About AP® Chemistry Exam

Have you always been interested in chemistry? Does the idea of conducting lab experiments and studying how matter transforms as a result of a chemical reaction excite you? Are you thinking about taking AP® Chemistry? Well, this article will give you all the exam information you need to decide if AP Chemistry is the right course for you.

We’ll take a look at some of the prerequisites for taking AP Chemistry, what the course will teach you, what you will be tested on, and also shed some light on how hard the course might be. By the end of this article, you should have all the information you need to start your educational journey with AP Chemistry.

What Is AP Chemistry Equivalent To & Who Can Take It?

As is the case with most AP subjects, AP Chemistry is equivalent to an introductory college-level general chemistry course. This college course is the first chemistry course that undergraduate students take. You will learn the same material while taking AP Chemistry in high school.

Through the inquiry-based approach of the AP course, you will be able to develop a strong foundation in chemistry. Some of the topics you will study include atomic structure, chemical reactions, and thermodynamics. While you may have studied some of these topics earlier, the AP Chemistry course will enable you to study them at a more advanced level.

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Picture of a beaker where solid iodine molecules transform into a gas (sublimation), which then cools to change back to a solid (deposition). The solid then collects on the bottom of a watch glass in the beaker.
Illustration showing the same pure sample of a given compound isolated from bone and a mineral and having the same chemical composition regardless of its origin source.
Image shows bromine being physically mixed and dissolving in water but both substances retain their chemical identities.

AP Chemistry can seem a little harder than AP Biology or even AP Physics. But then again, the difficulty of AP Chemistry can be quite subjective. While AP Chemistry involves some memorization, content application and in-depth critical thinking are also important. The curriculum covers a wide range of content over 9 units, with several topics under each unit. Apart from this, AP Chemistry involves a lot of calculations; in fact, mathematical routines are one of the science practices that are part of the AP Chemistry curriculum.

If you take AP Chemistry in high school and get a final exam score of 3 or above, you may be eligible to earn college credit and placement. In other words, you can opt out of the equivalent college course and use that time to take more advanced courses. This is one of the biggest bonuses of taking AP Chemistry. However, there are some prerequisites that you should complete before taking the course.

The prerequisites for taking AP Chemistry are:

  1. High school chemistry
  2. Algebra II

Most AP chem students and instructors will tell you that having a strong foundation in high school chemistry and Algebra II is vital to doing well in AP Chemistry. Since the AP course is at an advanced level, you must have a basic knowledge of key chemistry concepts. This is usually covered in the general high school chemistry course. Also, having a strong skill set in math is important because a number of units in the course involve mathematical calculations.

What Is on the AP Chemistry Exam?

The AP Chemistry exam is designed to test your skills in collecting and analyzing data, creating models, and applying mathematical routines to chemistry topics. The AP Chemistry course enables you to develop these skills and apply them to the concepts being taught so you can easily answer questions on the exam.

The exam will test your understanding of the four big ideas for the course:

  • Big Idea 1: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Big Idea 2: Structure and Properties
  • Big Idea 3: Transformations
  • Big Idea 4: Energy

These big ideas are the basis of the AP Chemistry course and the themes that the units of this course are centered around. The AP Chemistry exam will be based on the 9 units of the course. Let’s take a look at what these units are and what percentage of the exam each unit encompasses.

Units Unit Name Exam Weight
Unit 1 Atomic Structure & Properties 7–9%
Unit 2 Molecular & Ionic Compound
Structures & Properties
7–9%
Unit 3 Intermolecular Forces & 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%

These concepts are designed primarily to ensure that you develop six key science practices. All the questions on the exam will be based on these practices:

  1. Models and Representations
  2. Question and Method
  3. Representing Data and Phenomena
  4. Model Analysis
  5. Mathematical Routines
  6. Argumentation

If you would like a more detailed introduction to the curriculum, check out our unit guides. Now that you have a basic understanding of what you will be tested on, let’s look at the format of the exam itself.

AP Chemistry Exam Format in 2022

Like most other AP exams, the AP Chemistry exam is divided into two sections. Section I of the exam includes multiple-choice questions, while Section II of the exam has free-response questions. The exam lasts for 3 hours and 15 minutes, and you will have access to a periodic table and formula sheet during the exam.

Question Type Score Weightage Number of Questions Time
Multiple-Choice Questions 50% of the total score 60 questions 1 hour and 30 minutes
Free-Response Questions 50% of the total score 7 questions 1 hour and 45 minutes

In Section I, you will earn 1 point for each correct answer. There are two types of free-response questions in Section II: long-essay questions and short-answer questions. The 3 long-essay questions are worth 10 points each whereas the 4 short-answer questions are worth 4 points each.

The multiple-choice questions are computer-graded, and there is no penalty for wrong answers. Because the answers in Section II are handwritten and not choice-based, the free-response questions are graded manually by AP Readers based on the quality and accuracy of your answers.

You will not be allowed to use your calculator on Section I of the exam.

Want a little more insight into the exam format? Then check out our article about the AP Chemistry exam format.

Why Should You Take AP Chemistry?

We know that the AP Chemistry course covers a vast amount of material and is challenging. However, if you’re someone that is excited by chemistry, then this might just be the course for you! Not only does AP Chemistry enable you to develop a strong foundation in chemical studies, but it also offers some key benefits that make it a course worth taking. Let's look at some of these benefits to help answer why you should take AP Chemistry.

  1. College Credit - Scoring between 3 and 5 on the AP Chemistry exam can earn you college credit depending on the college to which you are applying. Most colleges take your AP Chemistry exam score into account while granting admissions. If you have a score that meets their minimum requirement, you could earn credit that will allow you to skip first-year introductory chemistry courses.
  2. Spare Time for Other Courses - Your AP Chemistry exam score could enable you to earn college credit for introductory chemistry courses (and sometimes the corresponding labs, depending on your college or university). This will free up your time to take other courses that you might be interested in and may not have been able to take otherwise.
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  1. Potentially Save on College Tuition - By taking AP Chemistry and earning college credit while in high school, you could reduce the number of classes you need to take while in college and therefore potentially save on college tuition.
  2. Strong Foundation for College - As we said earlier, the concepts you will learn in AP Chem are the same concepts that are taught in an introductory general chemistry course in college. So, taking this course will definitely give you a deeper understanding of the subject and, thereby, a strong foundation for further studies in chemistry.
  3. Develop Your Skill Set - Studying chemistry requires you to use a number of skills, both for theoretical concepts and applications. AP Chemistry is designed to help you develop those skills as you progress through the course. This can set you up for success when you take higher-level courses.
  4. Academically Challenging - While this course is challenging, it will really interest someone who has a strong desire to study chemistry. If that sounds like you, then this is a great course for you to take! Apart from just being a good academic challenge, completing the AP Chemistry course and taking the exam can also make your transcript stand out to college admissions panels. It will show them that you are a student who rose to the challenge of taking AP Chemistry and is used to the pace of a college-level chemistry course.
  5. Decide Your Career - If you have been thinking about a career in the chemistry field, taking AP Chemistry will help confirm that you really enjoy the subject matter. Taking AP Chemistry will also give you an idea about the difficulty of the subject as well as the dedication required to study chemistry. This can help you decide whether you want to pursue chemistry or a different career path.

These are just a few of the many advantages you gain by taking AP Chemistry in high school and why so many students choose to take it.

Should You Take AP Chemistry?

Deciding whether or not to take AP Chemistry while in high school depends entirely on you. Every student is different and will have a different aptitude for chemistry. However, here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether AP Chemistry is the right course for you.

  1. Have you taken high school chemistry?
    Given that it is highly recommended that you take a high school chemistry class before taking AP Chemistry, you want to make sure that you are well-versed in basic chemistry. If you have never taken chemistry before, you might find this course considerably more challenging because you will have to catch up and learn the information you are expected to know. If you have taken chemistry before, then you should have the background necessary for AP Chemistry.
  2. Have you taken Algebra II?
    Another prerequisite for taking AP Chemistry is Algebra II. AP Chemistry involves a lot of mathematical calculations. In fact, almost every unit in the course curriculum has topics that require math skills. So if you haven’t studied Algebra II, you might find this course a little harder than those who have taken this math class previously.
  3. How interested are you in chemistry?
    AP Chemistry can be a very challenging course and requires many hours of studying. You will need to cover nine units in addition to conducting labs and preparing for the exam. This can be a lot for someone to handle if they aren’t interested in chemistry.
  4. Has chemistry always been your strong suit?
    If you have previously studied chemistry, you should have a good idea of how well you can do in chemistry. While being passionate about the subject is important, it’s also equally important to be able to study and ace the exams. If one of your academic strengths has consistently been chemistry, then you will definitely enjoy taking AP Chemistry.
  5. Do you want to continue studying chemistry?
    Most students take AP courses for the chance to earn college credits. If you intend on continuing your education in chemistry at the college level, then taking AP chemistry can be beneficial to you because you can start with higher-level chemistry classes when you get to college.

Apart from asking these questions, you could also talk to your peers who are taking the course or have already completed it. Additionally, you can consult your AP Coordinator for advice. They can help you get an idea of what to expect so you can decide whether you are ready for it or not. Going through the course curriculum is also another great way to determine whether AP Chemistry is the right course for you.

Is AP Chemistry Hard?

Deciding whether AP Chemistry is hard is just as subjective as deciding whether you should take the course or not. Some students might find the course content easy but preparing for the exam might be difficult, or vice versa. So, we’ve put together a few pointers to help you gauge how easy or difficult you might find the course.

  1. If you’ve done well in chemistry and mathematics in the past, then you should be able to cover the course content of AP Chemistry with relative ease.
  2. If you look at the score distribution from the past few years, you will find that AP Chemistry has a lower percentage of students scoring above 3 compared to another AP Science course such as AP Biology. So it can be a challenging course, but if you have the right study material, you should be able to excel.
  3. Although you will need to memorize some information from various units within the course, such as the properties of various substances, a formula sheet is provided during the exam. Now while that means you may not need to memorize all the formulas, you will need to know how to apply them. This requires critical and analytical thinking, which are important skills to have when taking AP Chemistry.
  4. Your high school schedule might be quite packed. Between regular classes and extracurricular activities, you may find that you have limited time to dedicate to studying AP Chemistry. So be sure to consider your schedule for the year you plan to take AP Chemistry, especially around the time that the AP exam is given. To do well in AP Chem, you must be able to dedicate enough time to study, do homework, work on the lab component, and prepare for the exam.

AP Chemistry Review Tips

AP Chemistry may be challenging, but we have a few quick exam review tips to help you ace the exam!

  1. Make a schedule: Having a well-planned schedule is the best way to keep track of the topics you’ve covered and the ones you have yet to work on.
  2. Get familiar with the format of the exam: Understanding the exam format will help you know exactly what to expect on the exam, so you won’t be caught off guard in the middle of your test-taking experience.
  3. Review materials: Invest in good review materials such as UWorld’s online practice questions and flashcards. You can also create your own formula sheet for quick review closer to the exam.

To get more practice and review tips for AP Chemistry, check out our AP Chemistry Study Guide. You can also become familiar with the concepts and format of the exam by trying out online practice questions from UWorld. Our AP Chemistry practice questions contain detailed answer explanations for the correct and incorrect answer choices.

In addition, our AP Chemistry practice tests allow you to set the number of questions you want and track your progress and performance. The many educational illustrations we have included in the question explanations are designed to give you an interactive learning experience. With UWorld, you can even make flashcards based on the questions on your practice test and add tags to your digital notes to help you remember important concepts.

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Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

For the AP Chemistry exam, you would need to carry the following:
  • A graphing or scientific calculator for the FRQ section. A four-function calculator is also allowed!
  • No. 2 pencils to use for the multiple choice section of the exam.
  • Dark blue or black inked pens for the free response section.
  • If you opted for any exam accommodations, don’t forget to bring your College Board SSD Accommodations Letter.

You can find previous AP Chemistry released exam questions on the College Board® website.

The AP Chemistry exam in 2022 will be held on May 2nd at 12 PM local time.

Nothing happens if you fail the AP Chemistry exam! You can still attend college whether you fail or pass the exam. However, failing an AP chem exam reduces your chances of admission to the top colleges in the United States, as you’ll lose extra points during the admission process. Remember, you can always retake the exam any number of times.

Students usually take the AP Chemistry exam in their junior or senior year of high school.

The AP Chemistry exam costs $96 for students in the US, Canada, and US territories, and $126 if you are an international student. For more information, please read our article on AP Exam Eligibility, Registration & Cost.

Students are required to take high school chemistry before signing up for the more challenging, college-level AP Chemistry class. So you would not be prepared well for AP Chemistry if you only took a regular chemistry class.

Read more about the AP Chemistry Exam

Looking for a break-down of the AP Chemistry exam format? Check out this article that explains the AP Chem exam format, sections, types of questions, and more!

It is hard to review all the pages of the official CED pdf. Check out this easy-to-read AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description for in-depth info on the exam, units, and topics!

Want to know everything about AP Chemistry Scoring? Here’s our easy-to-follow article on scoring and score distribution—including the exam score calculator to know where you stand.

Are you looking for pro-tips that will help you score a 5? Check out our expert’s study guide and resources to help you score high in AP Chemistry.
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