Each year, the VCAA subtly upgrades the VCE Chemistry data book. Each year, I print it and annotate it to show students the wealth of useful information hidden within it (most of which, is in plain sight).
This year, the VCAA has changed some “constants” and added some interesting functional groups to the spectroscopy tables. Smaller things are changed, too. All the protons in the 1H NMR table are now in bold; not just the ambiguous ones.
Start using this annotated version of the data book for your year 11 and year 12 chemistry homework exercises. While you can’t take this annotated version into the final examination (or into most SACs), seeing the annotations frequently throughout the two years will help you find things faster in the final examination.
Do you have feedback? Any comments? Do you require 1-to-1 chemistry tutoring? Email me at email@example.com and I’ll get back to you personally.
You’ve graduated and you’re waiting for VCE examination results day on December 14th, 2015. In the meantime, you can rest, celebrate, and get ready for university.
When I completed my master’s degree at Cambridge University in 2010, I took note of the habits and traits that helped me to succeed in university. I didn’t maintain all of them all the time – rather, I fluctuated between doing these things and doing the exact opposite – but the process has taught me which character traits and mental attitudes are necessary for academic success in university. Here are my top ten tips for university. Each one of these tips is written carefully from my personal experience.
If you have a strong opinion on something, be prepared for it to change COMPLETELY several times before graduation. That’s how we grow and learn.
Always know where you’re going from now on. Always have a goal and you’ll never feel lost.
Ask for help from professors or lecturers if you don’t understand something. (They will not reach out to you in university.)
Read all the textbooks on the reading list. Read the whole books (not just the required chapters) if you have time.
Textbooks are always more important than academic papers despite what your lecturers tell you. Read the textbooks first.
Always make notes as you read.
Arrive early to lectures to get the best seats and to make friends with like-minded, punctual and keen students before the lecturer arrives.
Socialise carefully. Will joining this particular group/team help you to grow as a person? Some groups will help you grow; some will drag you down. Choose carefully!
Don’t be too stubborn but don’t be too easily influenced, either. Be in the middle.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Studying is actually really simple. Master these three simple principles while you’re in Year 12 and you’ll be on the path to excellent learning outcomes in university.
1) Analytical Reading
We learn the majority of our information by reading. It’s your responsibility as a student to make a careful, analytical reading of the textbook in order to understand all the concepts taught on your course. Beyond Year 10, the pace of your lessons will increase and you’ll find that simply paying attention in class will not be enough to gain a full understanding of what’s being taught. The earlier you master the skill of analytical reading, the more you’ll learn from your university investment. University lecturers don’t have time to explain all the concepts to every student in person!
Annotate the textbook as you read it. Paraphrase and summarise your notes onto paper and organise them obsessively into large, lever-arch folders. Colour-code all your subjects: Chemistry has always been a ‘green’ subject for me. In lectures, don’t rely on the printed notes/slides provided by your lecturer. High-achieving students make their own notes during the lecture. Cornell Notes helped me enormously in Cambridge: master this skill if you want to thrive in university.
After Year 10, teachers will check your homework less frequently. Don’t use that as an excuse to slack off. As you grow into adulthood, you need to become a self-motivated learner. You’ll need to be proactive and get help when you need it. Share your assignments with your peers, attend group study sessions, and knock on your professor’s door when you want some advanced Chemistry questions answered. University teaching staff don’t have time to check every student’s progress all the time – but if you approach them and ask them for help, they’ll definitely be delighted to help you out. Make the most of your university experience by being proactive and asking for help.
Are there any crucial study skills I’ve missed from this list? What else do you need to master before you go to university? What do you wish you knew before you started undergraduate degree? Write to us in the comments section below.
My favourite Year 11 VCE Chemistry book explains all the concepts you need to know for Units 1 & 2. If you’re in Year 12 and you want to refresh your memory of the essential topics from last year’s course, these are the chapters you should spend the most time reading.
Skip the sections in red;
Read the sections in yellow and make careful annotations;
Study the sections in green because they are assumed knowledge in the Year 12 course.
My favourite VCE Chemistry textbook contains some extra information that isn’t part of the VCE Chemistry Study Design, which almost certainly won’t be on the end of year examination. Use this chart to help you find your way through Heinemann Chemistry 2:
Skip the sections in red;
Read the sections in yellowand make careful annotations;
Study the sections in greenmeticulously and make concise notes on all of their contents.
Chapters 19 to 22 (in blue) explain the “detailed studies”, and students need to study just one chapter out of these four. Many schools choose the chapters on ammonia or sulfuric acid.
VCAA has released a new Chemistry Data Booklet to accompany its new Chemistry Study Design. The changes are subtle but important: a few new elements have been added to the periodic table and the unconfirmed elements have been removed. The whole booklet has been reformatted into tables that make the data easier to look up.
There’s a wealth of information in these data booklets but you have to know what to look for. I recommend asking your students to annotate the new Chemistry data booklet with as much information as they can. Many answers to examination questions require you to refer to this data booklet, and the quicker your students can do that, the more likely they are to finish the exam.
Annotate your 2015 data booklet with your students, and ask:
Where are the oxidants in the electrochemical series?
What is the structural formula of an R3-CH carbon environment?
What are the names of the functional groups in the 1H NMR part structures shown?
Are the chemical shifts in 1H NMR spectra strictly limited to the ranges supplied in the data booklet?
Are students aware that proximity to a highly electronegative atom can cause a large increase in a proton’s chemical shift?
Which fatty acids are polyunsaturated? How can you tell?
To which atoms do hydrogen bonds form on nitrogenous bases?
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.
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.