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Examination techniques and tips for Stage 6 Chemistry

Knowing the structure of the examination

HSC examination papers are produced in accordance with the Board’s Principles for Setting HSC Examinations in a Standards-Referenced Framework published in Board Bulletin (external website) Volume 8 Number 9 page 7 (Nov/Dec 99) (external website). Questions are closely related to the outcomes of the course, and the paper as a whole is structured to allow for the appropriate differentiation of candidate performance at all levels on the performance scale.

The Stage 6 Chemistry examination is a three hour examination. There is an additional five minutes reading time.

The examination has two sections:

Section I has questions based on the core, to a total value of 75 marks. The section is organised as follows:

Section I examines work from the following modules:

Section II has questions based on the options of the syllabus, to a total value of 25 marks.

The examination has five questions offered in this section, one for each the following modules:

Candidates must attempt only ONE of these questions.

The questions will be of the short-answer and extended-response type. Each question may consist of several parts. Marks for individual parts will be shown on the examination paper. A writing booklet will be provided. Additional writing booklets will be available if you require them.

In relation to the structure of the sections of the examination, candidates should be aware that:

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Studying for the examination

Use the syllabus to guide your revision. A copy is available from the Board of Studies (external website) web site.

It is a good idea to practise using the past examination papers (external website).

The examination for Stage 6 Chemistry will include a chemistry data sheet and a periodic table. The data sheet will include values of several numerical constants, some useful formulae and some standard potentials. A copy of the data sheet and the periodic table is available from the Board (external website). Be familiar with the periodic table and the information provided in the data sheet. You can use the information to assist in answering questions during the examination.

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Planning your approach to the examination

You should invest at least 300 hours at school and at home, and possibly up to 600 hours, in studying HSC Chemistry. You have three hours to show the examiners what you know and understand. Use those three hours as effectively as possible.

Prior to the examination you need to think about how you will approach it.

It may be useful to consider the time available for each section. Based on marks and time available, you should allow 1.8 minutes per mark. The Board of Studies suggests that you allow about:

Some candidates find it useful to work through the paper from start to finish. Others may like to answer the sections with which they feel most familiar and so may attempt their elective question first. Discuss your approach with your teacher.

As you work through the examination, answer the questions you can do most easily first, then go back and do the more difficult questions. Allow time to go through all your answers in the final half hour so you can correct minor errors and ensure that you have answered all parts.

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Answering questions well

Be careful to only give the type of response requested in the question. It is expected that candidates have a clear understanding of key words in questions, such as discuss, analyse, and explain. These words will be used consistently in accordance with the glossary (external website), published in the Board’s Assessment Support Document in 1999.

Statements that do not answer the question asked, even if they may be correct in another context, will not score marks. Don’t provide multiple answers in the hope that one might be correct. Check also that you haven’t answered merely by rewording information given in the question. Be careful not to provide any information that contradicts worthwhile information written earlier. A contradiction cancels out the mark you might otherwise have been awarded.

Use the mark allocation (about one and a half minutes per mark) and the amount of space provided in the core answer book as a guide to how much you should write or draw. The space provided is more than that needed to obtain full marks.

Take care to provide all the information requested in a question. For example, if the questions asks for two things about two things you will need to provide four separate pieces of information.

An example from the 2001 HSC specimen examination (page 27):

Name and give the formula of TWO of these coloured compounds.

Although a table is not required, the following table demonstrates that you would need to provide four responses:


Carefully answer the question asked, rather than write a prepared response to a keyword.

The General Instructions on the specimen paper state the following:

If you make a mistake, do not waste time using white correction fluid. Clearly cross out what you do not want the examiner to mark and rewrite your answer.

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Drawing diagrams

Generally, it is best to draw simple two-dimensional line diagrams. Unless specifically requested, there is usually no need to draw diagrams in three dimensions. If a labelled diagram is asked for, you must label the critical parts. The labelling line from a label should touch the named part.

An example: This diagram of reflux equipment shows a clear passage from the reflux flask to the top opening and labels are clear.

Reflux equipment

Make sure you draw the diagram and labels in pencil as mistakes can be easily rubbed out.

It is a good idea to use a diagram where you think it clarifies an answer you are providing. Keep diagrams simple. If an answer is worth two marks, spend about three minutes of your time on the answer, including your diagram.

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In questions requiring numerical answers, you should always show your working. In calculation questions:

Use an appropriate number of significant figures in your answer, e.g. in a titration question, if all the quantities (mass, volume, molar concentration etc.) are given to 3 significant figures then your final answer should be to 3 significant figures. Large and small numerical answers should be written in scientific notation, e.g. 6.022 x 1023; 1.0 x 10-14.

Also, you must know how to change the figures that appear on your calculator screen to scientific notation. 1.0 x 10-14 is scientific notation; 10-14, 103.7 and 6.02223 are not scientific notation, and if given as the answer to a numerical calculation, may not receive a mark.

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Preparing your equipment

Be sure you organise all equipment needed for the examination well in advance and check that it is in good order. Make sure you have spare pens and sharp pencils, and a range of suitable measuring and drawing equipment as measurements, diagrams and graphs are common elements in chemistry examinations.

Board-approved calculators may be used in the examination. Check your calculator is functioning correctly, has fresh batteries and that you are very familiar with any operations needed for the course.

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