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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you personally.
Inspired 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.
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.
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.
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
Amount in mol
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.