About AP® Chemistry Exam
Have you always been interested in chemistry? Does conducting lab experiments and studying how matter transforms due to 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 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 develop a strong foundation in chemistry. Some topics you will study include atomic structure, chemical reactions, and thermodynamics. While you may have explored some of these topics earlier, the AP Chemistry course will enable you to study them at a more advanced level.
AP Chemistry may seem harder than AP Biology or even AP Physics. But then again, the difficulty of AP Chemistry can be quite subjective. While AP Chemistry involves memorization, content application and in-depth critical thinking are also important. The curriculum covers a wide range of content over nine units, each covering several topics. Apart from this, AP Chemistry involves a lot of calculations; 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:
- High school chemistry
- Algebra II
Most AP chem students and instructors will tell you that having a solid 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 good grasp of fundamental chemistry concepts generally covered in an introductory 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 tests 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 the concepts 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 is based on the nine 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
|Unit 3||Intermolecular Forces & Properties||18–22%|
|Unit 4||Chemical Reactions||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:
- Models and Representations
- Question and Method
- Representing Data and Phenomena
- Model Analysis
- Mathematical Routines
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 2023
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 and short-answer. The three long-essay questions are worth 10 points each, whereas the four short-answer questions are worth 4 points each.
The multiple-choice questions are computer-graded, without 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.
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 excited by chemistry, this might 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 examine some of these benefits to help answer why you should take AP Chemistry.
- 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 your score meets your college’s minimum requirement, you could earn credit, allowing you to skip first-year introductory chemistry courses.
- 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.
- 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 and potentially save on college tuition.
- Strong Foundation for College
The concepts you will learn in AP Chem are those taught in an introductory collegiate-level general chemistry course. Taking this course will give you a deeper understanding of the subject and, thereby, a strong foundation for further studies in chemistry.
- Develop Your Skill Set
Studying chemistry requires you to use several skills, both for theoretical concepts and applications. AP Chemistry helps you develop those skills as you progress through the course. This can set you up for success when you take higher-level courses.
- Academically Challenging
While this course is challenging, it will interest someone with a strong desire to study chemistry. If that sounds like you, this is an excellent course for you! Apart from being a good academic challenge, completing the AP Chemistry course and taking the exam can 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.
- 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 subject's difficulty and the dedication required to study chemistry.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
Evaluating whether or not to take AP Chemistry while in high school depends entirely on your strengths and interests. Every student is different and will have a varying aptitude for chemistry. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you decide whether AP Chemistry is the right course for you.
- 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.
- 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 other AP Science courses, such as AP Biology. It can be a challenging course, but if you have high quality study material, you should be able to excel.
- 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.
- Your high school schedule might be quite packed. 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. Consider your schedule for the year you plan to take AP Chemistry, especially around the AP exam date. Plan to dedicate significant time to studying AP Chemistry while balancing other classes and extracurricular activities.
AP Chemistry Review Tips
AP Chemistry may be challenging, but we have a few quick exam review tips to help you ace the exam!
- Make a schedule:
A well-planned schedule is the best way to keep track of the topics you've covered and those you have yet to work on.
- Get familiar with the exam format:
Understanding the exam format will help you know what to expect on the exam, so you won’t be caught off guard in the middle of your test-taking experience.
- Review materials:
Invest in high quality 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 include in the question explanations give you an interactive learning experience. With UWorld, you can make flashcards based on the questions on your practice test and add tags to your digital notes to help you remember important concepts.
Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)
- 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.
Note that while you are permitted to retake the exam, and there is no restriction on how many times you can retake it, the College Board offers advanced placement exams once a year. For a graduating senior, it may be impractical to retake the exam.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t achieve the score you hoped for on the AP Biology exam. Research from the College Board shows students who take AP courses but score below a 3 perform better than their non-AP peers in introductory college courses. Reflect on what study skills you may need to cultivate for future academic and career success. Use that knowledge to help you as you move forward in your studies.
Students usually take the AP Chemistry exam in their junior or senior year of high school.
The AP Chemistry exam costs $97 for students in the US, Canada, and US territories, and $127 if you are an international student. For more information, please read our article on AP Exam Eligibility, Registration & Cost.
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.