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Mr Chen's anecdotes.


Practical exams are a tricky bunch.

Most of what we learn in the classroom is conceptual and much of it is applied to solving questions on paper. Practical exams, however, crystallize the theory in action.

For the first time, students get to experience and observe their concepts come to life. Many are amazed, some became inquisitive while others are fearful of the unknown. Regardless of the group you belong to, the practical exam is a compulsory component of your overall grade. Hence, it is incredibly important to keep in mind a few things while you engage in an experiment.

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Hold up. I'm not talking about lab etiquette. I can't be bothered if you break 1243125 burettes and just leave it while you continue with your experiment. (Yours truly actually did that.)

At least it's not wet.

During your experiments, especially in Chemistry, you will use reagents prepared as solutions. Titration is almost a sure bet and qualitative is only a matter of organic or inorganic. All these experiments are likely to cause spillage for even the most meticulous of students.

In a real lab, you will have a lab notebook to record everything.

In your practical exam, your exam answer booklet is the lab notebook. The worst thing that could happen is a spillage making a mess of your records. A lab notebook can be replaced. But your grades cannot be.

Ensure your table is dry by cleaning up any spillage immediately with a dry cloth. You are not going to spend much time seated down while performing the experiment. Put your exam booklet on your stool as far away as possible from your site.

Whenever you want to make a quick note, dry your hands first and check that the surface that you are going to write on is dry as well. When you're finally done with all the experiments and ready to perform calculations and write explanations, push all apparatus away, dry the surface and now you may write.


Science has always remained true to its roots.

It has always been about observations.

In primary school, you had your first glimpse of science through the iodine starch test. The solution turns from brown to dark blue. Eventually, in secondary school, you were shown the magnesium metal with acid reaction. You saw bubbles and you now know them as effervescence.

In a real lab, it is no different. We note down any observations or minor tweaks we made to the experiment. This is done so that we can reconcile all the information after the entire experiment is done.

In practical exams, it is not surprising to see students adjusting their observations such that it is coherent with their conceptual knowledge. We've all done it - at all academic levels.

However, when an observation does not tally with your conceptual knowledge, your first instinct should not be to change your results. Instead, perform the experiment again more meticulously and observe for a longer period of time. When the observation, once again, remains incoherent to what you know, read the question.

Perform a deep analysis of the questions asked. The question may not require you to state the identity distinctively. If an observation is truly out of your realm of understanding, you are expected to only state the observation. Even if the explanation was required, some level of guidance would be provided.

If all else fails, and everybody else is getting an observation except you despite repeated attempts, you might have fucked up.

Keep Calm

It's cliché but it is during science practical exams that this is more important than ever.

The curriculum in schools allocates significantly lesser time to practical skills compared to conceptual knowledge. There are times when lab sessions are used to catch up on conceptual knowledge rather than developing practical skills. Unfortunately, practical skills also require a significant level of confidence.

As a chemist, I've fucked up more times than I could count in my 4 years of NUS, spending a minimum of 6 consecutive hours each lab session. I've made the worst mistakes possible even during practical exams. However, it is during these stumbles that you truly learn. You learn to rectify the mistake and how to salvage the situation under time constraints.

Ideally, any major mistakes should lead to a complete restart of the experiment. However, exams are timed assignments and you usually have no recourse. Hence, it is essential that you keep calm during the entirety of your A level or O level Chemistry practical exam.

You need to maintain balance mentally. Tipping off balance mentally will not only affect your conceptual knowledge delivery in the form of explanations but also your experimental results. You will tremble, looking around frantically, and perform your experimental procedures bluntly, leading to a high level of inaccuracy.

Remember, whatever happens, you can salvage it. Calm down, breathe and think critically. Worse come to worst, and perform the experiment again from the start.


Many students find practical exams incredibly daunting for many reasons.

Most of our curriculum is spent on studying how concepts are being applied. A significantly lesser amount of time is allocated to experiments in the lab. Many minds would drift and wander for the worst possible scenario.

The GCE O and A level practical exams are a test of your confidence and mental fortitude.

You will mess up at some level and it will be okay.

Right now, we do not offer classes for students to perform experiments. We prepare our A level H2 Chemistry students through discussion of planning questions and possible scenarios in the lab.

You may always contact us for a trial lesson. We, at VANTAGE TUTOR, are patient and reliable. Our A level tutors are available for both home and online tuition. We have helped countless students improve their grades and achieve their academic goals in various subjects. So, join us and be A Class Above The Rest.

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