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VCE Science

Chemistry Unit 4: How are Organic Compounds Categorised, Analysed and Used?


Chemistry Unit 3. Mathematical Methods is strongly recommended.

Course Description

The carbon atom has unique characteristics that explain the diversity and number of organic compounds that not only constitute living tissues but are also found in the fuels, foods, medicines and many of the materials we use in everyday life. In this unit students investigate the structural features, bonding, typical reactions and uses of the major families of organic compounds including those found in food.

Areas of Study

How can the diversity of carbon compounds be explained and categorised?

In this area of study, students explore why such a vast range of carbon compounds is possible. They examine the structural features of members of several homologous series of compounds, including some of the simpler structural isomers, and learn how they are represented and named.

Students investigate trends in the physical and chemical properties of various organic families of compounds. They study typical reactions of organic families and some of their reaction pathways, and write balanced chemical equations for organic syntheses. 

Students learn to deduce or confirm the structure and identity of organic compounds by interpreting data from mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy and proton and carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

What is the chemistry of food?

Food contains various organic compounds that are the source of both the energy and the raw materials that the human body needs for growth and repair. In this area of study students explore the importance of food from a chemical perspective.  

Students study the major components of food with reference to their structures, properties and functions. They examine the hydrolysis reactions in which foods are broken down, the condensation reactions in which new biomolecules are formed and the role of enzymes, assisted by coenzymes, in the metabolism of food.

Students study the role of glucose in cellular respiration and investigate the principles of calorimetry and its application in determining enthalpy changes for reactions in solution. They explore applications of food chemistry by considering the differences in structures of natural and artificial sweeteners, the chemical significance of the glycaemic index of foods, the rancidity of fats and oils, and the use of the term ‘essential’ to describe some amino acids and fatty acids in the diet. 

Practical investigation

A student-designed or adapted practical investigation related to energy and/or food is undertaken in either Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4. The investigation relates to knowledge and skills developed across Unit 3 and/or Unit 4.

The investigation requires the student to identify an aim, develop a question, formulate a hypothesis and plan a course of action to answer the question and that complies with safety and ethical requirements. The student then undertakes an experiment that involves the collection of primary qualitative and/or quantitative data, analyses and evaluates the data, identifies limitations of data and methods, links experimental results to science ideas, reaches a conclusion in response to the question and suggests further investigations which may be undertaken. Findings are communicated in a scientific poster format. A practical logbook must be maintained by the student for record, authentication and assessment purposes.


Outcomes Assessment Tasks Marks Allocated
(school-assessed coursework)

Compare the general structures and reactions of the major organic families of compounds, deduce structures of organic compounds using instrumental analysis data, and design reaction pathways for the synthesis of organic molecules.

One task selected from the following:

  • Analysis and evaluation of stimulus material.
  • A report on a laboratory investigation.
  • A comparison of two electricity-generating cells.
  • A reflective learning journal.

Distinguish between the chemical structures of key food molecules, analyse the chemical reactions involved in the metabolism of the major components of food including the role of enzymes, and calculate the energy content of food using calorimetry. 

One task selected from the following:

  • Response to stimulus material.
  • A report of a laboratory investigation.
  • A comparison of food molecules.
  • A reflective learning journal/blog related to selected activities or in response to an issue.

Design and undertake a practical investigation related to energy and/or food, and present methodologies, findings and conclusions in a scientific poster.

A structured scientific poster according to the VCAA standard template.

Total Marks 90


Practical Work and Assessment  

Practical work is a central component of learning and assessment. As a guide, between three and a half and five hours of class time are devoted to practical work and investigations for the first and second Areas of Study. For the third Area of Study, between seven and ten hours of class time are devoted to the investigation related to energy and/or food, to be undertaken in either Unit 3 or Unit 4, or across both Units 3 and 4, including writing of the sections of the scientific poster.


Overall Final Assessment

Graded Assessment Title Assessment Exam Duration Contribution to Study Score (%)
1 Unit 3 Coursework School-assessed   16
2 Unit 4 Coursework School-assessed   24
3 Written Examination November 2.5 hours 60


Reproduced by permission of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: