Unit 4 Exam Revision

This is the last post before your last VCE Environmental Science exam. I would like to wish you all the very best for the exam tomorrow and trust that the hard work that you have put in this year, pays off. I was very pleased to meet some of my readers yesterday at the VAEE exam revision lecture at Melbourne Grammar and on the train on the way to the venue. It is lovely to hear that so many of you have developed a passion for this subject and have chosen to continue your studies in this area. Best of luck in the future for those of you choosing courses in environmental engineering, wildlife conservation, land management, urban planning and related fields.

There was some discussion at the lecture about the properties of the different compounds of mercury. To clarify your understanding of this concept there are a couple of links comparing the physical and chemical properties of elemental mercury, inorganic mercury (eg. mercuric chloride) and organic mercury (methyl-mercury):
The National Academies Press – Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury

National Pollutant Inventory – Mercury

Properties of Mercury and compounds

“At 25° C, elemental Hg has a water solubility of 5.6×10-5 g/L. Mercuric chloride is considerably more soluble, having a solubility of 69 g/L at 20° C. In comparison, an organic Hg compound, such as methylmercury chloride, is much less water soluble, having a solubility of 0.100 g/L at 21° C.”

from: http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=9899&page=32 (accessed 18/11/12)


Unit 3 Exam Revision

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Students should be well immersed in study for the Unit 3 exam in less than two weeks time. It is essential to create a study timetable that allows time for school, work, sport and study for each subject. Make sure you understand the key terms and definitions and can apply the various concepts included in Energy, Greenhouse Gases and Biodiversity.
Many students find that creating Flashcards helps them to remember key terms and concepts. You can do this online at Flashcardsdb and Quizlet and use the cards for revision.
Another great way to study concepts is to create concept maps, such as these hand-drawn ones at this site. You can also create concept maps online using FreeMind, Inspiration or Bubbl.us.
Quiz Revolution (previously called My Studiyo) is another online tool you can use for exam revision. Use this site to create multiple choice questions, with or without images, to test student knowledge. Here is one I created about Biodiversity:

Exam Revision

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This article, by Hayley Bridgewood and Gerry Healy (VCE Examainers) has some good advice for studying for the VCE Environmental Science exam. Even though it was written prior to the Unit 3 exam, it still has some good tips for general exam revision and practise. I have reproduced the relevant parts here:

“Tips for before the examination

Using your revision time

From this stage onwards, you may like to focus mainly on practising exam questions from examination papers. Other revision strategies such as making cue cards and writing summary notes can be very helpful for reviewing material including definitions, labels on diagrams and key steps involved in processes – but the specific application of your knowledge and understanding to structured questions, often involving scenarios, is where students most commonly find they make the greatest progress towards being ready for their examination.

VCAA examination papers can be sourced from their website at http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/vce/studies/envscience/exams.html. You should ensure that you make good use of the Assessment Reports as they will give you a fair insight into what the examiners are looking for in your answers. Various organisations also publish sample trial examination papers. Although these examination questions are in no way endorsed by the VCAA, they may still present a useful source of questions for you to consider.

As you sit each practice examination:

-give yourself 15 minutes reading time whenever possible

-do NOT give yourself access to the solutions

-restrict yourself to ONLY 25 minutes for Section A and ONLY 60 minutes for the Section B; this will leave you 5 minutes to recheck the types of questions you know you generally find difficult

-DO NOT LOOK AT THE SOLUTIONS immediately at the end of your 90 minutes – but instead use your class notes, textbook and any other useful resources to fill in any gaps (using a different coloured pen to distinguish it from your first answer). Feel comfortable with looking up any concepts that you were not 100% sure about (make comments and hints in the margin using your different coloured pen)

-ONLY when you feel totally satisfied that you have answered all questions as well as possible, and using all available resources, then check your answers against the official solutions

-after correcting the paper, REREAD the entire exam along with your annotations and construct a dot-point list of concepts or facts that you did not understand or know. Set aside time to go and look these up as well as ask for help from your teacher.

Although this process may sound a little complicated and time-consuming, experience shows that students who follow this method tend to have a much greater understanding of the material that they need for their examination.

If you are short for time on any particular day, then consider just applying this method to EITHER Section A or Section B.

Preparing yourself and your materials

Before your examination, make sure you:

-get enough rest and sleep

-eat sensibly, don’t skip meals or try to fill up on snacks – active brains need a balanced diet

-check on the starting time and allow plenty of time to get to your examination centre

-check that you have everything you need – make yourself a list

The materials you should take into the examination room with you include:

-one or two highlighters – you can use these to highlight:

-‘action words’ that guide you in how to answer each question

-key information and data in each question

-questions that you know you may want to come back to during your 5 minutes checking time

-clear (transparent) ruler

-two pencils (with extra lead or a sharpener)


-scientific calculator (either with new batteries or a back up scientific calculator)

Tips for during the examination

Using your reading time

One strategy that works for many students during the 15 minutes of reading time is to:

-Spend the first minute or two simply ‘flicking through’ the examination paper to gain a snapshot of the length of the paper, layout of questions, occurrence of figures such as graphs, tables and drawings.

-Check all pages and questions are present as described on the front cover of the examination booklet

-Follow this up with scanning each question very briefly to determine its focus; for example, is the question related to Pollutants  or Ecologically Sustainable Development and ask yourself whether the question requires a definition, analysis of data, evaluation with evidence or is another type of question. (This may only require 6-8 seconds per question, and sometimes less.) It is not necessary at this stage to begin solving for the answers but simply allow your brain to begin processing the information.

-This will leave you with about five minutes to carefully read particular questions, during which time you may like to start mentally outlining your answers.

Once writing time begins, try to stay calm. You will have 90 minutes of writing time to complete the examination paper. You might like to start with a question that you feel is straightforward to answer. Use your highlighter to identify the ‘action words’ (such as name/nominate, describe, outline, evaluate) to help keep you on-track as you respond to each question.

Students are warned against listing or describing more examples than asked for in a particular question, if you think of a better quality response than you first wrote, it is recommended that you clearly identify (by highlighting, underlining or circling) the examples you wish the examiner to assess.

If you find yourself writing much more than the lines and space provide for in a particular question, then it is possible that you are writing too much and you should consider using dot points. It is important that you allow yourself sufficient time. Attempt all questions, even if you are not entirely confident of your answers – examiners cannot award marks to empty spaces.

Remember, it is never too late to start your revision program. Work systematically through the course, guided by the Outcomes of the Study Design. Even a little bit each day (starting today) can mean significant progress over a few weeks. Good luck, and remember if you have any concerns about your revision program, examination preparation or the examination itself, your teachers are there to help you.”

This article about methyl mercury may be of assistance for your review of Unit 4: AoS 1: Pollutants.

Free Exam revision webinars

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Only 5 weeks until the final exams for year 12 students, so I hope everyone is working well and starting to revise Unit 4. I thought I would let you know about revision opportunities; each Wednesday evening at 7.30pm you will be able to attend free revision webinars, which run for about 90 minutes. All that is required is an internet connection and headphones with a microphone. Each week I will post a link to the session here on this blog. I have booked limited seats to these sessions, so please leave a comment in the blog post if you would like to attend, so we have enough virtual seats available.

This week I am very pleased to let you know that we will be welcoming our Scientist in Schools partner, Melissa Toifl to our online session. Melissa is an environmental scientist working for the Land and Water Technologies division of CSIRO in Highett and Clayton. She will be speaking about water and environmental management systems. In the second part of the session we will be discussing the extended answer sections of the 2003 and 2004 exams. The link to the session on Wednesday 12th October (7.30pm) is below:


Please join us a ten minutes early to set up your microphone and speakers.

Exam Revision

Rain at the Otway Fly……What did you expect from remnant rainforest?
Thanks everyone for your participation in the Apollo Bay Study Camp – it was great to work with such a fantastic group of young adults. I hoped you gained some new friends as well as a boost to your Environmental Science knowledge over those few days. I hope you are enjoying your study break and trying to finish your last year of school with your greatest effort. By now, each of you should have received the practice exams that I copied for you. With 36 days before your final VCE Environmental Science exam, you are expected to complete two past exams each week. I won’t go through the multiple choice questions with you (the answers are on the VCAA website), but I will go through the short answer or extended response questions in Part B.
The exam is 90 minutes, worth 90 marks, so allow 1 minute each mark. You can usually complete the 20 multiple choice questions in less than twenty minutes, so that leaves a little more time for Part B. Part B will include two generic questions: one about “Fluoride Pollution at Portland Aluminium” and the second one about “Energy Conservation at Midfield Meats”. Make sure you have a complete set of notes for each of these questions, with data to support evidence of pollution reduction, energy conservation and greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Each week for the next five weeks, we will go over the other questions in Part B, as well as any other concepts you may be having difficulty with. So, next Wednesday (12th October, 7.30pm) I will go over the 2003 and 2004 exams. We will do the last SAC in the first week back – a series of questions about EMS, which will be completed in two hours.
Sunshine on the roof of the Apollo Bay EcoBeach YHA – it wasn’t all hard work!

Exam Revision Tips


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On Wednesday 15th June (2.45pm to 4.30pm) you will have the opportunity to demonstrate what you have learnt in VCE Environmental Science during semester 1. To get the best possible score, it is important you spend some time reviewing the Unit 3 key terms, concepts and case studies. the following tips may assist:

  • Use flashcards to study definitions of key terms, vocabulary and concepts – there is an online program called flashcardsdb which can help. I have created a set of 35 cards for the revision of energy concepts that you can use to study or create a multiple-choice quiz.
  • You may like to try creating mind maps,  using lists of related terms to identify the links between different words and concepts.(Bubbl.us in a good online program for this)
  • Re-read your text, taking notes and highlighting key terms in your notes.
  • Visit the assessment guide online for lists of key concepts.
  • Look after yourself – don’t stay up late, eating junk food and studying all night. Try to get plenty of rest, eat healthy foods and get some fresh air. If your body is functioning at 100%, your brain will be working better too!
  • Do lots of past exam papers – at least two or three as timed exams under test conditions. Identify concepts you find difficult and spend more time revising those areas.
  • Read the questions carefully – make sure you understand the key words ‘identify’, ‘describe’, ‘compare’, etc and look out for negatives and exceptions.
  • Make sure you can draw a labelled greenhouse gas effect diagram, showing arrows with the ultraviolet, visible and infrared radiation.
  • Make a list of fossil and non-fossil, renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Think about the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Know your case studies inside out – gas vs geothermal and OBP. There will be questions on these aspects of the course.
  • Practise the calculations for energy efficiencies (multiply individual efficiencies to get the total %) and probabilities of extinction (multiply probabilities of two separate populations to get the probability of BOTH populations becoming extinct.)
  • Practise the calculations for biodiversity indices (eg. Simpson’s Index, Shanon-Weiner Index and other examples in past exams). You will not be required to remember the formulae for these indices – you will always be given the formula and the data to use. Only one mark will be deducted for incorrect calculations – you will not be penalized repeatedly. Do try to use your calculator correctly as these are easy marks.

More great exam revision tips at LaTrobe University (download a Word document).

Revision Quiz for Biodiversity

Please have a go at this quick  revision quiz about Biodiversity and let me know what you think. You can create your own at MyStudiyo, now known as Quiz Revolution. It is a great way to practise the multiple choice exam questions, although you are limited by the amount of information that can go into each question.

Flashcarddb is another site where you can create your own exam revision tools. I have created some for Biology and Unit 4 Environmental Science, but not Unit 3. This week you need to be working on revision of  2009 Unit 3 exam, as well as the practical activity – “Using data for Biodiversity Management” about the OBP and Beaded Glasswort plants. We will have an exam revision session on Tuesday 31st May (7.30pm) and our regular Elluminate session at 7.30pm on Wednesday 1st June. We also hope to be speaking to Bree Lacey, an environmental scientist working with Leighton’s Constructions on the Macarthur Wind Farm Project.

Week 8: Energy revision questions and Case Study of Natural Gas


Artist’s impression of the Mortlake Gas Fired Power Plant – bird’s eye view.

Your link to the next Elluminate session on Wednesday 23rd March at 6.30pm is here. We will do ten multiple choice questions from a past exam paper and look at what is required for the short answer questions in this Area of Study: Energy and Greenhouse Gases. You can access past exam papers and examiners reports at the VCAA website for Environmental Science. We will then have a more in depth look at Natural Gas – advantages, disadvantages, accessibility, social, economic and environmental impacts. Our case study will be the Mortlake Gas Fired Power Station, a 550 MW plant currently under construction by Origin Energy in the SW of Victoria. Next week we will look at Geothermal Energy, using the information from HotRocks Ltd, a company doing research and exploration in the Koroit Region.

More resources for Natural Gas:

Exam Revision

checking exams

Try these Flashcards to assist you to remember terms and definitions for Pollutants and EMS.

Most students will have attempted at least one practise exam as revision for the Unit 4 exam on Thursday 19th November. You can access more past exams at the VCAA site. Remember to read the questions carefully and look at how many marks each question is worth to give you an idea of how many points you need to mention. “Evaluate” means to look closely at all sides of the issue and make a judgement about who has the better argument. “Stakeholders” are people who have an interest in the project or development and include government bodies (local council, state and federal groups and other authorities such as the EPA), community members, developers and consumers. The best way to tackle a “Compare” question is a table with the positive and negative aspects of both sides.

Our pollutant case study is “Fluoride emmissions from Portland Aluminium” and our environmental project is “Co-generation at Midfield Meats”. Make sure you know the characterisitics of flouride as a pollutant, it’s human and environmental health effects, how the impact of this pollutant can be reduced and some data about how effective Portland Aluminium have been in reducing the impact of flouride emmisions. Also, you need to know the aim and time frame of the environmental project and the positive and negative imapcts of electricity co-generation at Midfield Meats, including data that shows if their aims have been achieved.

Write yourself a check-list of all the terminology used when discussing pollutants (sources and sinks, transport mechanisms, bioaccummulation and biomagnification, chronic and acute toxicity, exposure, dosage, ingestion and absorption, LD50 etc) and make sure you understand the meanings of the acronyms ESD, ERA, EIS and LCA.

Visit from Melissa Toilf

wastewater treatment

This week we had an interesting visit form our CSIRO “Scientists in Schools” partner, Melissa Toilf. Melissa is an environmental scientist who works for the Department of Land and Water, specializing in research about wastewater treatment. One of her current projects is looking at producing biodiesel from algae grown in wastewater. The algae uses the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphoros) in the water for growth, it is then harvested and separated to extract the fatty acids, which can be used as a form of biodiesel fuel. Although this process is not currently commercially viable, the scientists at CSIRO are working on improving the techniques  to enable more sustainable water treatment and energy use.

You all should be working hard, revising for exams at present, so use your time effectively. Past exams are available on the VCAA website, and you would benefit from completing at least five of these prior to your final examination.