AP® Chemistry Exam Format
All You Need to Know

AP® Chemistry is a challenging subject that can cause some last-minute jitters even among the most confident test-takers. However, we’re here to help you breeze right through. One of the most important things that students often forget to do is get familiar with the exam format.

Understanding what to expect on the AP Chemistry exam means you won’t be caught off guard on test day. It will even help you prepare better. How? Well, once you know the AP Chemistry exam format—question types, distribution of scores, and time per section—you can develop an efficient study plan to help you do better on the exam.

In this article, we'll closely examine the AP Chemistry exam format. We'll break down each section and the types of questions they include so you know what to expect and how to prepare.

What is the Format of the AP Chemistry Exam?

The AP Chemistry exam has two main sections1 — a multiple-choice section (Section I) and a free-response section (Section II). This is similar in structure to most other AP exams. Each section accounts for 50% of the points you can score on the exam.

How long is the AP Chemistry Exam? The AP Chemistry exam lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes. Section I contains 60 multiple-choice questions. You will have 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete this section. Section II of the exam consists of 7 free-response questions with a time limit of 1 hour and 45 minutes.

You will be given a sheet with relevant formulas and a chart with the periodic table; use both to help you with both exam sections. A scientific or graphing calculator is allowed for both sections of the exam.

Question Type Number of Questions Score Weight Total Time
Multiple-Choice 60 50% 1 hour 30 minutes
Free-Response 7 50% 1 hour 45 minutes

Now that you have a brief introduction to the basic AP Chemistry exam structure, let’s dive deeper into each section to learn more.

Section I: Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)

As you saw in the table above, this exam section lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes, during which you must answer 60 multiple-choice questions. The questions test your knowledge of the various units in AP Chemistry and your science practice skills.

Questions in this section may be either individual multiple-choice or sets based on a given passage. Question sets include 4 to 5 separate questions based on a given passage. Each question will have four answer choices, whether individual or within a set.

Given the total time you will have to complete this section, you would want to read and answer each question within 1 minute and 30 seconds. However, if you manage to answer everything in less time, you will have extra time to review your answers.

Allowing yourself some spare time before the end is always advisable. You can revisit answers you were unsure of, or skipped, or even just wanted to double-check. Also, remember that there is no scoring penalty for getting answers wrong. So be sure to give every question a shot, even if it’s guesswork!

As mentioned earlier, the questions in this section will test your knowledge of the nine units comprising the AP Chemistry curriculum. Here is the weighting for each unit:

Units Unit Name Weight
Unit 1 Atomic Structure and Properties 7–9%
Unit 2 Molecular and Ionic Compound Structure and Properties 7–9%
Unit 3 Intermolecular Forces and Properties 18–22%
Unit 4 Chemical Reactions 7–9%
Unit 5 Kinetics 7–9%
Unit 6 Thermodynamics 7–9%
Unit 7 Equilibrium 7–9%
Unit 8 Acids and Bases 11–15%
Unit 9 Applications of Thermodynamics 7–9%

In addition to testing your knowledge of these units, the exam will also test your science practice skills. While there are six science practices, the third science practice—Representing Data and Phenomena, will not be tested in this section. Here's the weighting of each science practice:

Science Practice Weight
Models and Representations 8–12%
Question and Method 8–12%
Model Analysis 23–30%
Mathematical Routines 35–42%
Argumentation 8–12%

Consider how each practice is weighted when you work out your study plan for AP Chemistry. You'll be able to decide how much time to spend on each unit and practice accordingly. This way, you’ll be better prepared to ace the exam.

Try to answer each question in one minute. If you think you’re exceeding that time limit, leave it and get back to it later. You don’t want to spend all your time on just one question.

If you would like to learn how to ace this section, you can check out our article on how to approach AP Chemistry multiple-choice questions.

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Section II: Free-Response Questions (FRQ)

Section II is the longest section of the AP Chemistry exam. It lasts one hour and forty-five minutes. You will be expected to answer 3 long essay questions and four short-answer questions. Questions in this section usually come in sets of 2 or more. Each question set will be linked to a given passage.

The long essay questions in this section are worth 10 points each, while the short-answer questions are worth up to four points each. Similar to Section I, this second section will also test your knowledge of the content taught in the nine units of AP Chemistry. However, unlike the previous section, which only tests 5 of the 6 science practices, this section will test your skills in all six science practices.

Let’s take a look at the weight distribution of each of the science practices in this section.

Science Practice Weight
Models and Representation 2–4%
Question and Method 10–16%
Representing Data and Phenomena 8–16%
Model Analysis 5–9%
Mathematical Routines 43–53%
Argumentation 15–24%

Free-response questions require you to demonstrate your mastery of both the topics and the scientific practices covered and applied during the course. While there are no answer choices, remember that the question contains all the information you need to craft your essays. The formula sheet and periodic table chart provided will also help you answer these questions.

Now let's talk about the time you'll have to answer these questions. We know the total time allotted to complete this section is one hour and forty-five minutes. If we divide the allotted time according to the question types, you should ideally be able to answer short-answer questions in five to ten minutes and long-essay questions in fifteen to twenty minutes. This approach provides time to review your answers and address any questions you may have left unanswered or unfinished.

Type of Free-Response Question Number of Questions Total Points
Short-answer questions 4 Four points each
Long-essay questions 3 Ten points each

Answering free-response questions takes practice. It's also essential to learn how to approach these questions correctly. Since you will need to draft your own answers, learning to frame them to include the relevant information and science practices is crucial. To help you better prepare for this section, we've put together some tips and pointers in our article on how to approach AP Chemistry free-response questions.

What Do You Need to Study to Ace AP Chemistry?

The syllabus for AP Chemistry rests on two foundational aspects—the four big ideas and the six science practices. The entire course contains nine units, with multiple topics in each unit. Each unit covers one or more of the big ideas and science practices.

Syllabus of AP Chemistry - Four Big Ideas and Six Science Practices

To do well on the exam, you will need to design a study plan that covers all nine units of the syllabus. Keep the AP Chemistry exam format in mind when creating your study plan. The weight of the science practices in each section indicates how much time you will need to spend on each unit. You can read more about which concepts you will need to study in our article on AP Chemistry’s Units & Topics.

Digital vs. Paper Format of the AP Chemistry Exam

With the introduction of the digital exam due to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most frequently asked questions is: What’s the difference between the digital and paper formats of the AP Chemistry exam?

To help answer this, we’ve put together a table of the key points of difference between the two exam formats below.

*Digital Exam Format Pen & Paper Exam Format
Section 1:
  • 60 multiple-choice questions
  • 1 hour 30 minutes
  • 50% of the total exam score
Section 1:
  • 60 multiple-choice questions
  • 1 hour 30 minutes
  • 50% of the total exam score
Section 2:
  • 40 multiple-choice questions
  • 3 free-response questions
  • 1 hour 45 minutes
  • 50% of the total exam score
Section 2:
  • 7 free-response questions
  • 1 hour 30 minutes
  • 50% of the total exam score
Answers to free-response questions will need to be keyed in. Answers to free-response questions will need to be handwritten.
Once an answer is submitted, you will not be allowed to go back and make edits. You will need to finalize each answer before submitting it. You can move back and forth between questions in the exam.

Now that you know everything there is to know about the format of the AP Chemistry exam, it’s time to put it to use in your study plan. You also want to make sure you take practice tests. This is the best way to familiarize yourself with the exam format and also ensure you have practiced with real exam timing. This will give you insight into the pace you’ll need to maintain while going through each section of the AP Chemistry exam.

“With exam day approaching, now's the time to fine-tune your study strategies and review key concepts. Explore valuable tips and resources to help you prepare effectively and confidently tackle the exam. Stay focused, stay motivated, and remember that your hard work will pay off on test day!”

If you’re looking for a platform to take practice tests with AP-level questions, you can check out UWorld’s online AP Chemistry practice tests. We have over 500 questions that are at the same difficulty level as those you might encounter on the exam. In addition, all of our practice questions come with detailed explanations and educational illustrations for all concepts in the AP Chemistry course.

You can also make flashcards and use our digital notebook feature to make customized notes as you go through each practice question. So, what are you waiting for? Give it a go and get ready to ace AP Chemistry with UWorld!

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Read More About the AP Chemistry Exam

Are you looking for an easy-to-understand AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description? Check out this curriculum guide for in-depth info on the units, topics, skills, and more.
Everything you need to know about the AP Chemistry exam scoring system and score distribution – including the AP Chemistry exam score calculator, to know where you stand.
Want to know the ultimate tips and best resources to get the highest score in AP Chemistry? Click here for the expert’s step-by-step guide to score 5 on the AP Chemistry exam.
Wondering if AP Chemistry is right for you? Learn everything about AP Chemistry, including why to take the course, exam prerequisites, difficulty, and what’s on the exam.
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