideas: he wants to believe in Confucianism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Taoism at the same time, for example, and couldn’t understand why religious pluralism displeased westerners. The author highlights the similarities between all of them in this book.

The author’s grandfather also describes how Escher’s art, Bach’s music and Zhuangzi’s Daodejing (a text) all tackle the same philosophical conundrums of circular logic and apparent paradoxes. Interconnectedness is a recurring theme throughout this book.

Another example of interconnectedness is when we learn that Hinduism evolved into Buddhism, which evolved into Daoism and also Japanese Buddhism, for example. We learn that China’s lack of scientific progress in recent centuries was attributed to a long-standing tradition of revering philosophers and neglecting mathematics—at least, not adopting a digit-based system of counting, which would have greatly assisted the advancement of maths and science, until the early 19th century. The author also makes connections between the Yi Ching (易经) and Carl Jung, and between hexagrams and binary computing. I love the connections the author (via her grandfather’s stories) makes in this book—it makes this book inclusive, beautiful, and unmistakably Chinese.

I also love how Watching the Tree‘s chapters are named after Chinese famous idioms. Each chapter tells a story that describes both the idiom and an aspect of Chinese life. The tone of these stories is beautiful, charming and uplifting. All the Chinese words are written in Wade-Giles, pinyin and Chinese characters—which makes is accessible for all Chinese learners from all backgrounds.

I recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in Chinese culture. It doesn’t matter how much you already know—this book is beautiful enough to bring pleasure even to those who are already familiar with the ideas it contains. ★★★★★