When it comes to presenting information, giving speeches, playing a sport, or even sitting an NCEA examination for chemistry, preparation is key. There are different ways to revise and different tools you can use to help you do it. One such tool is past exam papers. These are official exam papers from the years before. There are a few bits of information to know before using them, as not all of them are relevant and some need a bit of explaining to understand. First things first though, you need to create a schedule. Plan your revision time according to your examination timetable. Give yourself three weeks before the exam to understand, practice, and revise. Past papers are great at helping you identify areas of strength and areas that need more revision.

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Where to find past chemistry exam papers

Chemistry exam papers can be easily found on the NZQA site. The site itself is directed more towards teachers so don’t panic too much about the jargon. Once you are on the site, it is time to sort through the exam papers. The first place to go is the link for Examination papers and exemplars. Choose the level that corresponds with you, I would recommend staying in your level group as the level above may feel overwhelming. There are 10 years worth of exams for each standard. Should you revise all of them? Definitely not. NCEA has evolved and they update the questions to correspond more with the times. You want to choose past exam papers within the past three years, at a maximum of five. There is no point in revising with formats that are no longer in use.

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Revision takes the surprise out of the exam. | Unsplash - Ben White

Once you are in the right place, check the name of the paper. If you can’t quite remember it, have a look to see if it is an internal or external standard. This will cut down the number of options available to you. Before you get trigger happy with the print button or start downloading a million different pdfs, double-check you have not opened an expired standard. How do you know the difference between a current and expired exam? If it is expired it is written in the heading line. Expired exams are not usually included in the past papers section but you can come across them if you find yourself on the all standards page.  If it does not have expired in the heading line then it is good to go. For chemistry, the majority of standards have a resource booklet and a separate paper with the exam questions. You need to have both to be able to use them effectively.

Understanding the chemistry marking schedule

Now you have chosen a standard to revise, have a look at the marking schedule. The more you understand the words used in it, the clearer your objectives for each grade become. For achieved you have to demonstrate an understanding of the topic while merit requires you to demonstrate an in-depth understanding. For excellence, you need to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding. So what you can see here is it is about the amount of relevant detail you integrate into your answers that correspond to the grade given. Usually, the questions at the beginning are achieved and tend to be more closed questions, and towards the end of the paper, you will get more open questions.

Smiling chemist in a laboratory
Give yourself time to properly revise for your NCEA chemistry exam. | Unsplash - Thisisengineering Raeng

The difference between open and closed questions is how they can be answered. A closed question is usually short and direct. An open question tends to not have one direct answer but requires flexing your knowledge with compare and contrast questions. Chemistry also has the bonus of chemical equations to add to the mix. Balancing equations are technically closed questions as there is one correct answer BUT you can gain marks for trying. Unfortunately, participation doesn’t count, but if you provide an incomplete equation with the correct reaction type, the marker can award you a lower mark. If you are after a bit more understanding about the chemistry marking schedule, have a look at exemplars.

What are chemistry exemplars used for?

Good news, exemplars are examples of real students work with an explanation by the marker of how that student received that mark and what they need to do to gain a higher one. Bad news, NZQA has stopped publishing exemplars since 2018. Can you still use them? Of course! Should you copy them? Absolutely not. Exemplars are examples of how the marking process works. You can have a look at a student's work and the markers point out what was good and what needs more work. There are exemplars for each NCEA level, and within each level, there is an exemplar for achieved, merit, and excellence. For revision purposes, stick with the merit and excellence ones.

Be picky when choosing a past chemistry assessment to revise with. | Unsplash - Annie Spratt

When reading through the exemplars, add in your own opinions. Do you think there is enough detail? What would you have added? Can you finish the equation? Can you identify the comparison and contrast in their response? Was it easy to follow their points? If the exemplar can help you fine-tune your responses and get a clearer understanding of the difference between in-depth and comprehensive then they have served their purpose. Exemplars are for a glance over rather than a solid revision tool. Spending too much time on the exemplars can misguide you, the questions they answered will not be the same you are given. While the topic may be the same, you will not be able to correctly answer your exam paper if you try to re-write the answer of an old exam. Not to mention that would be plagiarism which has some serious consequences. Plagiarism can be put on your academic record and could affect your future study options.

Tips for practising for your NCEA chemistry exam

As mentioned in the exemplars section, a past exam question will not be repeated in future exams, so what is the point in using them? While the questions change, the topics do not. Past papers are a great resource to help you practice answering questions in an exam format. After you have spent a bit of time revising, download a pdf version or print off a past exam paper and have a go at answering the question. The revision should come first to get the most out of your study sessions. Past papers are resource tools and do not represent the full variety of questions you could be asked in exams. Use your time wisely and by your exam schedule. When it comes to using past chemistry exam papers first things first, highlight the keywords in the questions, this is particularly helpful for the more complex questions and helps to identify key ideas you need to cover in your answer.

A complex line of chemistry equipment.
Chemistry requires your drawings to detailed and labelled correctly. Picture by holdentrils.

Read through the resource booklet provided and attempt to answer the questions without the use of your revision guide or notes within an hour timeframe. Check out our guide on NCEA chemistry study guide to improve your revision. If you are studying level 1 science, still aim to stick to the one hour limit. Once the time is up, reflect on how it went. Did you have enough time to complete the exam? Were you able to check over your answers? Did you answer the questions completely? Were you able to write and/or balance equations? Were you able to draw the required diagrams properly and in detail? Were there sections you found easy? Were there difficult questions? By answering these questions you will be able to then alter your revision schedule as needed. Maybe you need to spend more time learning the structural formulae of molecules in more detail or look over the mindmap you made of different reactions and their rules. Go over your answers and use your notes to make them better.

What next?

It can be difficult when you find yourself revising and not sure where your strengths and weaknesses are. The what next question can put students into a bit of a loop. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, take a step back, make yourself a tea or hot chocolate, and move into another space for 10 minutes to calm your mind. Creating a list of what you feel confident about in this topic and what you feel less confident about can help break down where you need to spend a bit more revision time. If you are after a bit more help, Superprof has a fantastic range of tutors available to help you revise and help you to build a solid foundation of knowledge within chemistry, have a look today.

 

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