Tag Archives: VCE

VCE/VET Statistics Dashboard is ready for viewing (2021 data now included)

The Boys vs Girls performance tab has been updated to include 2021 VCE/VET results. Click here for access.

The VCE/VET Statistics dashboard I created last year has now been updated with the latest 2021 VCE/VET result data.

Click here to access the VCE/VET Statistics Dashboard.

My Python code, running in Google Colab, scrapes the VCAA website to extract and organise this data for presentation in Tableau Public

Try the Most Difficult MCQ that VCAA Ever Asked (2021 edition)

Some multiple choice questions (approximately 2 out of every 30) are “tricky” – that is, they contain a distractor that students choose more frequently than the correct answer.

This collection of 10 multiple choice questions is entirely comprised of questions where students did worse than guessing (in other words, <25% of students chose the correct answer). One of these questions was so tricky that only 8% got it right.

Try these questions then scan the QR code at the end for the solutions.

VCE Chemistry Written Examination 2020 Analysis

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.

Marks lost by topic. Chapter numbers refer to the Heinemann Chemistry 2 textbook.

What percentage of the highest achievers in each VCE subject have an Asian (Chinese) surname?

Data from VCE high achievers list 2018-2020 and the top 100 Asian surnames according to Wikipedia

This chart shows the percentage of students with a top 100 Asian surname among high-achieving VCE students (≥2 study scores ≥40) by subject with EAL students excluded from the analysis.

The proportion of high-achievers with Asian surnames was highest in the following subjects: Specialist Maths, Maths Methods, Physics, Chemistry, Accounting and English Language. Conversely, the least Asian subjects among high-achievers were Drama, Sociology and Theatre Studies.

All spelling variations of the top 100 Asian surnames listed on Wikipedia were included in the analysis, for example Li as well as Lee.

High-achieving VCE students are more likely to have chosen Specialist Maths, Latin, Chemistry, Global Politics, Physics and Literature

Data from VCE high achievers list 2018-2020

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.

All-new Annotated VCE Chemistry Data Book for 2021 Chemistry Course

The data book contains a wealth of information that’s hidden in plain sight. If you know how to read the data book properly, you can:

  • Never lose marks again for not knowing the states of fuels or combustion products
  • Know how to substitute metric prefixes in calculations
  • Learn that amino acids with primary amide side chains (–CONH2) are polar and not basic!
  • and much more…
Slide to preview the annotated VCE Chemistry Data Book

VCE Chemistry written examination paper analysis of marks allocated per chapter

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.

Focus on perfecting your written responses in VCE Chemistry… because that’s where most of the marks are awarded.

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.

Race to the top: the higher your ATAR, the more difficult it is to increase your ATAR

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.

I revamped this classic for the VCE Chemistry study design. Download it now: We Lied to You (2019 edition)

we lied to you cover 3d

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).

Annotated VCE Chemistry data book for the 2019 study design

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.

Free download: James Kennedy’s Annotated VCE Chemistry data book 2019 edition

Too big? Download the low resolution (4 Mb) version here

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 jameskennedymonash@gmail.com and I’ll get back to you personally.

making an annotated vce chemistry data book 2019 thumbnail

Get your Future-Proof VCE Chemistry Formula Book for just $55

James Kennedy's VCE Chemistry Formula Book 2017-2021Inspired 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.

Order your copy now by clicking here

Learn from the best

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.

Here’s an preview of the inside

VCE Chemistry Formula Booklet, $55. Free, Fast Delivery Included.
VCE Chemistry Formula Booklet, $55. Free, Fast Delivery Included.

Click here to purchase your 8-page companion book with 76 formulae relevant for VCE Chemistry Units 1-4

Let’s add oxygen, fluorine and neon gases

Oxygen from Theodore Gray's amazing book, The Elements
Oxygen from Theodore Gray’s amazing book, The Elements

This post concludes the Periodic Table Smoothie experiment.

Recall that we’ve just finished adding one mole of nitrogen gas and created a bizarre boron polymer at the bottom of our vessel. The temperature was 350 °C and the pressure in our vessel was 891 kPa.

Today, we’re going to add 1.00 mole of oxygen gas, stand back and observe.

Nothing happens.

This is disappointing news.

Many of the substances in our vessel react (more accurately, explode) in the presence of oxygen but the ignition temperature for all of those explosions to take place is at least 500 °C. The temperature of our vessel is set at just 350 °C. At this temperature, nothing would actually happen.

There’s not enough activation energy to break bonds in the reactant particles in order to get the reaction started. We call this activation energy (EA) in chemistry. If we were to add a source of excessive heat (e.g. a matchstick), the vessel would explode.

Should we heat up the vessel to 500 °C and blow up the experiment right here?

If we did, the following reactions would happen:


Enough of these reactions – particularly the first three – are sufficiently exothermic to trigger a chain reaction – at least up to the reaction of oxygen with beryllium carbide. The vessel would bang, explode, and shatter. The helium would float away, dangerous lithium amide would fly out sideways, and polyborazine powder, whatever that is, would land on the floor.

Let’s not ignite our experiment – not yet.

Conclusion after adding 1.00 mole of oxygen gas

Substance Amount in mol
He(g) 1.000
Be(s) 0.514
LiH(s) 0.000
Li2C2(s) 0.272
B2H6(g) 0.000
Be2C(s) 0.175
H2(g) 0.007
BeC2(s) 0.136
CH4(g) 0.009
N2(g) 0.552
NH3(g) 0.154
LiNH2(s) 0.277
polyborazine 12.194 grams

Pressure: 891 kPa (higher than before due to the addition of nitrogen gas)
Temperature: 350 °C (vessel is still being maintained at constant temperature)

Oxygen was relatively uneventful. Let’s add fluorine and see what happens.

Let’s add fluorine gas

Elements by Theodore Gray

The following three reactions would all occur as 1.00 mole of fluorine gas is added:


These two products are quite interesting:

  • HF, hydrogen fluoride, an aqueous solution of which was used by Breaking Bad’s Walter White to dissolve evidence (his victims)
  • NF3, nitrogen trifluoride, is used as an etching agent when making printed circuit boards (PCBs)

Let’s add neon gas

Elements by Theodore Gray

When 1.00 mole of neon gas is added, the total pressure inside the vessel increases but no reaction occurs. The concentrations of all the other gases present are unaffected.

The End

That concludes our Periodic Table Smoothie experiment. The most interesting conclusion was the discovery of polyborazine, the bizarre solid that collected at the bottom of the vessel.

Also of interest was how easily we created ammonia, one of the simplest of biological compounds, just by mixing elements together. Could the compounds necessary for life be so easy to create that their existence is an inevitable consequence of the Big Bang? Is life inevitable? If the Big Bang were to happen all over again, would life occur? And would it look any different?

Possibly not.

We Lied To You

Click to download the book

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.






Pre-order my second book “We Lied To You” here

Pre-order here
Pre-order here

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.

Pre-order the FREE e-book by filling in the form here.

Get my latest book here: Common VCE Chemistry Mistakes… and how to avoid them

Common VCE Chemistry Mistakes COVER.jpg

This book is a collection of common mistakes in VCE Chemistry and how to avoid them.

It comes from years of marking student SACs and exam papers, and from reading Examination Reports from the VCAA as well.

It’s free of charge, very informative, and very concise.

Click here to download the FREE book.