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Guide to smashing HSC Chemistry

By Olivia Grivas on 7 June 2016NSWblogSubject advice

It’s well known that Chemistry is one of the hardest subjects in the HSC to really smash: the content is tricky, there’s a crazy amount of it and the expectations are high. So we’ve decided to try and make the trip through Chemistry a little easier by doing a bit of a Q & A with two of our chemistry content managers for their best pieces of advice.

We spoke to Gyan (ATAR 99.65) and Dom (ATAR 99.7) who both achieved band sixes in Chemistry and here’s what they had to say:

How did you prepare for the HSC Chemistry Exam?

G: Hoped and prayed! But seriously, first off I started by writing really concise, syllabus based notes. Having these done well in advance allowed me to focus the time leading up to any set of exams on applying my notes into questions and examples. But you definitely have to start off by having the content down first.

You mentioned ‘syllabus based’ notes, can you explain this a bit more?

G: Well I found the textbook quite messy in that it was structured by topic and theme, which didn’t necessarily follow the syllabus. That was super misleading and confusing. So when it came time to actually writing my notes, I didn’t structure them based off the textbook. I used the content from resources such as the textbook or the Atomi videos and then organised that content into syllabus based headings and subheadings. This made it much easier for me to get my head around the content for each dot point and how it all fit together. Super helpful when exams came around!

How about you Dom, what did you do to prepare for your Chemistry exam?

D: I focused mainly on past papers to be honest. I found the application of content into exam style questions worked best for me because it was the only way to really wrap my head around the actual exam and how it was going to work. I ditched my notes pretty quickly because I found sweating it out through a past paper highlighted the stuff I didn’t know much faster. I felt like it gave me more confidence heading into the exam because I know I would've seen similar style questions while studying.

G: Yeah I agree, usually the Chemistry exam has similar questions to previous years, so for me once I had practiced enough past papers I found questions didn’t throw me off so much, I covered most of the different things they could ask.

So is the syllabus a big part of the Chemistry exam?

D: Yeah definitely.

G: 100% - you have to wind the syllabus into every question you’re asked. For example, if you have a question about addition polymerisation, you need to know what part of the syllabus that comes from, in this case the section on ethylene and polyethylene, which reminded me that in my response, i’d have to talk about how they react and how the process of polymerisation is relevant to them.

D: I find with short answer questions you want to give as much information about that dot point as you can remember – really go above and beyond because that’ll help you get those full marks. But you have to be careful that you don’t start including random information, that makes it look like you don’t know what you’re on about and just need to fill those extra response lines! We’ve all done it.

Is there any particular approach you took to answering short answer questions?

D: Yeah the best thing you can do is really focus on the verb, aka the ‘describe’, ‘outline’, ‘assess’. If you know exactly what these words mean and answer that verb exactly, you’ve already got a couple of marks up your sleeve.

G: I agree, knowing the difference between a ‘describe’ or an ‘assess’ response could be the difference between getting full marks or not. So I would jump onto the BOSTES website and get the list of definitions for these word. Memorise that. It’s good because those words can be used across all of your subjects.

How did you approach pracs when studying for your Chemistry exams?

D: Yeah people normally cut the focus on pracs. Rookie error. You have to devote some time to really remembering the processes and outcomes of each of your pracs. But, remember, a lot of the past paper questions are linked to reliability, accuracy and validity. So it’s not just enough to know the pracs. You have to know how they apply to link those buzz words to your pracs.

What are some common mistakes people make in Chemistry exams?

D: A lot of people lose marks because they just forget little stuff like clearly labelling diagrams or remembering to include states in equations. The good thing is that these are really easily fixed by doing more and more practice papers.

G: Memorise your valencies! A lot of people head into the exam not knowing these so by quickly memorising them you can easily increase your marks.

So what have we learnt for use mere mortals about dominating Chemistry:

  • Do your notes early and structure them according to the syllabus.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Familiarise yourself with the questions you could be asked as much as possible and know exactly how to answer them properly.
  • Learn your Glossary of Key Terms.
  • Spend some time practising how to link reliability, accuracy and validity to your pracs.

Hopefully with these tips you’ll be able to improve your Chemistry technique so by the time exams come around, you’ll have ironed out all the creases and will be ready to dominate.

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