Examination reports are very useful but most students don’t read them. I’ve scoured the examination reports from 2017, 2018 and 2019 and analysed how many marks were awarded for each topic of the VCE Chemistry course, and recorded what percentage of students got these right. As usual, this revealed that VCAA asks more questions on topics that students frequently get wrong.
Tip for students: focus more of your attention on the red topics in the chart above.
Chapter numbers refer to those used in the Heinemann Chemistry 2 textbook.
Plotting a graph of ΔATAR/study score vs ATAR gives an interesting curve: students whose ATARs are around 50 have the most to gain from an additional study score point. Above about 90, the incremental ATAR gain from a single extra study point is probably below the margin of error given the way in which ATARs are calculated.
Tip for students: check the entry requirements for your course and make sure you meet those first. If your requires, for example, a particular score in the UMAT or in English, make sure you get that score. If your course requires a particular ATAR, make sure you get that, too. Remember that these scores are just entry requirements for undergraduate courses; not indicators of self-worth.
This book is a collection of lies we taught to our Year 12 Chemistry students in their graduation year.
The lies include well-meaning simplifications of the truth, mistakes in the textbook, and, in a few extreme cases, blatant falsehoods.
This book isn’t a criticism of the VCE Chemistry course at all. In fact, I wrote this book to demonstrate the overwhelming complexity of Chemistry and the consequential need to make appropriate omissions and generalisations during our teaching as we tailor our lessons to the appropriate year level of students.
Rules taught as true usually work 90% of the time in this subject. Chemistry has rules, exceptions, exceptions to exceptions and so on. You’ll peel pack these layers of rules and exceptions like an onion until you reach the core, where you’ll find physics and specialist maths.
Click here to download We Lied to You (2019 edition).
Inspired by the formula booklets used by VCE Physics and VCE Maths Methods, here’s an 8-page Chemistry formula booklet you can use for your Year 11 and 12 Chemistry assignments. This custom-made booklet is a collection of reliable formulae that I have been using to answer VCE Chemistry questions while teaching and tutoring around Melbourne.
There are 76 formulae on 8 pages. At least 10 of these formulae aren’t in the three main chemistry textbooks. Orders are shipped in A4-sized booklet that resembles the VCAA Data Booklet.
Orders from schools, students and tutors are all welcome. Price includes free international delivery and a 10% voucher for the T-shirt store.
James Kennedy achieved outstanding A-level results in 2006 in Maths, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Those excellent grades (which equate to an ATAR of 99+) earned him a BA (Hons) degree and a Masters degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge.
Shortcut formulae were just one of the techniques James used to pass his A-level exams and get into Cambridge. Along with structured revision, revision guides, practice papers and study notes on wall-cards, James used shortcut formulae to save precious time in the examination hall. You can get your own copy of these original shortcut formulae – revised and updated for the 2017-2021 VCE Chemistry course – for just $55 including free international shipping. Click here to get your copy.
This book contains 50 lies taught in the VCE Chemistry course.
These lies include well-meaning simplifications of the truth, mistakes in the textbook, and, in a few extreme cases, blatant falsehoods.
This book isn’t a criticism of the VCE Chemistry course at all. In fact, I just want to highlight the sheer complexity of Chemistry and the need to make sweeping generalisations at every level so it can be comprehensible to our students. This is a legitimate practice called constructivism in pedagogical circles. (Look that up.)
Many of these ‘lies’ taught at VCE level will be debunked by your first-year chemistry lecturers at university.
Here’s a preview of some of the lies mentioned in the book. Check out all 50 by clicking the download link at the bottom of the page.
The content you’re learning now is probably not as true as it seems. Chemistry is a set of models that explain the macro level sometimes at the expense of detail. The more you study Chemistry, the more precise these models become, and they’ll gradually enlighten you with a newfound clarity about the inner workings of our universe. It’s profound.
Rules taught as ‘true’ usually work 90% of the time in this subject. Chemistry has rules, exceptions, exceptions to exceptions, and exceptions to those – you’ll need to peel pack these layers of rules and exceptions like an onion until you reach the core, where you’ll find Physics and Specialist Maths.
Enjoy this book. I hope it emboldens you to question everything you’re told, and encourages you to read beyond the courses you’re taught in school.
Demonstrate electrolysis with an electrolytic cell in a petri dish.
1 × Large petri dish
1 × DC Power pack
~50 mL Distilled water dH2O(l)
~3 g potassium nitrate powder KNO3(s)
2 × Graphite electrodes
2 × Wires with crocodile clips
1 × Clamp and stand
1 × Very strong static magnet
1 × Roll of sticky tape (any type)
~10 drops of universal indicator
~50 mL dilute HNO3(aq)
~50 mL dilute KOH(aq)
1 × Spatula
Place petri dish on clean, light-coloured bench and add distilled water until it is two thirds full
Add ~10 drops of universal indicator and observe the colour. Q: What pH is the distilled water? (You’ll be surprised!) Q: Why is/isn’t the colour green?
Add ~3 g of potassium nitrate to the petri dish and stir using a spatula until completely dissolved
Adjust the pH of the distilled water carefully using the nitric acid and potassium hydroxide as required. Try to make the universal indicator colour green (as pictured) ~pH 7
Attach one electrode to each of two wires using crocodile clips
Dip each graphite electrode into the green solution at opposite sides of the petri dish. Hold these electrodes (and wires) in position by in position by sticky-taping each wire to the surface of the workbench
Demonstrate the strength of the magnet by attaching it to the clamp. Carefully, clamp the magnet into the clamp and position the magnet 2 mm above the surface of the green solution
Ensuring the power is turned off, very carefully, attach the wires to the DC power pack according to the manufacturer’s instructions
Turn the voltage to zero (or very low) and turn on the power pack
Turn the voltage up slowly (12 volts worked well) and observe any changes you might see in the Kennedy Rainbow Cell
Turn off the power pack and stir the solution. Explain why the colour goes back to being green. (If it’s not green, explain that, too!)
Turn the magnet upside-down (TURN OFF THE POWER FIRST)
Reverse the polarity of the wires
Use AC current instead of DC
Use different indicators
Why would using NaCl(aq) be dangerous in this cell?
Make your own risk assessment before carrying out this experiment
The strong magnet is capable of attracting both wires to itself. Don’t be touching the exposed parts of the crocodile clips when this happens. If this does happen, immediately turn off the power pack and fix the problem. Secure the wires with more tape. Don’t touch the electrodes while the Cell is operating.
Don’t use chloride salts or hydrochloric acid in this experiment. The voltages involved can cause the production of toxic chlorine gas if sodium chloride is used. Use nitric acid and potassium nitrate instead.
Make sure the wires don’t touch each other.
Again, make your own risk assessment before carrying out this experiment
This cell is potentially dangerous. I accept no responsibility for and loss, damage or injury caused by the operation of a Kennedy Rainbow Cell. If you’re under 18, always get adult permission before you make this type of cell.
Only positively-charged fragments from mass spectrometers produce a peak on the spectrum. Uncharged free radical fragments are not detected because they lack a positive charge.
Weak acids with a lower Ka value are the weakest… this means that they ionise to a lesser extent when in aqueous solution, giving rise to a lower concentration of available H3O+(aq) and a higher pH.
The conversion of triglycerides (a type of ester) into biodiesel (another type of ester) is called transesterification.
The covalent bonds between deoxyribose and phosphate groups in DNA form a group of atoms called a phosphodiester group.
Ether bonds and glycosidc bonds are not the same. Ether bonds are C-O-C. Glycosidic bonds are a type of covalent bond that joins a carbohydrate (sugar) molecule to another group, which may or may not be another carbohydrate.
Amide groups and peptide groups are not the same, either. Amide groups are CONH. Peptide groups are CONH between amino acid residues in a polypeptide chain. Nylon, for example, has amide groups (CONH) which aren’t called peptide groups.
Ether: C-O-C Ester: COO Amine: NH2 Amide: CONH
The molar mass of any amino acid without its Z-group is 74 gmol-1.
The molar mass of glucose, fructose and galactose (all monosaccharides) is 180 gmol-1. By coincidence, aspirin is also 180 gmol-1.
The molar mass of sucrose is 342 gmol-1 because (180*2)-18=342.
In general, energy is required to break bonds. Energy is released when bonds are formed.
Use the formula C-(H/2) to find how many C=C are present in a fatty acid (only works for fatty acids).
Use the shortcut formula (Ka/[acid])^0.5 to find % ionisation of a weak acid.
Use -log(Ka) to find the exact pH at the end point of an indicator.
Use the quick titration formula for rapid multi-choice titration questions: c1v1/ratio1 = c2v2/ratio2
A hydrogen bond is an intermolecular bond that forms between O-H groups. The covalent bond between the O and the H is not a hydrogen bond.
Can you write the half-equation for the reaction occurring at the anode in an ethanol-oxygen fuel cell with an alkaline electrolyte? Tip: start by writing the known reactants and products then use KOHES(OH) to balance your equation.
The products of a titration determine the pH at the equivalence point. For example, the the pH at the equivalence point in a titration between CH3COOH(aq) and NaOH(aq) is around 8.5 because at equivalence point, only products are present: Na+(aq) and CH3COO–(aq). The ethanoate ion (CH3COO–(aq)) is a weak base, which makes the solution produced slightly basic.
If you have absolutely no clue in the multiple choice sections, pick C. In the last 4 years of VCE Chemistry examinations, C has been correct 50% more of the time than B.
The multiple choice questions really do get harder towards the end. I’ve done the statistics.
Use your reading time wisely. During reading time, read all the questions with the following idea in mind: “how would I do this question?” without actually doing the question.
Bring sharp pencils.
Sleep early tonight (before 9pm). At this stage, getting enough sleep is far more important than revising those tiny details that may or may not come up in the examination.
We all remember the endless ‘cells’ questions at the end of the 2014 Chemistry exam. Less memorable was that the 2013 examination awarded a similar number of marks for ‘cells’ knowledge. Exams that test knowledge of these last two chapters in the course (Galvanic Cells and Electrolytic Cells) separate goodstudents from great students because these topics are taught at the end of the course when students are getting tired and teachers are rushing to finish the course before trial examinations and the Term 3 holidays. Only the most diligent students go out of their way to get a complete understanding of these topics at this stage in the year – and they’re the ones who benefit from this type of exam.
Interestingly, in 2013 and 2014, 33% of the marks in the VCE Chemistry examination were awarded for knowledge of just four of the textbook’s 28 chapters. Therefore, if you’re short of time, focus your efforts on these four chapters (28, 27, 16 and 12) before working on the rest.
“Based on past examinations, students should focus their revision on Electrolysis (28), Galvanic Cells (27), Equilibrium (16) and Biomolecules (12) before working on the rest…”
While the structure of past examinations provide no guarantees about future examinations, it’s still reasonable to expect that the top 5 subjects will remain mostly the same in 2015 as in previous years.
Correlation of the total number of marks awarded per chapter is moderate with R² = 0.48 for 2013 and 2014.
Consider getting a home tutor who can answer your questions and explain difficult concepts to you. Students learn much faster with a tutor than on their own.
Track your progress in VCE Chemistry with this A3 size progress tracker. Cross out or colour in each box as you complete it, and write your scores in . Start at the bottom (highlighted) and work your way upwards.
A ‘minimum expected level of examination preparation’ of 26 examination papers is labelled on the chart. Write your percentage scores in each of the boxes as you mark each paper. When you’re achieving past/practice examination scores concordantly above 90%, you’re ready to sit the VCE Chemistry examination.
1. Develop excellent study skills. Cultivate ideal study habits such as waking up early, reading your notes before school, doing all homework on time and studying even when there’s no homework set.
2. Stay committed and know what you want and WHY. People who know why they do what they do are far more likely to persist and put in the huge number of hours required to excel at that particular skill. All successful people were driven by a higher. Find your why and you’ll feel more motivated to study VCE.
3. Keep motivation levels high and consistent throughout the year. Remind yourself constantly why you’re studying the VCE subjcets you’ve chosen.
4. Do not “over-indulge” in VCE tutoring. Your tutors and teachers can only take you so far. The highest-achieving students are those who are self-motivated: they push themselves and study even when nobody asked them to. Become self-motivated and use your tutoring time wisely to maximise your performance in VCE exams.
2. There are two things you need to do: make great notes and do practice questions.
3. Build on your notes from external sources (other people’s notes and the textbook)
4. Mark your questions – or get them marked! Akhil says that while it’s an excellent learning exercise to practice marking questions by yourself, it’s also necessary to get your practice papers and Checkpoints questions marked by a teacher or tutor because they’ll be more vigilant with sticking to the marking scheme and can pick up slight errors in wording that are easy to miss if you mark your own work.
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:
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.
Table 1: Students called “Victor” achieved the highest mean ATAR in 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.
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.
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!
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.