Tag Archives: examinations

Revise What’s HARD: Focus on Electrolysis

VCAA VCE Chemistry how difficult is each topic
Click to download PDF version. Numbers in parentheses denote Chapter numbers.

The VCE Chemistry examination is only 22 days away. As you complete at least one practice paper each day and correct them ccording to your revision timetable, you’ll be finding that you’ve already mastered certain topics while others remain difficult.

Patterns emerge in student readiness: each year, electrolysis is the worst-studied topic on the course. Because VCAA has a reputation for asking questions on topics that students repeatedly got wrong in previous years; I decided to test this hypothesis by getting real data from recent examination reports and displaying it on a scatterplot of:

  • how difficult each topic is (% of marks lost) on the x-axis
  • how often the topic is asked (marks per paper) on the y-axis

The results were fascinating. While it’s impossible to say with any certainty which topics will be on the examination this year, previous years’ examination papers have placed more emphasis on the difficult topics (electrolysis, Ka, redox and biofuels). Focus your revision on these topics again this year.

Conclusion: Focus your Chemistry revision this week on your least favourite topics… those topics will probably be worth more marks in the examination!

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.

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.

How to get ahead in VCE Chemistry

Sally Pearson (not the Pearson who wrote your Chemistry textbook!)
Sally Pearson (not the Pearson who wrote your Chemistry textbook!)

1. Do all the required work for your course.

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

2. Read the textbook one week ahead of the course

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

3. Check your weekly quiz answers very critically

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

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

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

5. Complete Checkpoints Questions

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

6. Complete Dimensions worksheets

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

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

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

8. Complete past examination papers

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


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

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

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

How to Make Time for 100 Days of Revision

Revision Timetable for GCSE studies
A well-planned revision timetable

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

Learn how to make a quality revision timetable here.

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

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

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

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

Easter Holiday Tutoring 2015

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

The $300 tutoring package includes:

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

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

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

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

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

Request VCE Chemistry tutoring using this online form.

More information about my tutoring services can be found here.

The 2 Ingredients of Excellent Exam Revision

Source: Christian P Walker

If you’re in high school, you should spend about two thirds of each day studying for six days each week for several months before your important exams. But apart from doing the required homework, what else should you be doing in that time?

Answer: Just 2 things.

(1) Make great notes.

Make them, re-make them and then make them again. Make them clearer and more beautiful every time. Organise them according to the official study design (or “syllabus”) for your course. Put your notes on the wall of your bedroom or study. Take some of them down temporarily and see if you can recall them by heart.

You can buy books of theory notes online, but the process of making your own notes is when most of the theory learning actually takes place. Use those purchased books for inspiration only. It’s okay to use a computer to make notes, but do at least one hand-written version as well. Become a pro at hand-writing explanations and sketching diagrams with a pen. This experience will save you time in the exam.

(2) Do lots of practice questions.

Get practice questions from as many sources as you can. Use real past papers, use past-paper-style questions from companies, and if you need more, do questions from the textbooks your school isn’t using. Complete these questions first without answers, then refer to your theory notes if you get stuck. When done (or if completely stuck), check the answer key or send an email to your teacher. Do all of this in one study session.

That’s almost all there is to it! I’ll post more about each of these two instructions in the next two weeks. Making great notes and doing lots of practice questions are the two most important parts of exam revision.

Questions? Contact me. Need VCE theory notes? Go to VCEasy.org.

Book: Ideology and Curriculum

Cambridge, according to Rajesh Koothrappali, is, “wonderful, not only because it’s a good school but [also] because it totally looks like Hogwarts”. How apt.


Theoretical Marxist nonsense. Irrelevant to schools.
264 pages, 

Admittedly, I learned little from this bland, so-called ‘Marxist’ book on education reform. If I could summarise its message in one sentence, though, I’d write:

“School organisers impose curricula on the lower classes to spread their elitist idea of ‘culture’ for self-preservation and thus self-benefit.”

Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I overlooked something important, but that’s the #1 message I’m taking home from this book.

The ‘nonsense’ here applies more to ‘theoretical’ than to ‘Marxist’. I’m a teacher, not a philosopher, so a purely theoretical approach to education reform with no recommendations for what I should do in my school feels completely irrelevant to me. Rallying the masses into a revolutionary frenzy—a key tenet of Marxism—is something this tedious book completely fails to do. Read something else.