Here we go again. After a luxurious break from exams, I was swiftly returned to reality by yesterday’s chemistry paper.
I had almost accepted my new lifestyle as a post-Leaving Cert human: sleeping in until 10, not constantly thinking of papers and points, being generally happy.
The chemistry exam made sure that I didn’t enjoy my life too much, just yet.
The general consensus is that the paper was, well, terrible. This year, students were required to answer any six questions from a choice of 11. Normally, students must answer eight questions, with at least two of these being experiment questions.
The exam was tougher than in recent years. Tricky wording and extremely specific questions made the paper considerably more challenging than what students are used to.
For those of us who had spent hours mastering past papers, it was a slap in the face. Almost every question had an unusual twist.
Question three, for example, was partially based on an experiment that had never before appeared on this part of the paper. The current chemistry syllabus dates back to 2001, for reference.
I steered clear of question five, as my teacher had warned us that it’s typically the worst-answered question on the paper. I can see why.
This year’s question was particularly horrific. Students were asked oddly specific questions about the ‘super-heavy’ elements of the future, the boundary of an atom, and why establishing an atomic radius for argon is problematic.
I am sure little of this makes sense to anyone who did not study Leaving Cert chemistry or who does not happen to be employed in the field of chemistry.
To be honest, it doesn’t even make sense to me, and I’m the one who sat the paper.
Question six is always based on fuels. These questions are usually repetitive, but there was a small change this year.
The calculation portion of the question asked students to find the heat of formation of a substance. Typically, it is the heat of reaction that must be calculated. This may have thrown some students off.
Question eight was based on organic chemistry and there were several parts that I found to be taxing. Covid made an appearance here, with students asked to find the concentration of isopropyl alcohol in hand sanitiser.
The rest of the paper was manageable, but I was disappointed to see fewer water and rates-of-reaction questions than normal.
It was my most challenging exam to date. I was, however, grateful for the element of choice. It meant that, although some questions had confusing aspects, I could more or less avoid any question I believed to be too gruelling.
What’s done is done. With two exams left for me, no chemistry exam could dim the light that I finally see at the end of the tunnel.
Shona O’Kelly is a Leaving Certificate candidate at Presentation College, Athenry, Co Galway.