With only 7 days left until your Chemistry exam, you may not be feeling as prepared as you’d like. Don’t worry – you’re not alone. When I was doing my HSC, I knew I wanted to go on to be a professional chemist, so I never felt like I was going to be ready to tackle this one, important obstacle (in hindsight, it wasn’t important at all but I’ll be damned if it didn’t seem it at the time). So how can you knuckle down to get yourself as ready as you can be with such little time left to go? What you need is a study plan.

Before you do anything, I recommend doing a stocktake on your stationery. You’ll want plenty of pencils (and sharpeners and rubbers to go with them), a clear ruler (so you can see through it to the grid on graph paper) and I always advise having a few different coloured pens. Using colour coding and other chromatic tactics can improve your memory power hugely, so it can be a very powerful weapon.

Now, onto our schedules!

Day 1 – Basic Revision

There are four sections to your syllabus – the three modules and your option – so spend today making sure you understand everything. Take 25 minutes to revise one section, then take a 5 minute break. This is called the Pomodoro method, and it helps keep you on the top of your game while you study. If you can’t get through a whole module in one 25-minute block, fret not – just spend another one (or part of one) on it until you’ve cleaned it up. Remember to use the syllabus to guide your revision!

When you’ve covered a whole topic area, do 5 to 10 practice questions, just to wrap up. The Dot Point book from SciencePress is a great resource for these – but past papers, textbooks and probably your teacher are all excellent resources too.

Day 2 – Practice makes Perfect

Spend today doing a practice paper – under full exam conditions. No notes, just you and an exam paper in a room for three hours. When three hours is up, stop working. If you finish in two hours, revise your answers. Remember, you have three hours in the exam room, so you need to get used to spreading the paper out over that time.

If possible, get a friend (or group thereof) to do it with you. If there’s more than one of you, you’ll be less likely the break the illusion. It also means you can trade papers to mark them. That said, if it’s not doable, try and get a family member to “supervise”. Make sure that, after self-marking your paper, you give it to a friend, teacher (or preferably both) for feedback. They’ll notice things you can’t, like issues with answer structure, or problems interpreting questions. Boom – teamwork.

Day 3 – Responding to feedback

You may find you’ll need to spend quite a lot of time today finding your teacher to get feedback on yesterday’s practice paper, and this could waste a lot of time. Use this time either to rest or prepare for other subjects, depending on your needs. Once you have your feedback, make sure you use it right. Go through the marked paper with a copy of the syllabus, and see if you’re struggling with any particular topics. Maybe you won’t be – perhaps your difficulties are more with structure. Whatever your weaknesses are, pick out and answer questions to address them.

If there’s a topic you’re struggling with, go to your textbook and try questions from its chapter. Use your notes to support you if you get really stuck. If you’re more struggling with structure, find questions from past papers or other resources that are worth 4+ marks, and try to answer them as clearly as possible. Consider spending more time on planning before you write.

Day 4 – First-Hand Investigations

People seem to forget these are a major part of the syllabus! Make sure you’re ready familiar with the fundamentals of every prac. What was the independent variable? What was the dependent variable? Was a control sample used? What were the results, and what chemical theory explains them? Be ready to write out a full method for any prac, and make sure to do it with all the detail of a scientist! That means what glassware was used, how big was it, how much of each chemical was used, how long should it be left to react? Make sure you can answer any of these questions off the cuff. As a test, can you write a solid method for getting to this diagram, and explain why this result is observed?

Also prepare to identify flaws in experimental technique. You may be presented with a question about a hypothetical experiment and have to propose ways it could be improved. Remember to zero in on accuracy, reliability and validity. Think about any relevant control samples you might need, or whether there are any variables you need to actively attempt to control, as well as any unavoidable errors. This could mean something like the heat lost to the atmosphere from a spirit burner when you’re trying to find the heat of combustion of a substance. Make sure you’re on the ball!

Day 5 – A Final Brush-Up!

Now that you’ve had a bit of down time with your mind in prac land, go back to your exam from day 2. Really crack down on anything you feel like you don’t understand. Seek help if you need it, and spend two hours (broken up into 25-minutes blocks of work and 5-minute breaks, like on day 1) hitting the hardest practice questions you can find. The goal is to be 100% confident on all the material by the end of today, so rewrite your notes if you need to reinforce your memory.

Day 6 – More Practice

Do another practice paper, just like you did on day 2, but do it as early in the day as you possibly can so that you have plenty of time to seek feedback. Take your time picking out any strengths and weaknesses because that’ll more or less decide what you do on the final day. Really lean on the syllabus so you know where you’re headed in terms of your strengths and weaknesses.

Day 7 – Tie up Loose Ends

With crunch time being tomorrow, there’s not enough time to do another exam and get feedback, so gather all the data on your strengths and weaknesses from days 2 and 6, and really sink your teeth into reinforcing your weak areas. Rewrite notes and research anything that you’re not understanding. Take special notice of the syllabus and look through past papers to try and find trends. Chemistry teachers aren’t the most creative bunch, so you’ll find there are plenty of question types that recur – you can rely on them to appear for you as well.

Remember that today especially, you need to take care of yourself. It’s just as important to go in calm, well rested and well fed as it is to go in with all the information, so listen to your body and make sure you’re not overworking yourself. Get yourself prepared and have all your stationery in one place ready to book it to the exam tomorrow with minimum stress.

One last thing – good luck!

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Matt Saunders is a huge nerd who first got into writing through fanfiction. He’d known science was the path for him since a young age, and after discovering a particular love of bad chemistry jokes (and chemistry too), he’s gone onto to study Forensic Chemistry at UTS. His HSC in 2014 was defined in equal parts by schoolwork and stagecraft, which left him, weirdly enough, with a love of Maths strong enough to inspire him to tutor any level, along with 7-10 Science and HSC Chemistry.