Tag Archives: IB

Studying for IB Chemistry

johnny-automatic-look-it-up-300pxIB Chemistry is a challenging subject whether you are doing SL or HL.  Content heavy subjects can be tricky so here is a guide with some practical tips for studying.

How much time should I spend studying?

This is different for different people and you will need to work out the best course of action for you.  The research says though that distributed practice is more effective than mass practice for learning.  In other words, forget cramming!  After first semester of grade 11, the volume of content covered makes cramming too difficult anyway.  And you definitely want to avoid having to re-learn the course every time you sit a test or exam.  Better to learn it as you go!

So what does this mean?  Here are some guidelines.

    • Students who are feeling less confident
      30 minutes of study every other day or 4 days a week
  • Students who are feeling more confident
    30 minutes of study 3 times a week

These are guidelines which you need to adjust for your own needs.

When should I study?

You need a routine and you need to stick to it.  IB students have an incredibly packed timetable.

  1. Map out your schedule.
    Use a calendar app like Google Calendar or iCal to map out your schedule.
    Put everything on to it and see where the gaps are.

Include in your calendar:

  • Your class schedule (easy to subscribe to from Veracross)
  • Your clubs and after school commitments like sports etc
  • Time to do homework – this is separate from studying!
  • Free time – time to play, exercise, watch tv or whatever!
    1. Note where the gaps are and allocate those times for study for various subjects.
      If you see that there isn’t enough time, you may need to make some adjustments and prioritise.  Are you over committed with clubs/sports?  Free time is important for balance but 3 hours a night is just as unbalanced as no or little free time!
  1. Display your schedule.
    Print this out and put this up somewhere near where you study.  Share it with your parents so they can help support you too.

How should I study?

In Chemistry there are basically three things you need to do:

  1. memorise information
  2. understand chemical concepts deeply enough to apply them
  3. perform certain skills eg calculations

You need to study differently for these three different tasks.  Here’s how.

Memorising Information

There are lots of definitions, formulae and diagrams that you need to be able to recall.  Often these are one point questions on the exam but all those one pointers add up!  Don’t miss out on easy marks!

Here are two strategies for memorising information.

    1. Flashcards
      Whether you use a program like quizlet or if you just make them by hand, practicing with these for a few minutes regularly will quickly find you memorising things fast.  If you use quizlet it is important that you complete the learn function before trying any of the games or tests.
  1. Hand writing
    Many people find writing information out by hand again and again until you can do it from memory to be more effective for memorising.  Have a master copy of everything you need to memorise (like your definitions sheet).

Below is one page of Rino’s definition doc.  Notice how she has organised the information in a way that works for her – by topic.  She has also included diagrams and other information she feels important to remember.  Creating this document also makes her think about what information is important to include.  She can then use either of the strategies above to memorise the information.  And she can ask her parents or friends to test her knowledge from the sheet.

Understanding chemical concepts deeply enough to apply them

This is trickier.  Many students think that just re-reading their notes or text is enough but this actually doesn’t help much.  Here are some strategies you can use.

    1. Reading before and after class
      Read the section in your text that we will be covering in class before the class.  Then when you get home, re-read the same section.  This doesn’t take very long and you can do it on the train!  You’ll be surprised how much you will remember the following class if you do this!
        1. Close your textbook/notes and make a map!
          Without consulting your notes or textbook, organise what you know on a piece of paper from memory.  Use a pencil so you can add, change and delete as necessary.There is a lot of ways to organise your information.  Here are a few possibilities:

          Organise with headings
          Organise using appropriate BrainFrames™ (use multiple types depending on the information) or other types of concept maps you’re familiar with.Give examples where possible
          Use colour to group related ideas
          Use arrows or lines to connect related ideas or
          Group related ideas by position on the page

          Now open your notes or text and add anything you missed or didn’t include correctly.  In you next study session, repeat the exercise until you can produce a map/summary with all the information you deem important from memory.Keep and display your best one.  Add to it when concepts from other topics connect to it.  This should be growing and changing as you move through the course.

                  1. Keep a list of questions / confusing points
                    Write down any questions you have from reviewing past material and answer them as soon as possible.  Here are a list of resources you can use that might have the answer immediately:

                    skype a peer
                    your text book
                    try a tutorial video from Dr Richard Thornley or Mike Sugiyama Jones
                    IB Chem wikibooks
                    IB Chemistry Web
                    InThinking IB Chem website for students

                    No joy?
                    Here are some things you can do to get help that isn’t immediate:

                    email your teacher
                    post your question to IB Chemistry @ YIS
                    post your question to a student forum like IB Survival
              1. Form a study group
                Discussing concepts with your peers is a great way to solidify your understanding.  Use a study hall at school, an arranged meeting time in the library or arrange a skype chat.Here are some tips on making this effective:

                Make it a once a week deal.
                Be prepared – agree on what you will discuss before the meeting so you can review a bit before hand and identify the tricky bits you need help on.
                Talk – don’t just sit back and listen.  Actively participate.  Ask questions.
                Decide on the next meeting and topic before the end of the current meeting.

                Below is a protocol you can follow in your study group.   Just make a copy!

Practicing skills

Often this involves calculation practise.  Like everything else you should spread this out.  Don’t practice ∆H calculations from Bond Enthalpies for 3 hours and then never do another problem for six months!  Once you feel confident with a type of calculation, do one problem of that type every couple of weeks or so to keep it fresh.

If there is a certain type of calculation you find hard, start with easy examples and work up.  And if the easy ones stump you – seek help immediately!

Where can you find problems to practice?

  • Your text book – do them all!
  • The problem sets posted on IB Chemistry @ YIS
  • Search for them on the internet
  • Ask your teacher

Finally, you will need to practice exam type questions.  You can do this by re-doing old tests, practicing past paper questions supplied to you by your teacher or that you find on the internet.  You should do these under timed conditions (roughly 1.5 minutes per mark) so you get used to the pressure.

How to get motivated

This is the big one!  Lots of people know what they need to do but getting motivated to sit down and do it is really hard.  I struggle with this all the time.  Here is what works for me most of the time…

Finding the right time

I schedule everything.  I know that I work best in the mornings, so I try and do some work before school starts – this is easy for me because I don’t have a long commute.  I also look at my schedule for the next day and plan before I finish for the evening, what I’m going to get done the next day and when.  This helps a lot.

Finding the right place

Make sure you have the right environment that is conducive for your study.  Make sure your desk or work space is clear and you have everything you need.  Don’t respond to emails, texts, skype etc whilst you are working.  Put your phone on silent.  Leave these distractions for when you are on a break as a reward.  Listen to quiet instrumental music.

Small chunks is key

I use something called the Pomodoro technique.  This involves breaking down my work/study into 25 minute chunks.  Knowing I only have 25 minutes of work before I get a break makes it easier to start.  I decide how many 25 minute chunks I’m going to do, and then I count them down.  My record is 16!


Let’s share our best tips!

Do you have a technique that works really well for you?  Please share it by commenting on this post.  I want to keep adding and refining ideas and techniques to this post to make it the best resource possible!


Image credits

Look it up! by Johnny Automatic and shared on OpenClipart.org


Low reactivity of alkanes

Watch the following video and take your own notes.


Complete v Incomplete combustion

Complete combustion = excess oxygen and the products are CO2 and H2O
Incomplete combustion = limited oxygen and the products are CO and H2O
Write and balance the equations for the complete and incomplete combustion of methane, methanol, butane and butan-1-ol.

Reaction of alkanes with halogens

Find the equation for the reaction of methane with chlorine and the reaction of ethane with bromine.  Are these reactions fast or slow?
What happens if excess halogen is added?

Free radical mechanism

Watch the following video.  WARNING! – turn off the sound!
It breaks down the steps involved in the reaction between methane and chlorine.  Take note of the equations that occur at each of the 3 steps – initiation, propogation and termination.

Study these steps and try and memorise them.

What is homolytic fission?
Use the same pattern to now write the free radical mechanism for the reaction between ethane and bromine.

SL Organic Review – Part 1

Here is the review of this topic for SL.  HL students should also take a look at this before reviewing the HL only material.

Introduction to Organic Chemistry

In this section, you will review the following syllabus points:

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At the end of it, you should be able to:

  1. Define a homologous series – put this definition on your definitions page!
  2. Use your knowledge about intermolecular forces (from the Bonding topic), to predict which compounds will have higher boiling points.
  3. Understand the difference between a molecular, structural and empirical formula.
  4. Describe and recognise structural isomers with the same molecular formula.
  5. Use your knowledge of polar and non-polar compounds and intermolecular forces (both from the Bonding topic) to discuss the volatility and water solubility of organic compounds.

How to review

  1. First of all, make a note of any of the points above you are not sure of.
  2. Review your notes from class.
  3. Have a look at one or all of the videos that specifically address these points.

Test Yourself

Review questions.
Review answers.

Organic Nomenclature

In this section you will learn to name and draw the structural formulas of different organic compounds.  You will review the following syllabus points:

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 7.19.33 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 7.20.10 PM


After reviewing this section, you should be able to:

  1.  name and draw alkanes, alkenes, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, carboxylic acids and alkyl halides
  2. recognise (but not name) amines (amino groups), benzene rings and esters
  3. identify primary, secondary and tertiary alcohols and alkyl halides.

How to review

  1. Note any of the above functional groups that you can’t recognise and/or name.
  2. Review your notes from class
  3. Make flashcards or use a program like Quizlet that has them already made for you!
  4. Learn them!
  5. Use the videos below to help you if you aren’t sure which compound is which or how to name them.

Test yourself



In this section, you will learn about the reactivity and reactions of alkanes.   You will review the following syllabus points.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 7.38.12 PM


After reviewing this section, you should be able to:

  1. Explain why alkanes are relatively unreactive.
  2. Write equations for the complete and incomplete combustion of alkanes.
  3. Write equations for the reaction of alkanes with a halogen.
  4. Write the free radical mechanism for the reaction of methane or ethane with either chlorine or bromine.

How to review

  1. Review your notes from class.
  2. For the free radical mechanism, you will only need to be able to write it for methane or ethane.  Learn them.  It follows a pattern.
  3. Check out these videos if you are completely stuck.

Test yourself

Questions – (mechanism questions will come at the end of this review post).


In this section you will review addition reactions by alkenes and addition polymerisation.  The syllabus points you will be reviewing are:

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 8.16.32 PM

After reviewing this section, you should be able to:

  1. Write equations for addition reactions between alkenes and halogens, hydrogen, water and hydrogen halides.
  2. Describe with equations and observations the test for distinguishing between alkanes and alkenes.
  3. Draw sections of addition polymers given the monomer and vice versa.
  4. Say why alkenes are important.

How to review

  1. Review your notes from class, including notes in your lab book and experiments we’ve done with alkanes and alkenes.
  2. Use the videos to help if you get stuck.

Test yourself


Putting Part 1 All Together

If you are still unclear on any of the points above, DO NOT proceed to this section.

Seek help from:

  • a class member
  • another class member
  • any grade 11 chem student whose name begins with K
  • any grade 12 chem student whose name begins with K
  • one of the IB chemistry web pages
  • post your question on our community and see if anyone can help
  • post your question on an ib chemistry forum on one of the ib chem pages
  • post your question on twitter #ibchem
  • Google it!

Once you are satisfied that you get everything, then, and only then, try the following more difficult questions.

Many of the questions are similar, so if you get one wrong, study the answer until you understand it, and then try another similar question the next day.