With the end of the year NCEA school exams steadily approaching, it is always a good time to take a step back and have a think about what options you are interested in pursuing. As you enter NCEA you have a wide range of subjects to select from. As you move through levels 1 and 2, your options start to thin out as you start to ‘specialise’ in certain subjects. In year 11, you have to use your long term vision to gauge what courses appeal to you and your learning style. While gaining credits is an objective, it shouldn’t be your end goal. There is a range of factors to consider, as many subjects at level 3 require you to have taken it the year before. Another factor to add is scholarship. Chemistry scholarship is about testing your understanding of chemistry with a range of motivated and dedicated students from across Aotearoa New Zealand.
What is scholarship?
That is a good question, it changes depending on each subject's requirements, for example, for painting, you submit a three panelled portfolio, and for chemistry, you sit another external exam. This exam would be on a separate day from the level 3 exam and potentially could even be before it. You have three hours to answer four questions. Three hours for four questions may seem a little too good to be true, considering for level 3 you have 3 hours for three papers, but it is true.
Technically you can sit the scholarship exam in year 12 or year 13, however it is very rare that someone would sit it in chemistry in year 12. That is because you would be at a severe disadvantage as you have not studied the required coursework at level 3. At the end of the day, it is your decision. Unlike external exams in general where you are automatically enrolled, scholarship requires you to register. A good place to start gathering information about dates and requirements is from your teacher or the head of the science department.
Why you should do it
Scholarship is about testing yourself alongside the best of your year level. Chemistry is known to be a challenging subject, and if you are considering scholarship then you are probably intrigued by a challenge. Not only is it about showing others what you are capable of, but yourself as well. If you want to continue to study chemistry at University, scholarship will give you a head start as you make your way for higher education. There are no credits to be gained and it does not count towards University Entrance. If you choose to demonstrate your academic prowess, dedicate yourself to studying, revise your workbook, and whatever is required to achieve, you may walk away with some financial gain.
For the students who pass the scholarship exam, you are given money towards your education. Depending on your ranking in Aotearoa New Zealand, there are actual scholarships for university. For those of you who enjoy a bit of heat in the kitchen, if you achieve ‘outstanding’ in three different subjects, for example, mathematics, chemistry, and physics, you can be awarded the Premier Award which is $10,000 per year for three years. To have a look at the criteria and other awards available, read through the NZQA website.
What to expect in the chemistry scholarship exam
The exam itself has only four questions, these questions will be formatted as either open-ended or step by step. So you can tell right off the bat that they are going to be complex and multi-layered. In the exam, you will need to bring your approved graphics or scientific calculator. As with all chemistry exams the periodic table is provided as well as the spectroscopic data table. Due to the format of the questions, resource booklets will probably be provided to give more context to the questions.
The situations given are usually unfamiliar as a key part is problem-solving. The exam is testing your scope of knowledge within chemistry so your ability to read through the information and work through the situation step by step is important. Break down the question bit by bit, looking for the information you do know. That includes writing your calculations out step by step. Showing the process is important as it demonstrates that you understand what to do and how to do it.
The difference between level 3 and scholarship
For those of you on the fence about sitting scholarship, looking at the similarities and differences between the level 3 exam can help cement your decision. For more information on level 3 exam questions read our past papers guide. The expectations in this exam are different as there isn’t a build-up that you commonly see in the level 3 exam, there is no progression from achieved to merit to excellence. The progression can be seen as a way to get your brain in ‘science mode’ as it can help your brain order all the information in your head. With the scholarship exam, you are directly starting with a complex question.
While four questions may come across as easier as there is less to do in comparison to three different assessments, there is an advantage in level 3 as they are nicely separated into their topics. Each paper is clearly related to a particular area of study. For the scholarship exam, you are going to have to figure out what area of chemistry the question is related to. Be prepared for the questions not to resemble level 3 in regards to their structure, however, they will be built around concepts you have studied throughout the year.
This exam is about testing how much you know about the various aspects of chemistry that you have studied throughout level 2 and level 3. So how much extra work are we talking about? Usually, the conversation around the scholarship exam comes up halfway through the academic year. Those who are interested are invited to speak to their teachers and optional meetings are held, usually during lunchtime or after school. There will be extra study required as you will want to be prepared the best you can be.
An issue that arose from the 2020 exam is that some students were unable to understand the intent of the question. As a consequence, their answers lacked understanding of relevant concepts or used the wrong scientific idea for that particular question. Some of your study sessions will be about how to understand the question you are given and looking for clues to what concepts you need to apply. In order to be able to utilise the clues, you need to know the concepts really well. Not only concepts but units, terminology, correct vocabulary, etc.
As mentioned, the study sessions for different subjects usually start around halfway through the academic year. You want to be learning and understanding concepts in detail as you go through the year rather than relying on cramming sessions at the end. Try to keep your notes organised and create different tools as you finish each topic. It is definitely easier said than done, but if you have already created detailed and colourful mind maps, already created flashcards to help you remember vocabulary, and have been looking over them throughout the year, the end of the year will be a lot calmer. Studying alone all the time is not required. Attending focused study groups also can help you learn in a more social setting. You can see how other people would attempt questions and they can help you when you get stuck. It is about studying smarter not harder. Set yourself realistic small goals each week that relate to what you are studying in class.
Need more help with the NCEA scholarship exam?
Scholarship is hard, there is no question about that, but you don’t have to do it all alone. Reach out to people who have sat the exam already, speak to your teacher, and of course, find study buddies. People to help you stay on track and accountable. Another place you can look and find help is Superprof. With a range of tutors from all across the globe and the country, you will find someone to help you prepare for the chemistry scholarship exam.
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