VCE results are out! As usual, the VCAA has released the list of students who opted to have their name featured in the list of high achievers.
I downloaded the dataset and counted how many study scores ≥40 each Victorian school had in each subject. For each school, I them summed the number of 40+ study scores in English (including Literature and English Language but not EAL), and the number of 40+ study scores in the three Maths subjects.
The results are interesting: some schools, like Wellington Secondary College or Ringwood Secondary College, achieve much stronger results in Maths than in English. Some schools, like Loreto Toorak and Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar are much stronger in English than Maths. Only a few schools were equally strong at both English and Maths.
Only Victorian schools with at least 5 reported ≥40 study scores in each of Maths and English were reported (130 schools).
In this analysis, I defined “high-achieving students” as those who achieve at least 2 study scores ≥40. I then compared this with enrolment data to see how their subject choices differed from that of all students (from VCAA statistics).
Choosing these subjects doesn’t guarantee you a high grade. But it does provide some interesting insight into the patterns of high-achieving students, who are more likely to have chosen Specialist Maths, Latin, Chemistry, Global Politics, Physics and Literature.
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.
Students obsess over significant figures and mole calculations… but these are only worth 1 and 16 marks, respectively in the final written examination. Over two-thirds of the marks in the VCE Chemistry written examination are awarded for written responses where calculations are not necessary.
Tip for students: focus on perfecting your written responses such as explanations of bonding, chromatography, protein structures, and, most importantly, critiquing experimental designs.
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.
Li(s): 0.40 mol (still solid: it melts at 180.5 degrees)
LiH(s): 0.60 mol
Pressure = 525.5 kPa
Temperature = 99°C
Beryllium doesn’t react with any of the things in the vessel: H2(g), He(g), Li(s) or LiH(s). My one mole of beryllium powder (which would cost me over $70) would just sit at the bottom of the vessel doing nothing.
With not much else to write about in the Periodic Table Smoothie this week, it might be a good idea to calculate how much this Periodic Table Smoothie would have cost in real life.
Calorimetry can be a confusing topic. Avoid common errors by following these essential tips:
Always label the units of E (kJ or J) above the E. This is the most common source of error in calorimetry calculations. Try this quick way to remember the required units of E: If there’s ΔH in the equation, the units are kJ; otherwise, the units are J.
In E=mcΔT, all the variables refer to the mass of water being heated. A common error among students is to use the mass of limiting reactant instead of the mass of water. Generally, m in this equation is 100 g or a similar round number.
Never convert ΔT to kelvin. Temperature changes are the same in kelvin and celcius… never add 273 when finding ΔT.
No calibration step? Use m×c instead. Because E=mcΔT and E=CfΔT, it therefore follows that Cf ≡ m×c. For example, if we’re heating a 100.0 g of water without a Cf, we should use Cf = 100×4.18 = 418 J K-1 instead.
In ΔH = E/n, n denotes the number of moles of limiting reactant. Never add up the number of moles of reactants: use the number of moles of limiting reagent only.
Calculate twice. Students most often make mistakes when converting hours or days into seconds. Many answers are therefore wrong by a factor of 60. Do your calculations twice: once while doing the question and again when you check over your answers at the end of the SAC or examination.
Know a ballpark figure. Neutralisation and solubility reactions tend to have 2-digit ΔH values; combustion reactions tend to have a 3-digit ΔH and explosive reactions tend to have a 4-digit ΔH. If you get a 5-digit ΔH value, you’ve probably forgotten to convert your answer into kilojoules!
Remember the ‘+’ or ‘-‘ sign! The calculator doesn’t know whether the answer should be positive or negative. Think about it yourself instead: endothermic reactions need a ‘+’ sign and exothermic need a ‘-‘ sign. VCAA awards a whole mark for getting the ‘+’ or ‘-‘ sign correct! It’s possibly the easiest mark in the whole paper.
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.
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.
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.
FOCUS during the lesson and make Cornell Noteswhile 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.
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.
Choose a space, at least two square metres in area, where you will do nothing but study. It should be located in a bright, warm, comfortable part of your home with very few distractions. It should be a space that faces a wall or a window, and should not be in the middle of a room where other people might continually walk by. When I say “study space”, I’m referring to a high desk (for good posture), a hard chair (to help you concentrate) and the space that immediately surrounds them.
Remove every object from that 2m² space. If the desk has drawers, empty them. Clean the desk and its surroundings and remove all distractions from nearby (such as a TV, a radio or a buzzing light).
Place only study-related objects in your study space. Textbooks, files, notebooks and plain paper should all be on the desk. Stow the computer away while you’re studying, and only get it out when you need to write an assignment. Because the vast majority of your reading should be done from textbooks, your computer should not be a permanent fixture in your study space. Shut it down and keep it away.
By this point, your study space should look something like these:
Many people say they can’t study in their bedroom. Studies have shown that geographical separation between work and play puts people in the right mindset to do both. Therefore, studying at the same desk that you use to play computer games could be a huge hindrance to your studies. The minority of people who can study in their bedroom have made it a “study space” instead of a place to relax and play.
I study best in libraries because being surrounded by other studious people helps to keep me motivated! Libraries in the UK are strictly silent – so even if your friends are there, they can’t distract you. Natural-looking light fixtures in my Cambridge college library also kept me alert late into the evening while I worked. Find a 2m² study space in your home and make it look like a library. Or, of course, study in your nearest library!
Here are those points again, summarised: 1. Choose at least 2m² in your house as a designated “study space”. 2. Add a high desk and a hard chair; 3. Clean the desk, chair and surroundings; 4. Only put study-related items in that space; 5. Never do anything except for study in that space; 6. Keep your study space immaculately clean and tidy.
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 Heinemann, Dimensionsand StudyONinstead: 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.
9. ASK YOUR TEACHER/TUTOR FOR HELP!
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.
Visualising reaction mechanisms in VCE Chemistry can sometimes be difficult. Making plastic models helps, but I’ve been thinking that it would be much more convenient if students had their own paper version of molecular models that they could keep for themselves and use at home.
That’s why I created Foldable Biomolecules. Each Foldable Biomolecule is a PDF template that students can fold into a shape that demonstrates a chemical reaction clearly. Pull apart the edges of each sheet to visualise a hydrolysis reaction, and push them back together to visualise a condensation reaction.
These paper-based biomolecules are downloadable, shareable and much quicker to set up than their plastic counterparts.
You can also download the complete set of Foldable Biomolecules as a single PDF here.
The VCAA Chemistry Data Booklet contains answers to many questions you’ll be asked in the end-of-year examination. Unfortunately for students, however, the information it contains is neither explicit nor complete. Students need to know how to use the data booklet if they are to make the most of it.
Many formulae and definitions still need to be learned. For example, the data booklet doesn’t give you calorimetry formulae, and hydrogen bonds aren’t shown on DNA nucleotides. Trends are missing from the periodic table, and the electrochemical series comes with no annotations whatsoever! All this extra information needs to be memorised for VCE Chemistry.
The priority at this late stage is that you enter the examination hall well-rested, well-fed and with an appropriate level of stress.
1. Sleep early every night
Go to bed before 10pm (or 9pm with an exam the next day)
Wake up naturally. If you’re waking up too late, go to sleep at 7pm.
Avoid backlit screens for one hour prior to sleeping. Backlit screens emit light in the 484-nanometre range, which excites melanopsin in the retinal ganglion cell photoreceptor. This disrupts your circadian rhythm and keeps you awake!
2. Eat healthily
Eat regular meals at regular times.
Eat plenty of fruit. (Five per day.)
Drink plenty of water.
3. Get some lighter exercise
Avoid exhausting sports around exam time (e.g. rugby).
Do more walking, jogging, and lighter sports at exam time (e.g. badminton).
Drink plenty of water(!) Aim to drink 3 litres per day.
Research has shown that you perform difficult tasks (such as a Chemistry exam) much better under moderately relaxed conditions. The famous Yerkes-Dodson curve illustrates this beautifully.
It’s so much easier to change your teaching style at the beginning of a year than in the middle. This is because new students in a new class after a long summer break are much more receptive to change than the ones who are already used to the way you teach. In fact, most students return from their summer vacation eagerly expecting something new!
The following checklist is based on what I’ve learned since I started teaching in September 2006; and I believe it’s a great way to start teaching a new class.
Part A: Get to know your students
1. Make a grades database in Excel
Start with the following columns: Surname, First name, Email address and Gender.
Make columns for any compulsory assessment tasks (raw score and percentage). If any assessment tasks are submitted late, just add a comment to the relevant cell in the spreadsheet. Nothing more needs to be recorded in this database. Keep it really simple!
2. Set up group email lists
Use your email client (e.g. Outlook) to create groups for (a) your students and (b) your students’ parents. You’ll use these to distribute resources and reminders in future.
3. Email the parents
Send an introductory email to the parents and attach the course outline. For most students, this will be the only time you ever email their parents. Just send them one message to establish contact at the start of the year, and they’ll feel welcome to email you if they have any concerns regarding their child’s progress in your subject. Remember to put their addresses in the bcc field to hide their addresses from each other!
4. Prepare start-up packs for your students
See next week’s post on creating start-up packs for VCE Chemistry students, or make a similar start-up pack for the students in your subject.
5. Put students’ birthdays into your calendar
Take the time to put all your students’ birthdays into your calendar at the start of the year, then wish them a happy birthday face-to-face on the day. This builds rapport, and students really appreciate it!
Part B: Get to know your curriculum
6. Read and annotate all your textbooks
Teachers need to be very familiar with allthe resources they give their students. Just as you’d pre-watch a YouTube video before you show it to the class, you also need to pre-read the textbook before you endorse it and use it in class.
Unless you’re already done so, read all the textbooks for all the subjects you’ll be teaching from cover to cover. Make notes in the margins as you would expect your students to do. Highlight important facts carefully and summarise every paragraph all the difficult sections in your own words. These will be the words that you write on the whiteboard (along with any important diagrams) during the lesson.
Your school will give you a plan for the course you’re going to teach. However, these plans don’t always contain all the information you need. Get a copy of your course plan and add the following columns to it:
Textbook chapter references for each week
Any extra resources you want to use (e.g. YouTube videos) – you can always use more later; add them to the course plan if you do.
Assignments / tests and their due dates. Give each assignment/test a name and stick to it. Label how much each assignment/test counts towards the student’s final grade.
Experiments. Label how long each experiment takes and plan which days to do each of them for the entire term in advance.
9. Find out what’s going to be on the tests and exam!
Not all schools teach all topics on the curriculum, and not all schools test all the topics in the examination. Find out the topics to be tested on the tests and examinations and tell the students in advance (with textbook chapter references) so they can plan their revision.
Part C: The first few lessons
10. Monthly Seating Plans
Allow the students to choose their own seats in the first lesson. Sketch a map of the room so that during the introduction session, you can label who chooses to sit where. Tell the students that you will modify the seating plan every calendar month to break up students who don’t work productively together.
Be very strict about maintaining the seating plan. This creates an atmosphere of order, structure, fairness and respect very early in the year. Be strict about punctuality and homework as well.
11. Introduction lesson
Stand in a circle: “What’s your name” and “tell me something interesting about you”
Ask around the circle again: “What is [Chemistry/Physics/History]?
Sit down. Teacher answers questions 1 and 2 for the class. Distribute the start-up packs and show their contents.
Show students the textbook and get them to write their names in it. Don’t be afraid to write in your textbook!
Revisionof fundamental concepts from last year (a worksheet). Use this to recap the required knowledge for this course.
Dictate classroom rules & homework expectations into students’ notebooks
Show the students your office
Homework is to make a name plate to put on your desk (be strict about this)
How to take great notes (see my post on this in November 2014)
Start teaching the theory behind first topic to be learned. Follow textbook closely.
13. Third lesson (experiment/demo)
Do the first week’s experiment in the third lesson if possible. For year 11, doing flame tests in watch glasses is a great place to start. Keep the students motivated by questioning every aspect of the experiment: why use methanol, not ethanol? (Try both!) Why does methanol emit light when it combusts? (Electrons absorb energy/emit quanta of light) Why does the presence of metals change the colour of the flame? (Electrons at different energy levels in different elements emit light with different wavelengths when falling back to their ground state, producing different colours).
14. Do a feedback survey
Use SurveyMonkey to set up a very simple, anonymous survey and send it via group email to your students on Friday afternoon. There should be very few questions:
Which class are you in? (Tick-boxes)
How would you rate Chemistry lessons so far? (1-5 rating)
(Any other questions you want to ask)
Is there anything you particularly (dis)like about your Chemistry lessons so far? (Large comment box)
Thank the students for their honest feedback on Monday. Honest feedback builds rapport!
15. Plagiarism & Referencing Session (optional)
To establish an honest work ethic in the classroom, you can give your students a one-off session on Plagiarism & Referencing. Use PowerPoint such as these and give all students a printed handout. The purpose of this session is merely to raise awareness that copying is detrimental to student learning and should include:
what plagiarism is (and why it hinders learning);
the severe punishments for plagiarism in academia and in industry;
how to locate good learning resources (with emphasis on the textbook!); and
how to reference those resources in an assignment (using Harvard or APA style).
In some schools, the library staff are happy to arrange (and teach!) these sessions for you. Arrange this Plagiarism & Referencing session early in your course if you think that copying and cheating is a widespread problem in your class. ■
Is there anything I’ve missed out? Write in the comments section below.
This is the post where I divulge how I achieved an ATAR of over 99. I was in a government school at the time and didn’t have any home tutoring. So how did I do it?
Examinations, like sports, require tenacious practice until you’re good at them. To excel in an examination, you need not only strong subject knowledge (e.g. Chemistry), but also great examination skills, which include the following:
Using exam-specific language
Working to a strict time limit
Working in silence in a big hall
Coping with the stress that examinations bring
Follow these 8 rules to practice examination skills effectively and you’ll maximise your performance on examination day.
1. Revision is a full-time job (38 hours per week)
To get enough spaced repetition for all the subjects you’re studying, you’ll need to study full time: that’s about 38 hours per week.
This is about the same amount of time as you usually spend in school (7×50-minute lessons plus 2 hours of homework per night). You can fit 38 hours of revision comfortably into just 6 days of the week, leaving your Sundays completely free to relax and catch up on sleep. Start full-time revision several months before your big exams.
2. Revise in 3.5-hour blocks
This will train you to sit and focus for an entire examination. In 3.5 hours, you’ll have enough time to finish an examination paper and then mark it immediately afterwards.
3. Revise during regular, scheduled revision sessions at the same times every day
Research has shown that people recall more information when they’re in a similar physiological state to when they learned it: at the same time of day, and with similar hunger and stress levels.
Revise for 2 of these 3 sessions, 6 days a week:
Morning study session: 9:00am to 12:30pm
Afternoon study session: 1:30pm to 5pm
Evening study session: 6pm to 9:30pm
Try to revise for morning examinations in the morning, and afternoon examinations in the afternoon where possible.
Get coloured stickers from Officeworks and use them to label your examinations. Use a different colour for each subject. Working back 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:
Revise for 11 sessions each week (about 38 hours)
Revise for no more than two sessions in a day.
Take one day off each week.
Use your free time to relax or get some exercise.
5. Revise in exam-like conditions!
Disconnect from all social media until after your examinations have finished. Just leave one tweet/status update saying “Preparing for exams now full-time until November XXth. Wish me luck!” and delete all the social media apps from your phone. People will understand!
Revise in a comfortable, clean, quiet, uncluttered room. (Some students in China rent hotel rooms at this time of year to help them revise more effectively!) Is your study place as clean and quiet as a hotel room?
Revise sitting upright at a desk without a computer present. Don’t cross your legs. Use a desk that’s high enough, and sit 10cm from the edge of the desk. Remove all non-study-related objects from your desk and put them behind you.
Don’t listen to music while revising. Not only will music distract you (no matter how much you insist otherwise!), but it’s also forbidden in the examination hall.
Eat and drink only things that are allowed in the examination while you’re revising. For the vast majority of people, that’s water only!
Only two pieces of technology are allowed: your scientific calculator and an analogue clock. (Why? That’s all you’ll get in the examination hall!)
6. Practice examination sessions (50% of study sessions)
In half of your revision sessions for each subject, do a past paper examination and mark the paper immediately after you’ve finished it. Circle any questions you didn’t get full marks on: you’ll use these as the basis for your next note-takingsession for that subject (step 7).
7. Note-taking sessions (the other 50% of study sessions)
Use your textbook, your teacher and your Chemistry notes to correct any questions you answered incorrectly in your previous practice examination. Make detailed theory notesfrom the textbook on concepts you don’t fully understand and arrange them neatly on your wall. Make these notes colourful and large enough to be legible from a distance of 2 metres.
Not only will this help you to get 100% in those topics next time, but a bedroom wall covered with succinct study notes also look really impressive to anyone else who sees them!
If you start revising early enough, you’ll have time to make great theory notes from the entire textbook. Your bedroom wall should be plastered in study notes for all your subjects.
8. On examination day
Don’t revise on the morning before examinations. This will only make you feel rushed and more stressed in the morning. Use your time more wisely by making sure you get to school on time and instead.
Don’t listen to music on examination days until after your examination is over! Songs stay in your head for a long time after you’ve heard them, and they’ll distract you slightly from the material you’re being tested on.
Bring water in a transparent bottle into the examination hall.
Wear layers of clothing that you can add/remove easily. The temperature in examination halls can be unpredictable.
Always let invigilators know about errors in the examination paper. However, only tell them about the errors that might affect your score!
Sticking to these 8 tips earned me excellent grades in school, and I believe that you can maximise your potential as well by following the same advice.
Agree/disagree with any of these? Leave your comments below.