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Let’s be straight here – studying chemistry can be a daunting task. There’s a lot to learn and absorb and it can all be a little overwhelming. So, to help cut through the noise and get to the crux of the problem, we got in touch with Karl Mahr, Year 12 Chemistry teacher at Geelong Lutheran College to help us build a road map for students on their Year 12 Chemistry journey.
Mahr has been teaching Year 12 Chemistry since 2003 and has seen enough students succeed – and fail – to recognise the pitfalls along the path to a solid ATAR score.
‘Start studying early!’ Mahr says. ‘Year 11 is super important if you want to be successful in Year 12. If you don’t start early enough, you’re stuffed.
‘Unit 1 is the most failed unit of all chemistry units. It’s an intense year, but a short year. Work hard for a short time and you’ll be fine,’ he explains.
So much of the learning you garner in Year 11 – from basic formulae to practical experiments to study habits – carries over to Year 12. Take your study in Year 11 seriously and you’ll reap the rewards later.
‘Sitting down with someone else so they can check your knowledge is correct is incredibly helpful,’ Mahr says. ‘Studying in pairs or small groups using cue cards – cue cards are great – is a great way to confirm your learning.’
As well as your peers, your teacher is another great resource to lean on. ‘Your teacher will know what you need to learn. Listen to them!’ Mahr adds. If you need clarification or extra help, remember your teacher is there to help you. Use them.
Study in a way that works for you. Listen to music if you’re so inclined. Set goals and milestones if that motivates you. Review your notes, study outside or simply study in bursts – the important thing is you do the study.
‘There’s so much to learn, you need to study throughout the year, not just cram before your exam,’ Mahr says. ‘Learn from your mistakes! If you struggled in Year 11, revise all your learnings. The knowledge is there, but you need to know it. Revise, prepare, and learn your formulas.’
Mahr suggests studying smarter not harder. ‘Half an hour of study should be enough on the day that you’ve done the subject. One-hour-plus a week would be a good baseline. Just find what works best for you.’
'There’s so much to learn, you need to study throughout the year, not just cram before your exam'
Geelong Lutheran College
‘Teacher and text books are number one. YouTube videos are fantastic tutorials. University of Nottingham have fantastic stuff on their channel. The best idea is finding something super content specific and using that,’ Mahr recommends. Making sure whatever you’re studying is relevant seems obvious, but it’s easy to get distracted. Stay on subject, keep focused and you can power through your study in half the time.
‘Do your own summary notes, don’t just rely on your teachers, and then combine the two,’ Mahr suggests. ‘Then summarise each chapter on one page,’ he adds. ‘Colour code each page as you revise – green: I understand; yellow: I’m a bit sketchy, but should understand with a bit more work; red: need to talk to my teacher.’
Writing over typing is also very important when it comes to knowledge retention. ‘It actually activates pathways for memory and retrieval,’ Mahr says.
‘It’s a continuance of what you’ve learnt. If you’ve studied well throughout the year, then it’s just revision and revising your knowledge,’ Mahr says. ‘Make sure your notes are in order and readable. Keep asking questions. Keep answering questions. You will be corrected.’
It’s also important to understand how the exams will be structured and the time constraints placed on you.
‘Have a timeline,’ Mahr prompts. ‘Understand how much time you should spend on each question. It’s a minute and 20 seconds per mark. So, if it’s 20 multiple choice, that’s 25 minutes. Use your time efficiently.’
‘You can do the questions in any order. Read the short answer questions first, not the multiple choice,’ Mahr recommends. ‘Your brain will mull over short answer questions while you’re doing multiple choice. Get all the questions you know out of the way first, then tackle the ones you’re not sure about.’
Practice exams are also a fantastic tool. They’ll help you understand terminology and question styles and will help you further with time management. And, as always, use your teacher.
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