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How To Get A H1 In Leaving Certificate Chemistry

We teamed up with our Leaving Certificate Biology and Chemistry teacher to put together these tips to help you get an H1 in Leaving Certificate Chemistry. These tips can also be used when studying for Leaving Certificate Biology.

The bulk of these notes were taken at a lecture given to chemistry teachers by the chief chemistry inspector at a chemical education conference in University College Cork. In this lecture, teachers were strongly advised that students should be given the following advice at the start of their chemistry course. But we have added other tips gleaned from over 30 years of experience as a teacher and exam marker.

I think this is advice well worth taking and it is summarised below.

  • Course coverage is absolutely essential. You cannot afford to leave out any major part of the course, especially organic chemistry.

  • Don’t take fifth year as a rest period, this is when you can build up a solid base for the final run into the exam, and it also means that if you do this you will not be near as stressed as the exam approaches which makes learning easier.

  • Develop an understanding of the subject. Don’t just learn it off, because the questions are phrased in such a way as to test your understanding, not just your ability to memorise. However, memorising is important.

  • Engage with the practical work. This means learn and understand the experiments and demonstrations specified in the syllabus. There is a minimum of three questions on practical work and two are compulsory, so it is worth a minimum of 25%.

  • Don’t leave out organic chemistry as there is a practical question plus two to two and a half other questions on this topic in the exam. Thus, it is a very major part of the course.

  • Develop clarity and accuracy in your answering. You do this by practice using the marking schemes. 

  • Study past papers and their marking schemes. These marking schemes have to contain all the possible answers and can appear daunting. You only need one possible answer so cross out the answers that do not apply to you and what you have covered in class, in this way the answers become very brief and less daunting. Your final mark will be in proportion to the number of past questions you do.

  • Read what you have written. You would be amazed at the strange things that pupils can write under exam pressure, whole words or phrases can be left out or put in the wrong place. If you read over what you have written, especially near the end of the exam, you will avoid this type of error.

  • Definitions are important in the exam accounting for 10 to 20% directly. They need to be precise to get the marks. Knowing definitions is actually worth a lot more, because all the questions use technical terms, and if you don’t know what they mean then it is unlikely you will understand the question, so will be unable to answer it correctly.

The Exam

  • You must do two out of the first three questions which are based on the mandatory practical activities and demonstrations. You can do all three and this can be a good strategy. Practical work makes up a minimum of 25% of your exam. This can rise to 33% or more as the other questions also contain practical work.

  • Under normal circumstances the three practical questions follow a basic pattern: one question deals with titration, one with organic chemistry and one with the remaining experiments.

  • Question four is made up of 11 short questions and you are required to answer eight parts. You should attempt all parts, as the best eight answers will be taken. This is the only question where you can answer some parts of the question wrongly and still score full marks.

  • In question four topics such as the following come up regularly. Famous scientists; shapes of molecules; number of protons, neutrons and electrons in atoms or ions; s, p, d, f configuration of atoms and ions; conjugate acid/base pairs; identifying anions or cations; definitions; name or give the formula of an organic compound. Make sure you can do all of these.

  • You must answer a total of eight questions.

  • If you have answered your eight questions, go back over the questions and your answers carefully making sure you have not missed out any parts of the question and that you have actually answered the question asked.

  • If having done this, you still have time left you should attempt to answer another question. Remember your best eight answers will be taken [but two of the first three questions must be included].

  • Equilibrium is a good topic if you can do it because it can be answered very quickly.

  • pH calculation is often worth half a question and does not involve a great deal of learning.

  • Atomic structure and the periodic table are usually worth more than one question.

  • Organic chemistry is worth about three questions under normal circumstances.

  • Graphs should always be done on graph paper using a pencil (so you can make corrections easily without making a mess).
  • Get the axes the right way round: the one you control goes on the x-axis
  • Label each axis with what it is recording, and the units used
  • Scale it to fill most of the page and put in some values e.g. 
  • Mark points carefully and accurately (usually worth 2 points)
  • Draw the line of best fit: do not join points with straight lines
  • Do not go beyond the data given unless justified: you can put in 0,0 if it is rate of reaction and concentration but not if it is temperature and rate.
  • Calculations

Always show how you calculate molecular mass. If you use an incorrect value without showing how you worked it out, you will lose 3 marks, but if you show your calculation and get the wrong answer you will only lose 1 mark. There are usually quite a few molecular masses to be calculated each year.

Other points of note

  • If you are to get an H1 then you can essentially only make one mistake per question or omit one part of the question.
  • RTFQ (Read The Full Question) carefully and answer the question asked (not the one you would like to have been asked). 
  • The language used in the questions is purposely convoluted so read it very slowly and carefully
  • Do not rewrite the question. This wastes valuable time
  • If you are asked to name a compound and you write the formula, then you will usually not get the marks.
  • Not all parts of a question are numbered so my advice is to draw a vertical line after each part of the question and whenever there is an ‘and’ in the question. Then tick it once you have answered it.
  • Length of answer. Each point of information is worth 3 marks so if a question is worth 12 marks it requires 4 points of information. If a question is worth 3 marks don’t write an essay.
  • Compare means say something about both things 
  • Chemical equations are usually worth 6 marks, with 3 marks for the correct symbols and 3 for correct balancing. Remember that if a symbol has two letters the first is a capital and the second is small.

Getting the marker on your side.

  • Number your answers clearly and carefully. 
  • Write neatly and legibly.
  • There will always one or two places on the answer script where the marker is finding it difficult to decide if your answer is correct or wrong. If the marker is frustrated by a messy paper, they are more likely to come down on the wrong side (as far as you are concerned)
  • Start each new question on a fresh page.

Revision and Learning

Many studies have shown that the most important criteria for scoring highly in the exam is how many past papers you have done. So, use these and the marking schemes, for each topic once you have covered them in class.

Learn definitions as soon as possible to make understanding and memorising easier.

Study Tips

  1. Study in short bursts of 30 to 45 minutes - No all-nighters (at any time especially before exams) as they will reduce understanding and you can’t think straight when you’re tired,
  2. Repeat at regular intervals - This builds up neural pathways like music practice 
  3. Use flashcards and write notes - Highlighting and re-reading are next to useless and may even cause confusion and possibly put emphasis on the wrong parts. When using flashcards or writing the information goes from eye to brain: brain to brain: brain to hand: eye to the brain: brain to brain. This reinforces neural pathways and makes recall easier and faster.
  4. Set a definite goal: e.g., Equilibrium calculations, Le Chatelier’s Principle, titration

This way you can see progress

  1. Definite Times: your body gets used to doing things at regular times
  2. Set a dedicated place: In a Night club, it is dark with loud music: this equates have fun. Have a quiet, not too warm room with books, calculators, pens etc. this equals work.
  3. Get a Study buddy - Take turns teaching each other. When teaching the brain stores material in a different way gives a clearer understanding of the material being taught

You won’t like the next two points, but they are very important

  1. No music Forget playlists: studies have shown that music distracts (except for a few types of classical music)
  2. No phone Not even on silent, as any flashing and beeping will distract you and break your concentration

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