CHEM 110 — Chemistry of the Living World

Hi everyone! Get ready to dive into the *living* world (hehe) of CHEM 110 with this paper review.

CHEM 110 is a paper offered by the School of Chemical Sciences in Semester 1 and 2 (although premed students can only take it in the first semester). It is one of the four core papers taken as part of applying to the clinical programmes at the end of the year.

Some people had mixed opinions on this paper, but I kind of liked how what you see is what you got. There was a lot of overlap between Level 3 Chemistry and CHEM 110 which is to be appreciated. However, if you haven’t taken chemistry in a while, I would definitely recommend brushing up on Level 3 concepts or taking CHEM 150 in Summer School.*

*Remember that this is based on my own experience when I took the course in 2021. The course may have changed and you’re definitely not going to have the exact same experience as me!

TL;DR Review

  • Content = 3/5 — Most of it wasn’t that interesting, but it was a lot of overlap between NCEA which helped my poor tired brain
  • Delivery of Lectures/Information = 4/5 — I really engaged with these lectures due to the lecturers going over past questions and keep it interactive. Their slides are also clear and match up perfectly with your course guide.
  • Teaching Staff = 5/5 — I have no complaints about the teaching staff. They all did such a fantastic job. Special s/o to Queen Melissa.
  • Course Organisation = 4/5 — Kaitlin (the course coordinator) did a great job of keeping things organised and gave us extensions when she thought they were fair to give. Sometimes, releasing assignments for the SiM discussions weren’t always the quickest
  • Assessments = 4/5 — I felt that most of the questions in the test and exam were super fair. I also appreciated the plussage that they offer
  • Laboratories = 3/5 — TAs can vary quite differently when marking our assignments which I didn’t think was fair at all. However, the experiments were fun and it was quite easy to get full marks on the practical aspect.
  • Overall = 3.8/5(B+) — Really good course for the most part. I think it really depends on whether you enjoy chemistry or not and your experience in the labs.

Assessments and Weighting

  2. Quizzes = 5%
  3. Laboratories = 15%
  4. SiM Discussion = 15%
  5. Final Exam = 50% (BUT CAN BE WORTH 65% IF PLUSSAGE APPLIES)


The content is split up into 6 different modules/topics taken by three different lecturers. 5/6 of the topics bring back basics from Level 3 Chemistry for their first lectures which is a great refresher and introduction to the topics presented. The good thing about the lectures is that the course guide is basically just ‘fill in the blanks’ of what the lecturer is saying and what’s on the slides which makes your notes super organised. Also before each lecture, there are compulsory pre-readings that you must do. Try do these in the weekend when you have the most time because if you don’t, you’re gonna be completely lost in the lecture lol.

  1. Foundations (6 lectures) — This block of lectures is taken by Dr. Kaitlin Beare who is also the course coordinator for CHEM 110. We had these lectures online but most of the content was pretty basic, just talking about types of bonding and isomers. We also learnt how to draw line structures so you never have to draw the whole molecule with a bunch of Cs and Hs ever again (iykyk).
  2. Spectroscopy (4 lectures) — These lectures were taken by Dr. Melissa Cadelis and is all about how you can tell different compounds apart by different specotroscopy techniques. I absolutely hated spec in high school, but thankfully Melissa is probably the nicest and best lecturer you’ll ever have. She’s super relatable and fun, and even reads the pre-readings in class because she knows we’re all lazy first year students ahaha.
  3. Kinetics (4 lectures) — This section was taken by Professor Duncan McGillivray and is a very very maths heavy section which may suck for some people/ But don’t worry, I found the maths super basic and an easy way to grab points in the exam. He lectures a bit differently from Dr. Beare and Dr. Cadelis, but still really easy to follow.
  4. Functional Groups 1 (4 lectures) — This is the first half of lectures on Functionals Groups that will be assessed in the mid-semester test. Dr. Beare takes these lectures and it’s pretty much just adding onto Organic Chemistry from Level 2 and Level 3 Chemistry. The worst part of this module (and the course overall) are the mechanisms you need to learn and be able to draw, but that just comes with practice!
  5. Acids and Bases (4 lectures) — These are the last lectures taken by Professor McGillivary and honestly may feel like a breeze if you paid attention in Level 3 Chemistry. This is because most (if not all) of the content is exactly the same as NCEA. If you were like me and did not, don’t worry! He explains all the concepts really well and starts right from the basics.
  6. Functional Groups 2 (7 lectures) — The last block of lectures is taken by the iconic duo that is Kaitlin and Melissa. Here, you’ll learn about carboxylic acid derivatives, their mechanisms (yikes) and sugars. This is probably the most complicated module out of the 6, but luckily your lecturers are awesome and explain the concepts really well!


I’m not gonna sugar coat this — the CHEM 110 labs can be very stressful. However, if you take time to appreciate the experiments for what they are rather than something that’s assessed, they can actually be quite fun. In your practical component, there are 4 elements which are:

  1. Pre-lab Quizzes — These are very simple 10 MCQs in which you get 10 attempts to complete it. These are really easy to score well in, just read your lab manual properly and knock it out in 1–2 attempts.
  2. Lab (Practical) Skills — Throughout the 10 lab topics you are assessed on 10 different skills. These are assessed by your GTA either when you present them your product or through your assignment sheet you complete during the lab. The good thing about these is that you are assessed on every skill twice, which means you have two chances to get full marks. Keep a track of which skills you’ve done well on and which ones you need to try again with, and which experiments they correlate to.
  3. Assignment Sheets — The first three assignment sheets are completed throughout the lab and are assessed, while the last two are not. Often these come down to the individual marker grading it, so make sure you get every detail you can on their and double check your answers so that they have nothing to pick on!
  4. Post-lab Activities/Full Report — For the first three labs, you will complete some written activities about aspects of your experiment. This builds up to a ‘fill-in-the-blanks’ scientific report in Lab 4 and a full scientific report in Lab 5. Make sure you complete the post-lab activities properly and take your GTA’s feedback in because this will really help for your final report!

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting… a breakdown of the ‘labs of doom’ for CHEM 110.

  1. Aspirin and TLC — In this lab, you will first prepare a sample of aspirin (no, you can’t consume it!) following the instructions in your lab guide. You’ll also do a thin layer chromotography. This lab is probably the most stressful as you’re still trying to work your way through everything so definitely prepare as best you can!
  2. Separation and Estimation of Organic Compounds and Models — I did this lab online due to it being Alert Level 2, but all we had to do for it was process the data that was already given to us on Canvas. In the actual lab, you’ll have to collect this data yourself and then do the respective calculations. If you like maths and are good at analysing data from scientific reports in high school, you’ll probably enjoy this. For the second part of the lab, we had to create a model of an optical isomer out of things we had at home (see below for my creation). In the actual lab, you get to use the proper atom models and construct different types of isomers.
  3. Hydrolysis of an Ester and Spectroscopic Structure Determination — In this lab you will carry out an experiment to hydrolyse an ester. Most of the skills for this overlap with the first lab, so don’t stress too much if you’ve already managed to get the marks from it. The second half is trying to work out a compound from interpreting different spectra. Do as much as you can of this work at home before the lab before you arrive. However, this lab can be quite time pressured, so don’t worry if you only get close to the structure. The fifth lab can be used to make up for any mistakes made in this section.
  4. Chemical Kinetics — This is all about measuring the rate of reaction using a spectrophotometer. Definitely watch the videos online on how to use it because my lab partner and I almost made a really bad mistake that would’ve skewed our data severely. The experiment itself is pretty quick but you have to do heaps of work at home to finish the report and assignment sheet (especially if your classmates all have whack data like we did). As a tip, put all your data in a spreadsheet once it has been released to help you remove outliers and do calculations quickly.
  5. Imine Synthesis — For your final lab you will make an imine which is probably the coolest reaction of the bunch. You’ll also do another TLC and a take-home spectroscopy exercise. You’ll have to do a bit of work to work out all the compounds given in the spectra, but it is great practice for your exam and it isn’t in a time pressured lab situation.

My very beautiful enatiomer (can you tell how much effort I put in?). Also rip my highlighters, desk and that orange that sacrificed themselves.

Science in the Media (SiM) Discussions

This is a relatively new addition to the CHEM 110 family, and it isn’t unwelcomed. In previous years you had to write a full essay on Science in the Media, and luckily this has been replaced for these much quicker tasks. To introduce you to the exciting world of science in today’s world, Dr. Beare takes a fun lecture about the media and how they interpret science (get ready for lots of Donald Trump roasts). Then from there everything’s in your hands. Here are what’s part of this section to get your relatively easy 15%.

  1. Quizzes — Similar to the pre-lab quizzes, these are very simple 10 question MCQs that you have 10 attempts at. The questions are derived from your SiM modules but honestly, with some common sense, you can probably complete them without doing the modules/
  2. Discussions — There are 4 discussions. The first and last one are worth 1 mark and the other two are worth 2 each. In this you will post a Canvas post to your discussion group about a certain topic/article that Kaitlin outlines, then you’ll comment on another’s post. This is a super simple way to earn a free 15% so make sure you do these on time!


The quizzes are honestly what scared me the most about the course. You only get one attempt to answer 6 questions. Anxiety inducing. I remember one night I got 5/6 on one of them and I cried to my boyfriend about it at 3am lol. But don’t worry! They only take the scores from the best 8/11. Take your time on these and don’t be afraid to consult trustworthy friends if they’re willing to help.

Invigilated Assessments

Once again, the luck of doing a premed course strikes again and we had to do all of these assessments in person. We also got a cheat sheet for the very first time, and tbh I’m probably most proud of this because I tried to make mine look as cute as possible hehe. I didn’t really think either of them were unfair, I just wanted to do so well that I basically ran out of time for both of them whoops. Anyways, here’s the tea about your test and exam.

  1. Mid-Semester Test — For us, this was the last test we had to sit during the assessment period in the middle of the semester. This test covered content from the first four modules, as well as a few concepts from the labs (e.g. yield calculations). There was two sections with one being purely MCQ and the other being short-answer questions The MCQs are quite easy to do well in, but for the SAQs, these were hard to do well in. Not because they were necessarily difficult, but it was quite hard to know what the examiner was actually looking for. Try and think about what the examiner really wants you to get out of the question, and also go to the Drop-In sessions to get feedback on your answers before the final exam.
  2. Final Exam — The final exam was very similar to the mid-semester test in terms of structure. It covers all the content from everything (but there’s very very few questions about the labs). Do as many practice questions as you can and make sure you nail your MCQs if you need something to fall back on for you SAQs

For my cheat sheets, I stuck on equations, formulas, mechanisms and reaction schemes which I think is the best way to go for chemistry. It’s one of those subjects whether you either completely understand the concept or you don’t and there’s not so much remembering involved as much as understanding.

The cheat sheet for my final exam! Most of it was handwritten and took forever to do, so definitely start this process early!

Remember that you get plussage in this course! This lifesaving concept means that if you do a certain amount of activities, you’ll be able to relocate up to 15% of your test marks onto the final exam if you do badly. Here are the activities you can do.

  1. BestChoice Website — For this all you need to do is complete the activities on the BestChoice website. This website looks like it was created in the dinosaur ages, but trust me, it’s really good. Use it to consolidate your knowledge and as practice questions, or to brush up on hard concepts
  2. Drop-In Sessions — I didn’t personally go to any, but these are usually held over Zoom, or in person in the lecturers’ office. This is a good way to ask any questions to the lecturers so that you know exactly what they’re teaching.

I only did the BestChoice Website for my plussage and I think that’s a good way to go if you don’t have any burning questions to ask the lecturers. You only need 1200 points for 15% plussage and I did the questions as I went through the course, so I didn’t even realise I had reached the requirements until my friend told me!

How I Studied (and How I Should’ve Studied)

Luckily for me, chemistry in general is probably my best science subject. Therefore I knew that in order to do well in this course, I needed to focus on the higher level concepts (as well as my drawing skills lol) to be able to do well. This won’t be the case for everyone! I think for this course no matter where you’re starting from, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the basics and then attempt as many practice questions as you can!

For both tests, I started my cheat sheets early so that I could practice religiously with them. I also got a feel for what sort of questions they asked through the practice questions they gave on Canvas which helped a lot. If there were things I weren’t sure of, I’d add them quickly to my cheat sheet so that I didn’t have a mind blank in my exams.

In preparation for the labs, I took a similar approach that I did for BIOSCI 107. Obviously you can’t really practice making aspirin at home, but I watched the videos of people doing the experiments on Canvas so that I knew the most efficient ways to succeed. I also made sure I typed all my post-lab activities onto a Google Doc before I submitted it in the Canvas text box. That way, I could quickly refer to them for my final lab report and follow its structure

I wouldn’t even stress about SiM as they take like a max. of 30 minutes to complete all the activities for the week. I didn’t look at any of the modules (whoops) and just went off common sense in the MCQs. I also took inspiration from my peers’ posts (but not totally copied them) while making my own so that I knew I was on the right track.

Reflecting on how I studied, I think it was the right approach to take for me in order to succeed, but chemistry is one of those subjects that you either love or you don’t. So don’t take my methods as a holy grail and do your own analysis on what you need to do to succeed in this course.

Going Psycho(logy)’s POV

I know lots of people really don’t like CHEM 110, and I’m pretty sure it’s just because they don’t like chemistry. The overall course is organised with amazing lecturers and heaps of resources to support you through your learning. In my humble opinion, CHEM 110 is a great course if you love chemistry and an absolutely terrible course if you don’t. I happen to fall into the first category so I guess I’m a Kaitlin, Melissa and Duncan stan.

Don’t get me wrong though — heaps of the content was super duper boring and I fell asleep during I think most of the first organics section (sorry Kaitlin). It’s also another one of those papers that people aiming for clinical pathways ask “why do we need to take this?”. I kind of agree with this sentiment but I’m not going to pass any judgement because I don’t know how this applies to medicine, pharmacy or the other clinical jobs. Just remember that you’re probably forced to do this course by your degree (like who would pick chemistry over anything else?) so you may as well try to enjoy the course as best you can. And luckily, the lecturers don’t make that too difficult.

Also, don’t be like me and get super salty over doing bad in some of quizzes. I ended up finding out that getting 11/11 or even 8/11 perfect is a very hard thing to do for whatever reason. Take a breath and remember, it’s only 5% of your entire grade.

Anyways, that’s it from me! If you have any questions feel free to email me at :)

Stay safe, stay healthy and stay happy!

Going Psycho(logy) ^.^




Hi! I’m currently a second year BHSc/BSc (majoring in Psychology) student at the University of Auckland. Hopefully you’ll enjoy and learn something from me! ^.^

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Going Psycho(logy)

Going Psycho(logy)

Hi! I’m currently a second year BHSc/BSc (majoring in Psychology) student at the University of Auckland. Hopefully you’ll enjoy and learn something from me! ^.^

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