HSFY- How I Scored A+ and Got Into Medicine (Part 2)

Brynn OngHealth Science First YearLeave a Comment

Health Science First Year Otago University- Semester 1

In this post I will elaborate on how I study for CHEM191 and PHSI191. For most semester 1 HSFY students- these two subjects are probably the most difficult out of the four (for very good reasons).

FOR BOTH SUBJECTS YOU NEED GOOD BASIC MATHEMATICAL SKILLS !! – unfortunately this is unavoidable, if you suck at maths in school, then you need to really work hard!

CHEM 191

Introduction to chemistry and role in human biology

How I studied for CHEM191

  • Probably my favourite subject for the semester- good balance of thinking, problem-solving and some memorising
  • Attended most of the lectures and wrote brief notes on printed lecture slides
  • Most importantly, I did lots and lots of practice questions, especially from past year exams and even some textbook practice questions
  • Spent about 30 minutes studying the lecture slides for each lecture, then 1-2 hours to practice, practice and practice solving questions
  • I am glad that I started doing lots of practice questions very early on in the course. This gave me time to grow and develop my thinking and problem solving skills.

For labs- did pre-lab preparations, went to all the labs, paid attention during lab sessions. Note: CHEM191 labs are important because the exit tests results depend on how well you understand the lab sessions and experiments. If you focus during these sessions then the exit tests should be a piece of cake. These lab sessions were probably more important than the other subjects in my opinion

Term tests- Revised all the lecture slides, memorised all the formulas and spent 90% of my time doing practice questions from past mid-term exams.

Finals- Same as how I studied for term tests. However, module 4-6 (organic chemistry) required more understanding and memorising. Some of the concepts/ theories were difficult to grasp at first but makes sense once you understood it. My tip is to learn all the lecture slides, understand them, memorise important concepts and practice, practice, practice!

Mistakes I made

  • Towards end of the module (module 5-6), I began to neglect revising the lectures. Mainly because of poor time management and I had to spend quite a lot of time on memory intensive subjects like HUBS191 and CELS191. When I had the time to study CHEM191, I usually do practice questions first then only revise lecture slides.

Useful Resources

  • Past year exams- extremely crucial (if i had to choose one resource only to study from, it will definitely be from past year exams)
  • My notes- these notes are self-written and are based on my 5 years experience of tutoring CHEM191. I revised these notes multiple times to make CHEM191 easy, succinct and exam-focused. Click here to get the latest CHEM191 notes

CHEM191 Exam Notes

Personal Recommendations


CHEM191 is a subject i am very fimilar with. I have been tutoring CHEM191 students for 5 years + now. From my experience, I can conclude that successful A+ students

  • Did countless amount of practice questions from past year papers (>1000 questions)
  • How is that possible?- Start EARLY. Start TODAY!
  • Most importantly, they understand the purpose of each question well and learn from mistakes. Questions look different on surface but the principles of solving them are the same. The more you do the easier it is for you to detect the patterns and solve them quickly. If you get a wrong answer, don’t just brush it away! Learn what you did wrong and how you can improve next time! Sounds obvious right? but you would not believe how often students ignore their mistakes!

PHSI 191

The study of biological physics

How I studied for PHSI191

  • I am probably one of the worst example for studying PHSI191.
  • First few PHSI191 lectures were very similar to high school physics. Therefore, I did not pay much attention as I thought most of the topics were relatively easy.
  • So I skipped most of the lectures and did only a few practice questions. (you can see where this is heading….)
  • Completed my first term test, scored only 12/20. Slightly more than half! 60% to be exact
  • I was very discouraged and disappointed. I kept asking myself “How am I supposed to score A for PHSI191?”
  • My emotions got the best of me and I left subject aside until….

3 weeks before finals- I finally woke up. I told myself that I only have one last chance to redeem myself- that is to do well in the finals. As much as I was scared of physics, I need to at least give my very best fight, instead of hopelessly waiting to fail. Shortly after, I ramped up my efforts and did practice questions from past year exams (lots and lots of them! Probably even more than CHEM191!)

For labs and blackboard tests: Did all of them with friends. Easy marks.

Term tests- poor effort. If I could go back in time, I would have went to the lectures, revised lecture slides and most importantly practice, practice, practice!

Finals- Really pushed myself hard. Did the same thing as chemistry- lots of practice. I did not have enough time to revise lecture slides, so totally neglected the slides. I wrote all the formulas in cheat sheet and some important facts that I always forget.

Mistakes I made

  • Thought PHSI191 was an easy subject (I was very, very wrong)
  • Neglecting PHSI191 for three quarters of the semester
  • Not enough practice
  • Not revising the lecture slides
  • .. and so many more

Useful Resources

  • Past year exams- needless to explain why
  • Practice questions from blackboard
  • Textbook- wait.. what? Since when do I recommend textbook as a useful resource? Well, personally I thought the textbook was too wordy and boring, but some of my friends had great success from the physics textbook. I guess give it a go and see how you like it.

Personal Recommendations

Basically the same as CHEM191, except you seriously should do a LOT MORE practice. Most of the exam questions depend on your problem solving skills than churning out information.

My Results?



CHEM191- 94% (A+)



Unlike HUBS191 and CELS191, these two subjects require deep thinking, understanding and good problem-solving skills. In order to excel, you should definitely

  • Start doing practices early– Start NOW, print of all the past year papers and just do it!
  • Do practices consistently– Do it everyday. Give your brain time to digest and absorb new information
  • If you have time- revise some of the lecture slides

When I coach and tutor HSFY students, I always plan a timetable that ensures

  • ALL 4 subjects are revised everyday
  • CHEM191/ PHSI191- more practice than HUB191/CELS191
  • HUBS191/CELS191- more memorising work than CHEM191/PHSI191


  • VISUALISATION– have an overall idea on a concept or question
  • REPITITION– do the same thing over and over again
  • CONSISTENCY– study, revise and practise everyday

That is all for semester 1, I hope this has been useful to you. I have many, many more resources that I can share with you for free- just e-mail me at brynn1991@yahoo.com (don’t worry its not a spam!) Share your progress with me, I would like to hear from you! If you have questions, concerns or comments, feel free to leave a comment or contact me.

How do I feel about my first semester results- very very happy and satisfied =)

Stay tuned for part 3- learn how I tackle semester 2 subjects!

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