An Interview with Michael Leong

Michael Leong is a graduate from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering (Honours). He has been assisting Secondary 3 to JC2 students in learning and understanding Chemistry since 2001. In 2011, he began helping more students who are doing the IGCSE and IB syllabus. In 2015, he established the brand “Learning with Chemistry” in hopes of assisting and motivating more students with learning Chemistry.

Michael is the author of Excel in International Baccalaureate (IB) Chemistry. It is a revision guide and an assessment book that caters to the latest IB syllabus. The most important feature of this book is the “Learning Tips”, where common mistakes and important notes are highlighted for students. This book comprises SL and HL materials, which includes relevant and application-based IB Chemistry practice questions.

Today, Michael shares more about the challenges that students face while studying Chemistry and how they can overcome them to excel in the IB Chemistry exams.

About your book

Excel in International Baccalaureate (IB) Chemistry A Comprehensive Guide with Learning Tips and Practice Questions

  1. How will this book help students to better prepare for IB Chemistry examinations?

    This book serves to help students to highlight the important points to look out for in every chapter, which may not be taught in class. These learning tips are consolidated based on the common mistakes and weaknesses IB students generally show in their understanding of the topics.  As such, it should help prevent students from making these mistakes again.

    In addition, this book serves to provide additional practice questions for IB students preparing for exams due to the limited resources/past-year papers for practice.

  2. Can you share what is the most common mistake that IB Chemistry students make in their examinations?

    The most common issue students have is answering the question without fully understanding the question, and thus, being out-of-point when answering the question.

    Be it calculation questions, theory questions or application questions, students have the tendency to scan through the questions without in-depth understanding, and start answering them based on the common answers they had been using in their school practices.

  3. In addition to this book, what else can IB Chemistry students do to excel in light of the lack of past-year IB practice papers?

    Students can get help from their school teachers. School teachers usually have access to the IBO website and In-thinking website where there are additional resources that teachers can provide to the students for further practice.
  1. What is the number one thing that all IB Chemistry students should remember?

    Students should remember that studying for Chemistry is not done via studying the textbook and school notes over and over again. Notes in textbooks and school notes are rigid content which are not tweaked to answer the questions directly.  Students should instead spend time studying past papers and school worksheets and any practice questions to prepare for their exams, so as to understand how questions are phrased, and what kind of answers that the questions want when they are phrased in a particular manner.
  1. Lastly, do you have any other insights to share with IB Chemistry students?

    IB Chemistry is an understanding and practice subject.  A lot of effort needs to be placed in the understanding of the subject initially.  But once sufficient practice and work is done during the initial stage to improve your understanding of the chapters, revision and studying will get much easier thereafter. I urge students to be patient and give your best, never give up. Things will get better for sure.

About Yourself/Work/Expertise

  1. Why did you choose to teach Chemistry?

    I have liked Chemistry since I was in secondary school, and continued to pursue Chemical Engineering in University. Thus, besides being qualified to tutor Chemistry, it also gives me a sense of satisfaction when I am able to help students understand concepts in Chemistry through analogies and detailed explanations.

  2. How has the Chemistry syllabus evolved since you started teaching in 2001?

    While the secondary syllabus has not changed much, the higher-level syllabi like A levels and IB has evolved to include more focus on applying content knowledge. This is in line with the education system to try to change from rote learning to being more application-based.

  3. Are there any surprising applications of Chemistry that people tend to overlook?

    Students have the tendency to focus on topical learning, however, this doesn’t work well for Chemistry. This is because the topics in Chemistry are all related, and application questions that combine a few chapters together tend to pose problems for students.

  4. What are some of the common grouses you hear from Chemistry students?

    Students tend to complain that Chemistry has too many things to memorise. And these things are usually difficult to remember compared to subjects like History and Biology (students find History and Biology easier to memorise as the content is like a story, with a start and an end).  However in Chemistry, chapters like salts solubility and reactivity series pose a problem for students as they are random without much pattern or sequence.

  5. How do you encourage and motivate students who are weaker in Chemistry?

    Positivity and encouragement during class is actually very important for students. Based on personal experience, if lessons start with negative vibes, it will be very disheartening for students. As such, I will encourage students to provide answers, and even if they got it wrong, I have to encourage them and tell them that it’s alright, and they can try again. 

    When they are on the verge of giving up, I will distract them by talking to them about something they enjoy to lighten up the mood. Thereafter, we can try to attempt the questions again.

  6. Lastly, how can parents effectively support their children who are studying Chemistry?

    Chemistry is a very difficult subject for some students.  Parents will need to understand why their children find chemistry hard.  Is it because they cannot understand the subject, or they don’t like the teacher (do not be surprised that students can hate a subject because they dislike the teacher)?

    If the student doesn’t understand the subject, parents can help by seeking help via tutors who are suited to help their child. The most suitable tutor will be one that can match the learning pace of the student, can encourage the student and exude positive vibes, and most importantly in my opinion, build a rapport with the student. 

    For parents, remind the student to study using worksheets, past year papers, tests etc, and not study from any textbook or notes when preparing for exams and tests.

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