The National Certificate of Education Achievement, more commonly known as NCEA, can take a moment to get your head around. From your first year of exams to your last, finding different ways you can tackle different problems is a great way to extend your revision skillset. When it comes to tackling NCEA chemistry problems, a game plan is your best plan. You will be tested on your ability to apply your knowledge through written responses and symbol equations. While there is no magic trick that can turn you into a chemistry genius overnight, there are ways to build up your reading comprehension so understanding NCEA questions become easier.

Here is a complete guide to NCEA Chemistry exam

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The Wordy NCEA Chemistry Questions

These questions create a situation or context in which different things can/could affect the scenario and often want a wordy response from you as well (as in a justification). Basically, these questions are looking to see if you know your stuff AND can explain it. Let's break down a question from the Level 1 chemistry exam from 2021. Read through the questions and identify the scenario, the main question, and the requirements.

Learning and studying NCEA chemistry can lead to a career of great discoveries and creating neon signs | Unsplash Noble MitchellButane gas burners used for camping usually have a warning label such as “Butane gas burners should not be used indoors or in confined spaces.” Why do manufacturers put this warning label on butane gas burners? In your answer, you should elaborate on the combustion reactions that occur under different conditions when butane gas burners are used, and the effects on human health of any products of these reactions. Give TWO balanced symbol equations for reactions occurring under different conditions.

So the scenario is about using butane burners. The question is why do they put a warning label on them. The requirements that you need to add in your response are what happens when butane burners are used in different conditions, the effects of our health from these reactions, and include two balanced symbol equations. By reducing the question into smaller key points it is easier to understand what you need to discuss, and it also can create a guide for how to write your answer. Coherency is key.

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Science about substances
Learning the difference between atoms, electrons, solids, and gases is all a part of NCEA chemistry | Unsplash - Joshua Sukoff

There are different ways you can organise your response, but it should be written in a way that the examiner can follow your points.  A solid method you can use is commonly associated with English. Statement, Explanation, eXample. For the statement section, you can answer the question directly. For example, Manufacturers put a warning label about using butane burners inside or in confined spaces because… (straight to the most obvious answer, but hey, why make things difficult for yourself) it is highly flammable.

The next step is to tie in is the chemistry and to explain what makes them so flammable. You want to be detailed in your explanation, right down to electrons, atoms, gas, solids, and liquids. Break down the process of what happens when the butane gas comes into contact with another element and provide two or three scenarios where things can go wrong. For example, Butane is a hydrocarbon that at room temperature is odourless, colourless, and with the right mix of oxygen, is explosive. Butane gas is heavier than air and can travel long distances. If butane comes into contact with a source of ignition, it can create a flashback.

Now we have our explanation, time to add in the example. For example, if someone were to use a butane burner indoors there is an increased risk of a gas build-up as there is less ventilation in a house. There is also an increased risk that the butane gas can come into contact with electrical sockets or other ignition sources, such as a fireplace,  due to the fact it is heavier than air and harder to disperse compared to outside a house.

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A neon lighting reading 'discovery'.

Now connect that back to why it needs a warning label; By warning users not to use the butane burner in enclosed or indoor spaces, it reduces the risk of an explosion or flashback, as ventilation minimises the potential build-up of butane gas. Has this response answered the question correctly? No, it hasn’t. It is important to make sure you go back over your question breakdown to check you have answered the entirety of the question. This particular question asks for examples in relation to health effects and butane gas exposure. Have a try at finishing the question by writing this part yourself.

NCEA Chemistry Symbol Questions

Knowing your elements is another area that requires revision. NCEA is built around the knowledge you acquire in class. The questions you are asked in internals and externals are relevant to what you have studied. Symbolic questions are simple to write but tricky to remember. Due to mass advertising and a few Disney shows, a lot of us remember H2O is water, CO2 carbon dioxide, and oxygen is O. However you are going to have to get to know your periodic table better than that. Flashcards can help get that information stuck in your brain. Once you have the information locked into your brain, it is time to fuse them together.

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Solve chemistry symbolic formula questions while factoring in the bonding of positive and negative ions. Photo by Moritz Kindler on Unsplash

When it comes to doing balanced symbol equations, remember the law of conservation of mass. Nothing is gained and nothing is lost in regards to the number of atoms during a chemical reaction. This is a great tool to help you check your equation. Is there the same amount of atoms on both sides of the reaction? If not, there is a miscalculation in your equation. Unfortunately, butane doesn’t have a chemically friendly name like carbon dioxide, so you are going to have to learn a few chemical combinations. For example, the butane gas formula is C4H10. It gives next to no clues which make it near impossible to pull the formula from the name alone. The solution? You’re going to add a few more things to your flashcards. Luckily there are only a few of these elements that have special names; water, ammonia, methane, ethane, propane, and of course butane.

Another tip to help you out is that when it comes to the names, the covalent compounds give you the details in the name. Remember, covalent bonding occurs when all the elements in the molecules being used are non-metal. For example carbon monoxide, mon means one so it is CO. What about carbon dioxide? Di means two so the formula is CO2, one carbon and two oxygen. So what 3? Look at the name nitrogen trioxide. Yep, it is one nitrogen and three oxygens (NO3). So apart from the sneaky group above, you can get some help from their names.

learning chemistry at school
Learning and revising are two sides of the same coin. Extend your knowledge of the world around us with NCEA chemistry | Unsplash - Green Chameleon

Getting to know, appreciate, and love the periodic table will help you navigate NCEA chemistry questions with skill and an element of ease. Knowing the seven elements that exist as molecules will make writing the chemical formulas that bit easier. Once you know your covalent compounds and molecules, the next group is your Ionic compounds. Ionic bonding happens when metal and nonmetal get together, for example, magnesium oxide. The ionic also adds in a charge factor of being positive or negative ions. So how do you know the difference? By the outer shell, if it is full it doesn’t want anything, from there they either want to gain either 1, 2, or 3 ions, or the complete opposite, they want to drop 1, 2, or 3 ions. Chemical formulas can be complicated at first but practice makes perfect, the BBC has some good revision resources that are geared towards GCSE but work for NCEA as well.

Tackling NCEA Chemistry

Tackling the questions is really about breaking them into smaller, manageable, sized bits. Chemistry can be daunting as it requires a lot of rote learning from the beginning. Persevering in this subject can lead to a wide range of options further down your educational path. Having additional support is a great tool to have, join groups, create study sessions, check out resources online, and get a tutor. Superprof has a wide range of professional and enthusiastic tutors to help you thrive in chemistry, have a look today.

 

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