Chemistry building door
Studying NCEA chemistry is a pathway to an exciting career. | Unsplash - Bree Yeanoplos

Chemistry is an amazing subject that reveals some of the hows and whys of the world around us. From why the aurora australis creates its memorising light display (some solar particles colliding with oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere) to creating neon lights. As you make your way through levels 1, 2, and 3, your study schedule will need to be in line with the NCEA level framework. You may be puzzling your head over that one but don’t stress, this chemistry guide will help you understand the expectations within each level and where to find more information online if you need it. Whether you have an NCEA Chemistry assessment coming up or looking to improve your study habits in regards to your end of year examinations, this guide helps to get you moving in the right direction. 

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The periodic table

As you make your way into the NCEA system, there are a lot of new things to get your head around; the difference between achievement and unit standards, what each subject offers in regards to internal and external assessments, how you study for exams, etc. It is a lot to take in and on top of that, some subjects require you to have taken it at level 1 to be able to continue to level 2. It can be tough.

The best area to kick off your revision is getting to know that one sheet of paper. You guessed it! The periodic table. Do you have to know every single element by heart? No. The founding document of chemistry is provided in your external and accessible during internal exams. You do need to understand it though. Did you know you can figure out how many atoms some of the elements are just from this piece of paper? 

The group numbers located from left (1) to right (18) are super helpful as they make it easier to figure out the number of electrons hanging out in the outer (valence) shell. If you look at groups 1 and 2, the elements in these lines have two in their outer shell. If you move along to groups 13 to 18, you simply minus 10 from their group number. For example, carbon (C ) is in group 14, minus 10 and you have the number 4. Carbon has 4 electrons on its outer shell. Is there something missing? Good spotting, the groups in the middle, groups 3 to 12, are a bit more complicated as they are known as transition metals, you won’t meet these guys in Level 1 science. 

For those of you in level 2 or 3, unfortunately, this helpful hint has exceptions. Transition metals can bind in different ways with the same elements, as they often have different possible valences. For example, iron bonding with oxygen creates iron oxide. Iron oxide can become FeO or Fe2O3. FeO and Fe2O3 have different physical and chemical properties, so our helpful hints don’t work with this group.

 

Mixing chemicals
Creating reactions is half the fun. | Unsplash - Louis Reed

Symbolic equations

Now you have gotten to know and understand the periodic table a bit more, let’s move on to symbolic equations. All levels will be asked to write symbolic formulas but the complexity increases as you move up. This is where mathematics comes in handy. For those students who have a good grasp of algebra, the letters won’t scare you. For those who are feeling a little less confident, symbolic equations are about using what is already there. Nothing can be lost. 

Think of it more as a checklist. There are certain steps you have to do in this assessment to get the right answer. Step 1: Identify the reactants and the products, and then write a word equation.  Step 2: turn the equation into symbols by looking at your periodic table. Step 3: balance your equation which may require using coefficients (more of the same element).  

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Level 1 NCEA

A cool thing that many schools do within science is that you can try three within the same year to see which you like more. You will get to do some physics, biology, and chemistry. Level 1 focuses on bases and acids, chemical reactions (AS1.5), so you will need to get a firm understanding of how different elements from the periodic table interact with each other and write symbolic equations.  If you are enrolled in standard chemistry, the external examination will also require you to demonstrate your understanding of selected elements (AS1.4) and carbon chemistry (AS1.3). This is why learning your periodic table and knowing how to write symbolic equations is important. You need to be able to label diagrams, explain reactions, and write and balance equations. 

Level 2 NCEA 

There are three assessments during the end of year examination. Within those exams, you will need to understand and explain the bonding, structure, properties and energy change of elements (AS2.4), the properties of selected organic compounds (AS2.5), and chemical reactivity (AS2.6). For the assessment of the organic compounds, revise functional groups in organic molecules. You won’t know exactly what ones you will get, so study where reactions happen for the different groups. Within this assessment, you will be drawing structural formulae. Detail your molecules with the correct number of bonds and of course, remember the atoms! 

When revising chemical reactivity, detail is KEY. A good place to start revising is the concept of equilibrium and equilibrium mixture. It is tricky, but it is a huge advantage when you have a firm understanding of these concepts. Students have fallen short due to a lack of detail in the explanations. For example, when discussing the rates of reactions, past students have aligned it to collisions, but this is an incomplete answer. It is the frequency of successful collisions that changes the rates of reactions. So when you are creating your study guide, double-check your bullet points are complete. 

The bonding, structure, properties and energy changes assessment requires a lot of chemistry vocabulary. To demonstrate your amazing knowledge you are going to have to remember key terms and their function. There are multiple ways you can do this, through flashcards, mind maps, even creating a jingle or song. Keywords can trip you up, so make sure your study guide is direct and complete. For example, when revising covalent bonds, intermolecular bonds can only be found in covalent molecules. And of course, revise those units! 

Get the most out of your study sessions by making revision tools that work for you | Unsplash - Green Chameleon

Level 3 NCEA 

Your final exam (unless you are sitting scholarship) will consist of three assessments; thermochemical principles and the properties of particles and substance (AS3.4), the properties of selected organic compounds (AS3.5) and equilibrium principles in aqueous systems (AS3.6). have a look at the assessment criteria so you have a clear understanding of what is required. Vocabulary is very important in demonstrating your understanding of the subject. Create flashcards to help you memorise terms and formulas. 

When revising thermochemical principles, some things will be provided in the exam, such as the specific heat capacity of water, others will not, not all formulas are provided in the exam so check the assessment details. When revising get into the habit of checking you have labelled your diagrams properly and have used correct units in your equations. These little details are very important. Past students have had issues with understanding the difference between intermolecular and intramolecular bonding. Mind maps help in breaking down information and the use of different colours make it stand out more compared to notes on a piece of paper.  

The organic compounds assessment emphasises diagrams. Practice on a piece of paper naming, drawing, and defining an organic compound without looking at your notes. Once done, check you have drawn and labelled the structure correctly. If you haven’t, identify areas that were a bit difficult and revise!  Don’t forget to practice drawing structural isomers and enantiomers. The next step is to add information. What test is best to identify differences between organic compounds? What are their properties? How do they react? Mind maps can help you arrange all this information into a format that is easier to follow than written notes.

Revising the aqueous systems requires you to know the equilibrium principles extremely well. You can not pass this assessment if you do not know these principles, they even put it in the name, it is that important. Flashcards are your friend here, there is a heavy marking focus towards using the correct spelling, nomenclature, symbols, and conventions used specifically for this unit. All that is just for achieved. Use past exam papers to practice responding to questions. For merit, you need to explain, so when revising the aqueous systems, use who, what, where, how, and why to check your response. 

chemistry-molecules-to-learn
Remember to draw and label your diagrams correctly | Unsplash - Terry Vlisidis

What next?

That all depends on what level you are sitting in NCEA, what assessments you have chosen to do, and what mark you are aiming for. A great NCEA website that provides a clear overview is studyit. It explains what is required for each assessment and what they are looking for in regards to achieved, merit, and excellence. This guide focuses on chemistry so check out our other guides on physics and biology if you want to know more. For a more personalised and detailed study guide, Superprof has a wide range of chemistry tutors to help you maximise your revision and create the best study tools, have a look today. 

 

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