How to Study for HSC Chemistry

Hi, I’m Catriona Shen, a HSC Chemistry tutor at Project Academy. Here is my guide on how to study for HSC Chemistry.

Catriona Shen

Catriona Shen

Senior HSC Chemistry Tutor, 99.75 ATAR

Hi everyone! I’m Catriona Shen, a Chemistry tutor at Project Academy who graduated a few years ago from Baulkham Hills High School. I hope the following article is helpful to you all:

One of the MOST common pitfalls students make in both the Preliminary and HSC Chemistry courses is that they don’t realise memorisation is a very inefficient method to studying the course! The syllabus is written in a way to purposely reward understanding over memorisation.

As someone who had come in the top % of the state, and also had many around me who achieved stellar marks in Chemistry, this course is one of those subjects where you need to intuitively grasp the content and be able to adapt your understanding to any question in an exam. While this may seem daunting, let me step you through it.

Remember: drawing connections between concepts in your study and routinely practising questions will allow you to achieve that high band 6!

1. How to Use the Syllabus to your Advantage

Whenever you study make sure you have a copy of the syllabus close by to annotate and draw connections between ideas. You can get a copy of it here:…/stag…/chemistry-2017

As you approach an exam, most of you will have half yearlies coming up, make sure you read your notification clearly and identify which dot points are being tested. What’s crucial is that you must look for the directive verb for that dot point.

For example, “identify, assess, explain or discuss”: this will allow you to gauge how much content you can attribute to that dot point and how it will be examined in your yearly or hsc exams. Please make sure you are aware of the different keywords!! This is absolutely crucial. A list of these can be found here:…/e…/glossary-keywords

2. Reduce the Time you Spend Memorising Content

Chemistry is a very content heavy subject. Therefore instead of attempting to memorise everything, you should instead be striving to drawing connections between different syllabus dot points. Not only is this a strategy to reduce the time required covering the entire syllabus, this will allow you to consolidate key ideas and concepts and deeply reinforce your understanding of core Chemistry topics.

Lets look at a worked example:

In Module 1 of Y11 Chemistry: “Properties and Structure of Matter”, if you truly understand the idea of isotopes and identify the n:p ratio of isotopes, you can predict the type of decay as well as apply your knowledge to other concepts in this topic such as for decay, radiation, and nuclear form. 💥

Drawing connections between dot points and familiarising yourself with the syllabus will mean when you’re in an exam, you will more quickly be able to identify what the question is asking and address all content required. ⏱

Side note: DEEP UNDERSTANDING of the principles is not easy and hence will be the most time consuming part. This is the divider for band 6 students, but it’s worth it!

3. Chemical Equations

An equally important component of this course is understanding your chemical equations. There are so many chemical equations you could possibly remember – staying consistent with I’ve written above, do not attempt to remember every single one of them. Instead, the mindset should always be on understanding why a chemical reaction occurs, what causes it and what are the products and implications.

By following such a structure and adopting such a mindset, getting through most of the chemistry syllabus should not be difficult. On a side note, when studying for an exam think about any chemical equations that could be relevant to the content you are studying and make sure you are confident with balancing the equations and identifying the states. This is where a lot of easy marks are dropped throughout the year for even the top students.


Once you know your content fluently and are comfortable with drawing connections between concepts, practise past paper questions and take particular note of the directive verb for each question. In Chemistry, this will often guide the structure of your response and allow you to address all parts of the marking criteria. Even better, use headings and underline key concepts in your response to draw your markers attention and make sure they don’t miss any key info. 🔑

After the exam, make sure you keep your paper for future study. Don’t disregard the content, as all content is built upon for Year 12, so make sure if you were to answer any of the questions again you would have a full mark response ready.

Good luck for upcoming assessments! 📖

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