Writing notes might seem pretty simple, but once you sink you fangs into it it’s always a surprise to see how much there actually is to it! On top of the differences between handwritten and typed notes, highlighters and coloured pens and loose-leaf paper versus bound books, every subject seems to want theirs written differently. So to help you out with at least that last one, we’ve put together this handy guide to make powerful and effective HSC Chemistry Study Notes.

Before we jump in, check out our Study Note Hacks to help you decide what note taking methods in general might work best for you. There’ll be a few little recommendations here and there but in general, the form your notes take is up to you.

Step 1 – Target the syllabus

Everything in HSC science is about recognising what part of the syllabus the question comes from and telling the marker what they need to hear.

Click here to find the HSC Syllabus on BOSTES

Make sure you understand what content falls under what syllabus point by either organising your notes under sub-headings taken from the syllabus or putting any relevant syllabus dot points next to every piece of information in your note set.

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Example 1

So you can do it like this:

Point 9.2.1 – Fossil fuels provide both energy and raw materials such as ethylene, for the production of other substances

  • Ethylene is separated from other components of crude oil by fractional distillation
  • It’s highly reactive double bond makes it easy to convert into other substances
  • Examples include ethanol, polyethylene and other monomers like vinyl chloride and styrene.

Example 2


Or like this:

  • Ethylene is separated from other components of crude oil by fractional distillation (9.2.1)
  • The highly reactive double bond makes it easy to convert into other substances (9.2.1)
  • Examples include ethanol, polyethylene and other monomers like vinyl chloride and styrene (9.2.1)
  • Ethylene can instead by sustainably sourced by dehydrating ethanol produced from biomass (9.2.1, 9.2.2, 9.2.3)

The important thing is, you can see the links between the syllabus and the content! (Also, on the side, don’t feel like your notes have to be full sentences – I’m just using them here to make the content more approachable!),

Step 2 – Write them out!

Once you’ve assessed which note taking technique is best for you and gotten your head around the syllabus, it’s time to write out the notes.

Don’t be afraid to use diagrams, tables or any other format of your choosing – in certain circumstances using non-paragraph formats is advisable in the exam itself, so really let your creativity loose.

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  • draw.io If you’re typing your notes and want to put together a flowchart or mindmap, there are some handy online tools. draw.io gives you almost unlimited freedom to make flowcharts (with proper scientific formatting!) but can also consume a lot of time in placing and sizing the shapes.
  • bubbl.us – If you’re just looking for a quick and easy visual guide, bubbl.us does all the hard work for you. That said, I recommend hand writing –  visuals aside, chemical equations are tough to type!

Depending on how you’re coping with the material, try writing out your notes once a day or once a week, or by topic area. The more difficult you find something, the more frequently you should revisit it so don’t be afraid to write out notes daily.

Worried about the state of your HSC Chemsitry Notes?

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Our friends over at HSC Notes have incredible notes written by the 99+ ATAR club for over 15 HSC subjects, including HSC English and Economics!

And as a special offer for Art of Smart Community Blog readers, HSC Notes are offering all of their notes for a special price of $9.95! 

Head on over to HSC-Notes to get your HSC subject notes now! 

Step 3 – Research anything you don’t understand independently

In our old friend Secrets of HSC Success Revealed, a good number of 98+ students in the sciences point out using multiple sources improves your understanding.

For anyone planning a career in science, that’s also a good habit to get into – if you only have 5 sources on your university research paper, the marker will laugh you out of good marks before they’ve even read your intro.

Research can be pretty threatening, but for HSC level you don’t need to fret hugely.

  • Using your textbook to verify the accuracy of a source you found on Google (or Google Books!) should be adequate.
  • Wikipedia (to your teacher’s horror) is generally pretty on point with high school Chemistry.
    • If you still have your misgivings about that, Wikipedia does a great job of referencing their articles, so you’ll be able to find a good source using Wikipedia as a diving board or WolframAlpha (which is basically maths/science Google).
  • If you’re in the mood for a challenge, try using Google Scholar to find primary scientific literature – but expect to be left a bit in the dark. It’s hard stuff you’re finding there!

Step 4 – Look for connections between syllabus points you mightn’t have noticed before

A lot of 6/7-markers in the Chemistry exam will require to access information from more than one syllabus point – sometimes even across multiple modules (e.g. a question about acid rain could require information from both The Acidic Environment and Chemical Monitoring and Management). 

Protip! Try and find any two syllabus points that have really nice synergy – there’s a good chance you’ll get question on both of them at the same time!

To work with our acid rain example, you may need information from:

  • 9.3.2 (while we usually think of the air around us as neutral, the atmosphere naturally contains acidic oxides of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur. The concentrations of these acidic oxides have been increasing since the Industrial Revolution);
  • 9.4.4 (human activity has caused changes in the composition and the structure of the atmosphere. Chemists monitor these changes so that further damage can be limited); and
  • 9.4.5 (human activity also impacts on waterways. Chemical monitoring and management assists in providing safe water for human use and to protect the habitats of other organisms).

This question might sound pretty crazy, but it could read as very simple.

For example, “Identify causes of acid rain and describe its impact on both natural and synthetic systems” would probably be worth 4 or 5 marks, and cover all three of those syllabus points.

Click here to find out how to write a Band 6 Chemistry Extended Response. 

Step 5 -DON’T FORGET SYLLABUS SECTION 9.1 – Science Skills

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It sounds dumb but there will be marks allocated to material from this section – depending on the year, anywhere from 5 to 15 is a reasonable guess.

Depending on how much you liked science in your younger years, you might already be pretty confident with this stuff. But absolutely never forget that the fundamental skills of science are just as much part of the chemistry syllabus as atoms are. Don’t be like Pusheen.


Step 6 – Jump into practice questions

Now that you’ve got your notes together and they’re top notch, it’s time to test how much you really know!

Use example questions from a textbook if you want to try and save HSC papers to practice for the exam – and there are plenty of other great practice question books you can get, like the Dot Point series, that have questions listed by and centred on each dot point from the syllabus.

Not only does this mean they’re organised by topic (so you can use them as you’re learning), but if you fill out the answers in pencil, you can rub them out and start again to review the syllabus piece by piece at the end.

What do your notes look like? Let us know! Otherwise, 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.