5 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in VCE Chemistry

VCE Chemistry - the one subject almost everyone does but almost no one enjoys. There’s no doubt that Chemistry comes with its challenges, but by employing a few simple tips and tricks this subject changes from daunting to doable.

6 months ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Vedrana Filipović / Unsplash

VCE Chemistry - the one subject almost everyone does but almost no one enjoys. There’s no doubt that Chemistry comes with its challenges, but by employing a few simple tips and tricks this subject changes from daunting to doable. VCE can be an incredibly stressful time, so let’s relieve some of the pressure associated with Chemistry.

The content taught in Units 1 and 2 varies greatly from what is examined by the end of Units 3 and 4. The year 12 course can be broadly split into: 1) fuels and energy generation, 2) rates and equilibria, 3) organic chemistry and analysis and 4) food chemistry and metabolism. Chemistry is a very applied science, and as such the knowledge you will accumulate throughout Years 11 and 12 leads to a well rounded understanding of the properties, reactivity and analysis of basically everything you see in the world around you.

So, how can you actually translate this knowledge to an exam and show off your Chemistry skills in the best way possible? Here are 5 key tips that helped me get through Year 12 Chemistry.

5 key tips and tricks

  1. Practice makes perfect!
    I know it’s a cliche, but this really does hold true. There are only so many questions they can ask you in an exam, so the more exposure you have to exam style questions, the more comfortable you will feel by the end of the year. This also gives you the opportunity to compare your answers to the worked solutions, which are a fantastic resource for learning how to structure your responses. Whether these are questions from school, old VCAA questions (as found in checkpoints) or your tutor, try and do as many exam style questions throughout the year as possible, including multiple choice.
  2. Topic summaries
    Just reading your textbook is not enough! Everyone’s note taking tactics vary, but regardless the aim is to finish a chapter with a comprehensive knowledge of everything in it. Whether its making mindmaps/flow charts for different concepts or reaction schemes for organic chemistry, having an A4 summary of each chapter is a fantastic idea. Being a very visual learner, I stuck these summaries on my wall, which also allows you to continually revise material without needing to read through page after page of information. This also helps the content feel much more manageable and less overwhelming. Another great thing to add to these is any mnemonic devices or other funny statements that help you remember what’s going on. My all time favourites are:

    - OIL RIG (oxidation is loss, reduction is gain)

    - RED CAT and AN OX (reduction at the cathode, oxidation at the anode)

    - “That’s what S.H.E. said” (to remember standard reduction potentials are based off the Standard Hydrogen Electrode)
  3. Make links between different ideas
    Not only does VCAA want you to be able to understand chemical processes, but they want to see you evaluate their similarities and differences. Some key points of comparison are:

    - Petrodiesel and biodiesel
    - Galvanic, fuel and electrolytic cells
    - Oxidation of primary, secondary and tertiary alcohols
    - Information provided by various analytical techniques
    - Classes of macronutrients, and their metabolism

    By comparing each of these topics and understanding how they vary, you will be really well prepared to ace those dreaded written questions (eg. THAT coconut question). This is also a great way of consolidating your knowledge about multiple topics at once and your ability to seamlessly connect them in written responses.
  4. Annotate your data book
    Your data book is your best friend. Inside those 15 pages is information about electrochemistry, organic structures, fuels and so much more. Not only should you be confident in finding the key information in this, but add your own! Annotating the periodic table, different amino acid R groups and the electrochemical series just to name a few means you can transition from doing practice questions with notes to under SAC/exam conditions in a much less stressful way. It also tests your understanding of what all these things actually mean so you can make the most of the information VCAA is giving you for free!
  5. Use exam time wisely
    Honestly, no one wants to do an almost 3 hour Chemistry exam, but it is what it is. Those first 15 minutes of reading time in particular are so valuable, as this is when you get to see what VCAA is subjecting you to. Use this to read through Section B in particular, as this is where the most challenging questions are. Having that extra time to process that information in the back of your mind whilst working through earlier questions lets your brain process what is going on. Then, by the time you have to answer them, you should find you have a much clearer approach and aren’t shocked by anything. Try and keep your answers succinct and logical so the examiners are in the best possible mood when marking your paper. Overall though, don’t worry too much about this exam. Consistency and hard work throughout the year will serve you well.

Hopefully you can all enjoy Chemistry, despite the moments of stress. Above anything, best of luck to all of you with Year 12 and make more of the year than just studying ❤️


Written by KIS Academics Tutor for VCE Chemistry, Tamsyn Lovass. Tamsyn is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Philosophy (Science) at the Australian National University and has received stellar reviews from her past KIS Academics students. You can view Tamsyn’s profile here and request her as a tutor. Alternatively, you can find other KIS tutors for Chemistry here.

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