The pandemic turned VCE Chemistry upside-down. Stoichiometry, traditionally a difficult topic, was the best-answered of all. Chromatography, traditionally an easy topic, was the most difficult for the class of 2020.
Most noticeable is the increase in “difficult” topics highlighted red in the chart above. (For a comparison with the 2013 & 2014 VCE Chemistry written examinations, click here.)
Unbelievably, the Victorian state average score in the 2020 VCE Chemistry written examination was a FAIL at just 47.9%.
Disruptions to learning caused by the pandemic could help explain why the VCAA is considering making the VCE Chemistry curriculum substantially easier from 2023 onwards. If the educational effects of the 2020 pandemic really do linger for most of this decade then making the curriculum easier fails to tackle the root of the problem, which is the loss of quality study-hours. I believe the only correct remedy is to provide current students with extra training and support to make up for the pandemic… not to drop the bar so low that our students cannot compete on the world stage.
If you’re new to Python, go to the menu bar and click Runtime > Run all.
Then wait for around 20 minutes while this script scrapes data from the VCAA and generates an interactive scatterplot for you. When it’s done, there will be some interesting data files available for download from the file explorer on the left of the screen.
You’ll notice some interesting findings in the scatterplot, including the fact that boys outperform girls in biology, and girls outperform girls in physics! Girls outperform boys in 15 of the 20 most popular VCE subjects with the only exceptions being Chemistry, Biology (only slightly) and all three mathematics subjects.
Feel free to modify this code and repost it. There are some other interesting insights you could glean from the dataset. Enjoy!
The VCE Chemistry examination is only 22 days away. As you complete at least one practice paper each dayand 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!
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.
Information lacks relevance throughout. I was asking, “What’s the point of this book?” somewhere around the middle. I only finished this book because I was in a hospital waiting room and found it slightly more entertaining than watching kindergarten programmes on the overhead TV.
I lost interest completely at this point:
“Imagine twisting the beads on your team’s necklace and watching the corresponding beads on the other team’s necklace twist in the opposite direction. Now imagine shattering that necklace and asking them what order the beads were in by asking them to re-twist them. Of course, the only beads whose directions can’t be communicated are the ones attached to the clasp. That’s basically Quantum Theory.”
Paraphrased from page two-hundred-and-something
This drivel disappoints me. I expect PopSci (that’s Popular Science) to bridge the gap between theory and application, thus bringing researchers closer to the public. Unfortunately, this book pushes them further apart.
This is a shame, because there’s some fascinating research being done in the field of Information Theory:
Enigma machines (WW2)
stock market fluctuations
evolution of religion
This book fails to communicate all of this amazing stuff.
Information needs to be edited by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki to make it relevant and fun. I sincerely hope that this book isn’t the “new language of science” as its subtitle claims. ★