Chemistry is known as the central science, and depending on who you ask, it might be the most useful subject for tertiary studies, especially if you’re looking at doing something in the field of science. Despite this, not many people who don’t actually study chemistry know what it is. This is my comprehensive guide to choosing, and ultimately acing QCE chemistry.
Choosing Chem as a subject:
For those of you in year 10, or even possibly year 11, and considering taking Chemistry as one of your senior subjects, there are some things you should be aware of; but first and foremost, the advice I was given at school by both teachers and older students was to make sure you have a reason for taking every subject that you choose. The best reason to take Chemistry is that you’ve enjoyed science and developed a genuine interest throughout high school, and that you want to further explore the world of science. Science is absolutely fascinating, there's something in it for everyone, and I can guarantee that if you don’t find your niche in pure chemistry, that you’ll need some level of chemistry understanding for whatever it is that captures your interests.
As I stated before, chemistry is known as the central science, and by that I mean learning anything in science requires a basic understanding of chemistry. This is why it is a common pre-requisite subject for many university courses. This is another thing to consider, if you’re looking at doing Medicine at JCU for example, you’ll need to pass year 12 chemistry. There are almost 40 universities in Australia, with countless different courses, all with individual requirements, so make sure to check any course that you think you might be interested in for the pre-requisite subjects, and recommended knowledge subjects.
Another great reason to choose Chemistry is that it’s a really hands-on subject. Throughout the course there's plenty of theory, but there are also a series of ‘Mandatory Practicals’ set by the QCAA that each student must complete. These are fun, you get to mix cool stuff together, coat metals with other metals, create your own battery cells, the list goes on. And they’re more than fun things to tell mum about over dinner – they’re incredibly helpful practical applications to the theory that you’re learning along the way, which often can help topics click in your mind.
What to expect
Chemistry is a pretty content heavy subject, there's no doubt about that, and one of the things I found about chemistry is that it can be a lot harder to see how the topics tie in together until you’ve reached the end of the semester, but if you can keep up each week and trust the process then when it clicks you’ll feel like you’ve been a chemist your whole life. If you’ve Breaking Bad, that's probably not what your teacher is doing on the weekends, but I bet they know a lot of the chemistry, and you’ll be learning some of the basics.
In year 11 you’ll get introduced to chemistry from the bottom up. You'll learn the structure of atoms, how they interact with each other, how they react with each other, and some of the huge power of the Periodic Table of the Elements. You’ll then learn how these atoms form molecules, how these molecules interact and react (possible explosions) and an introduction to acids and bases. In year 12 you’ll build on all this knowledge, with a more in depth knowledge of acids and bases, reactions involving the transfer of electrons, and how to make electricity!! Some people see the organic chemistry topic in Unit 4 as boring, but I’d easily say that it’s probably the most useful part of chemistry that you’ll need. You can find the QCAA syllabus here, and there are also some resources such as our QCE Chemistry online programs.
Study Tips and Tricks
Chemistry is a really broad subject, and therefore there's a few different ways you’ll need to study for it. The main things I found that required specific study strategies were Stoichiometric Calculations, Interpreting Graphs/ Data, and of course plenty of concepts and knowledge that requires active recall.
- Maths-esque study
Stoichiometric Calculations are pretty mathsy, you’ll need to manipulate basic equations to find unknown variables. This is still of course in the realm of chemistry, so you’ll be finding concentrations of solutions, from a known titrant, or calculating the initial mass needed for a sufficient total yield. This isn’t a huge part of the course, and it can be super easy if you understand what you’re trying to do, so remember to always use your variables and units in the equation so you know what you're left with, and nail these calculations.
- Interpreting Graphs/ Data
This is fairly important for both the Data test and the external, as you’ll come across tables of data and different sorts of graphs that you’ll need to extract relevant information from to answer questions. I would recommend both having a bank of relevant graphs that you expect to come up, such as titrations, or pH curves. As well as this, use the mandatory practicals to practice drawing up your own graphs, this will improve your overall understanding of graphs.
- Active Recall
There's plenty of important concepts in chemistry that you will be required to know, and in organic chem a lot of this may seem like rote learning to begin with, which no one finds fun, but once you’ve got the basics of the content down pat, learning reaction pathways won't be a case of memory, it’ll be applying your knowledge and understanding why the esterification of an Alcohol and a Carboxylic Acid produces water, not just memorising.
So here are my overall tips.
- Keep up each week
This will become more and more important through the year, and if you reach the end of the year successfully doing this, you’ll be revising in the revision time and learning how it all ties together, rather than trying to teach yourself new concepts under serious time pressure. Obviously things are gonna happen, and you’ll fall behind at times through the year, it happened to me and it happens to everyone, we're all human, but if you can always aim to be caught up by the end of the week then you’re giving yourself every chance to have a great understanding of the content.
- Ask questions
If you’re in class and you don’t understand what the teacher said, ask. If you’re studying with your friends and they say something, ask what they mean. If you're at home and you see a question that gets you absolutely stumped, send a photo to one of your mates, ask next time you have class, take it to your trusted KIS tutor who will be more than happy to help. There’s absolutely no stupid questions, and the more you can expand your understanding of key concepts, the more likely you are to nail that last question on the test.
- Practice how you Play
To use a classic sporting reference, practise how you play. When you’re in study mode for internal or external exams, practice how you play. Sit down in a quiet place with no music, no phone, no chewy, no diffuser, no pets; and just do a practice test. The most valuable skill to have in Chemistry, is to be able to see a question that gets you super confused, and tie in all the relevant concepts to deliver a cracking answer. Simulate exam conditions, and you’ll thank yourself for how comfortable you feel in the real external.
- Maximising Your Grade
Chemistry, like other subjects, has a 50:50 split between internal and external marks. Take advantage of this! The data test should be bread and butter, aim for 7+ marks there, and same for the assignments. If you start them early, base your assignment on the QCAA example, follow the criteria, submit a full draft and respond to the recommendations and advice from your teacher, there's no reason that anyone couldn’t get 18+ marks. Ideally if you can be sitting on 40/50 marks before the external, that's points in the bank.
Here’s the thing, Chemistry is a great subject. You’re probably not gonna be fascinated by every single topic, but when it all ties together you’ll love it. You’ll thank yourself for the invaluable head start you get in uni by studying, understanding and enjoying the central science.
Written by KIS Academics Tutor for QCE Chemistry Maths Ned Woodgate. Ned is currently studying a Bachelor of Medicine/ Bachelor of surgery at JCU and is well on his way to becoming a doctor. You can view Ned's profile here and request him as a tutor.