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When fruit juice is 43% vitamin C

“Long and hard” are words I seem to be using a lot to describe exams this year.  Then again, I guess I can’t say I was expecting anything else from today’s chemistry scholarship exam.  Like most competitive exams at this level, I had to rush the entire exam to finish it within three hours, keeping a close eye on my stopwatch to make sure I didn’t spend too long on one question.  The result was that one or two parts of questions were abandoned altogether.

In fact, such was the difficulty of the exam that the only answer I could, and can, remember after the exam had finished was the last one.  My timing was not exactly perfect throughout the exam (and it didn’t help that the supervisor was crossing off times on the whiteboard one-and-a-half minutes before the quarter-hour), so the last sub-question, which I should have left fifteen minutes for, only got ten, and was consequently more rushed than the rest of the exam.  To add insult to injury, it was a quantitative calculation—very easy if you’re good at maths, impossible if you’re not—so it was one of the few questions in the exam that I could’ve been entirely confident about.  My final answer was forty-three per cent, weight per volume.  I’ve yet to find someone with an answer that matches mine.  Its insanity is probably a part of that: could you honestly believe that forty-three per cent of fruit juice is vitamin C?  Not really.  Though however “43.2 mg/100 mL” is meant to convert to a percentage, I’m not quite sure.

When I think about, with the right prompts, there might be a few more answers I can recall; I remember now, for example, that I found four possibilities (including enantiomers) for the find-the-chemical question, though I learnt that I need to learn which organic chemicals are polar and which aren’t.  I also learnt that my knowledge of aqueous solutions, and the calculations associated with it, is rather poor (most questions I couldn’t do were related to this).  Unfortunately, this year’s exam did not have separate question and answer booklets, so I’ve forgotten details to most of the questions.  I figure it was something to do with last year’s examiner’s comment that “it was not surprising that many candidates did not have time to finish the examination when they wrote up to four pages to answer a question designed to be answered in 12 minutes”.  I still managed to end up writing two extra pages for this exam, though it was mostly due to half of my space for those questions being scribbled out once I realised it made no sense.

The format of this year’s exam, like the calculus exam, changed quite considerably from last year.  I begin to wonder now if the practice of allocating eight marks to entire questions, rather than part-questions, even when two parts of a question aren’t exactly related, has been applied to all papers.  If that’s the case, then physics will probably follow suit too.  Whether this is change for the better is arguable, though I’d admit it does sort of move things closer to what scholarship was probably originally intended to be like.  (I still maintain, though, that the level of difficulty in the calculus exam was below what it should have been.)

Incidentally, I noticed that on page nineteen, they seemed to forget about the “Assessor’s use only” column on the right-hand side.  (If they didn’t, then that’s not too good because it means I wrote in it.)

Having forgotten most of the exam, there is little more for me to comment on it.  I wouldn’t be confident about my predictions for the cut-off marks for this exam, having little knowledge of the general standard of chemistry: because I think this year’s paper, in terms of difficulty, was similar to last year’s, these predictions are largely based on that; otherwise mostly plucked out of the air.  I’ll say, out of 48, 24 for scholarship and 38 for outstanding, give or take up to three.

It’ll be interesting to get this exam back and to see how they marked it, and what the cut-off marks actually were.  For now, though, I would be wise, I think, to fix the gaps in knowledge that I discovered in myself in this exam, before the NCEA Level 3 one (the one that actually matters) comes around in two days.  My general attitude towards this sort of “fixing” is that it is impossible to learn things in the couple of days leading to an exam that tests it (in other words, if you need to do so, then you’ve left it too late) but in this case, I seem to have left myself no choice—so that is what I will attempt to do.

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