AP® Chemistry Study Guide to Score a 5 on the Exam

Are you planning to take AP® Chemistry soon? If so, creating a strategy early on can help you feel more at ease and help you succeed. To help you achieve the best possible score for college acceptance, we have created a comprehensive AP Chemistry study guide. It is important to remember that passing this exam takes dedication and hard work. However, with the right AP Chemistry study materials and a solid study plan, it is possible to achieve your goal. Take a look at the essential AP Chemistry study tips and strategies below.

Step I: Design your AP class schedule carefully and way ahead of time

  1. Know the AP courses your school offers
  2. Know what your options are if an AP course isn’t offered at your school
  3. Identify the prerequisites for the courses you would like to take
  4. Understand which courses are best for you to take together
  5. Think about how driven you are and how much time you have to devote to studying and homework
  6. Know which online communities are out there for you to connect with as you go through your AP classes

Step II: Make the most out of your classroom experience in AP Chemistry

  1. Be prepared for what is on the AP Chemistry exam
  2. Make efficient use of valuable class time
  3. Compile a set of virtual notes containing key ideas
  4. Apply yourself during the labs and use scientific thinking

Step III: Make a consistent study schedule and use top-notch prep materials to learn AP Chemistry topics

  1. Use online video lectures to solidify challenging topics covered in class lectures and labs
  2. Study with AP-level practice questions that include thorough explanations
  3. Be familiar with what AP Chemistry questions look like and how to answer different question types
  4. Use online study tools that allow you to track your performance
  5. Create flashcards with spaced repetition technology and use them regularly to test what you know
  6. Continually quiz yourself on material you are struggling with
  7. Set up study sessions with your classmates
  8. Take practice tests simulating the exam conditions

Step IV: Be prepared on exam day

  1. Put together a list of the items you should bring with you to the exam
  2. Avoid last-minute studying and rest on the day before the exam
  3. Make sure to eat right and ease your mind on exam day
  4. Use proven methods to minimize exam day anxiety
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Step I: Design your AP class schedule carefully and way ahead of time

You may not know how to go about planning which AP courses to take. In this AP preparation guide, we give you some useful advice that will help make this a smooth and easy process to accomplish. Listed below are some ideas to consider as you begin deciding which AP classes to take:

1. Know the AP courses your school offers

Talking to your counselor is very helpful for learning about course offerings. Counselors can help you come up with a strategy and let you know about any potential obstacles that may arise.

Find out if your school has an online course catalog as it contains lots of useful information about the courses offered. For example, you may find that your school doesn’t offer certain AP courses every year, or that some AP courses are offered as one-semester courses while others are offered as two-semester courses.

Make a list of the AP courses you would like to take each year you’re in high school and estimate how much these AP courses will cost you. You should also check if your school or district covers the cost of the exams. Create a calendar to map out when you would like to take each AP course, and see if it is consistent with the semester or year your school offers that course.

2. Know what your options are if an AP course isn’t offered at your school

The College Board® has the AP Course Ledger, a list of secondary and online schools that offer authorized AP classes. You are able to search the ledger by school location and subject.

For students who are homeschooled or decide to study independently for an AP course, you must arrange to take the exam at a school that gives AP exams. It is best to get in touch with the school where you would like to take the exam early in the school year because there is a November 15 deadline for ordering the AP exams. You should speak to the AP coordinator when reaching out to the school because this is the person who orders the exams.

3. Identify the prerequisites for the courses you would like to take

You will more than likely need to take specific introductory courses before your school will let you register for certain AP courses. For example, to take AP Chemistry, the College Board recommends that you first take courses in chemistry and algebra II. Asking your counselor or double-checking the course catalog can help ensure you take all the necessary prerequisites.

You should make sure you are ready for how challenging AP courses are before taking them. AP courses are demanding because they require high levels of analytical reasoning and are big time commitments. Pre-AP or honors courses can help you prepare for AP courses by teaching you how to manage your time and master the fundamentals.

4. Understand which courses are best for you to take together

Knowing which AP courses to combine is a bit subjective and is a function of your strengths. It also depends on how your school structures the courses. Nonetheless, some courses will require you to spend more time outside of class than others.

Think about this as you create your class schedule so you don’t take too many time-consuming classes in the same semester or year. For example, if you choose to take AP Chemistry, you could combine it with another AP class that may not be as time-consuming or even with an honors level or regular course to help you balance your workload.

5. Think about how driven you are and how much time you have to devote to studying and homework

Don’t stretch yourself thin by putting too much on your plate. Mastering a few AP subjects will benefit you more than taking several AP courses and not fully comprehending what you are learning in any of them.

Many students often underestimate the time commitment for AP Science courses, especially those that have a lab component that may require lab reports on top of homework (ie, AP Chemistry, AP Physics, and AP Biology).

If you have commitments outside of school (eg, sports, school clubs, work), you should make sure to take these activities into consideration when taking one or more difficult AP Science courses. You want to ensure you have enough time allotted in your schedule to devote to homework and studying. This is important because it will not only help you succeed but will also prevent you from getting overwhelmed. So prepare for the course by making a schedule and having a positive attitude. Be ready to do your best!

Keep yourself motivated by reminding yourself of the AP credit offered by your top college choices. This information can usually be found on the college’s websites or by using the AP Credit Policy Search, a convenient tool offered by the College Board.

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You can use this tool to search for the name of any college or university that interests you and find out the minimum AP score accepted by that institution. You can also see a list of all the different minimum AP scores accepted by each campus if the school has more than one. This information is very helpful in creating your AP path and allows you to make the most out of your choices.

6. Know which online communities are out there for you to connect with as you go through your AP classes

Think about joining the r/APStudents subreddit and also Quora spaces specific to the subject of the AP courses you are taking. These online communities can be very helpful. For example, if you are taking AP Chemistry, you can search the AP Chemistry Quora Space or r/APStudents for posts about AP Chemistry. These online communities give you the opportunity to ask current and past AP Chemistry students any questions you may have. You will also find AP teachers, content experts, and tutors here that give useful information.

Be careful and evaluate the information you receive via social media. These are great places to look, but you should verify any information from a reliable source (eg, something sponsored by an official organization or educational institution). With this in mind, these platforms allow you a space to express your ideas as you go through the AP course. Other students going through the same course can also benefit from constructive feedback and encouragement from you.

When getting ready to take AP courses, speak with other AP students at your school who have taken the courses before you and ask them for any guidance or recommendations. They can give you the information you need to know for that course, such as the homework requirements, how the grading system works, what the teacher is like, and what a typical class period is like. Additionally, don’t be scared to ask questions of your school’s AP teachers. They will love that you are putting forth an effort and taking initiative! You can ask them what their course is like and what you can do ahead of time to be ready for the course.

Step II: Make the most out of your classroom experience in AP Chemistry

AP Chemistry is a rigorous course. Students are not only learning new concepts, they must also analyze data, and apply what they have learned. In 2021, only 11.2% of students who took the AP Chemistry exam scored a 5 (“extremely well qualified”). Students often don’t get sufficient practice with AP-style questions that require application of knowledge and data interpretation. Fortunately, this AP Chemistry study guide will give you specific steps to follow to improve your learning!

1. Be prepared for what is on the AP Chemistry exam

Early on in the course, your teacher should describe the format of the exam and how it is graded. Hopefully, they will use a format comparable to the AP exam on your class exams throughout the year. It is important to become familiar with the format of the AP Chemistry exam so that you feel confident answering these types of questions on the exam. Even if your teacher doesn’t go over the exam format and grading in detail, you can look into this information on your own. Check out our article on AP Chemistry MCQs and the one on AP Chemistry FRQs. The articles give examples of what the exam questions look like and provide tips to tackle each one.

The current AP Chemistry exam has 60 multiple choice questions (MCQs) and 7 free response questions (FRQs). Three of the FRQs are long, essay-type questions while the other four are short answer questions. The FRQs require you to analyze and interpret models/representations of chemical properties or concepts, come up with experiments to test hypotheses, plot data on graphs, solve problems mathematically, and use scientific reasoning to make a claim or support an idea.

The more accustomed you are to the structure of the exam and the types of questions on it, the more at ease you will feel on test day. The AP exams are in May each year. Make sure to mark down the date and time of the AP Chemistry exam on your calendar so you have a target to aim for. AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description, you can find the information tested in all the AP Chemistry units.

2. Make efficient use of valuable class time

Be smart about how you use your time and make the most out of the time spent in your AP Chemistry class! No matter your learning style, you want to be mentally active to really learn material during class. You should pay attention to what you are writing as you take notes and think critically about this information. Make sure to ask questions if you don’t understand something and have thoughtful discussions with your peers and teachers.

Also, try to get the best grade possible on all assignments (in-class and homework). Do the best you can! Although the AP science classes can be difficult, you should turn in all assignments rather than skipping some or taking a zero.

Not only does completing assignments help you learn the material better, but they can also be helpful if your teacher gives a midterm or final exam that is more difficult than you expected (which could lead to a lower grade than you anticipated). Having good grades on your assignments will help you earn a better final grade and may help offset an unexpected low test score.

Finally, take advantage of the interactions with your teacher and peers. You may also want to join a study group where you can learn from others and teach them what you know. Teaching someone else challenging material is one of the best ways to learn the concept yourself!

3. Compile a set of virtual notes containing key ideas

Take notes in a careful and systematic way during class. Make sure to ask yourself if you are really understanding the material you are writing down from the class lecture. Rewrite your notes each day using a virtual notebook tool.

Your virtual notes should be interactive with diagrams, visuals, and other components that help you remember the material (eg, mnemonics and acronyms). Find the correlation between the content you are presently learning and those that you have already learned. Sometimes, it helps to make a diagram to illustrate these connections.

If you still do not understand a topic after reviewing and organizing your notes, be sure to ask your teacher for help. Using a virtual notebook, like the one UWorld offers, can be very convenient because you can easily add in images, reorganize your notes, and compile a set of flashcards when you begin your AP Chemistry exam prep. A virtual notebook is one of several very useful AP Chemistry study materials you can utilize to conquer the AP Chemistry exam while making effective use of your study time.

4. Apply yourself during the labs and use scientific thinking

According to the College Board, AP Chemistry teachers should spend 25% of their class time teaching labs. Because the College Board stresses the importance of labs, it is reasonable to expect that AP Chemistry students can analyze data and use scientific reasoning. As with any skill, the more you practice "doing science", the better you will become. If you would like some advice on how to do well in labs and how to translate these skills into a good score on the AP Chemistry exam, look at our AP Chemistry Labs.

The College Board has an AP Chemistry lab manual that contains 16 inquiry-based labs, which are used to engage students in learning about different ideas in chemistry and to teach good lab techniques. This lab manual could be very useful for students who are independently studying or are homeschooled and can be purchased from the College Board Store. If you are enrolled in AP Chemistry through your high school, your teacher may design unique labs that cover the same skills. Regardless, the labs you do in class will involve the topics and skills you should understand for the AP Chemistry exam, including gathering and analyzing data. Your teacher may have you demonstrate your understanding of the labs in a variety of ways, including writing lab reports, presenting your results to the class, or answering questions.

No matter how your lab work is assessed, you should be able to design experiments, interpret models and graphs, gather data, plot data on graphs, and use quantitative skills. You must also demonstrate the ability to make scientific claims and to explain and support these ideas with scientific reasoning. So, doing your best during the labs is an essential part of preparing for the AP Chemistry exam.

Step III: Make a consistent study schedule and use top notch prep materials to learn AP Chemistry topics

Many of the concepts taught in AP Chemistry build on an idea covered earlier in the curriculum. For example, you will have a hard time understanding stoichiometry and doing the corresponding calculations (taught in unit 4 of AP Chemistry) if you cannot apply what you have learned about moles and molar mass (taught in unit 1). Therefore, it is crucial that you understand the concepts being taught in each unit throughout the class.

The material covered on the AP Chemistry exam is usually comprehensive, and the class is fast-paced because it is a college level course. If you are struggling with a particular concept, make sure you get help immediately so that it doesn't affect your learning of new material later on, which could create a larger problem and easily overwhelm you. Therefore, it is essential that you create a reasonable AP Chemistry study plan that regularly gives you time to prepare for the actual AP Chemistry exam rather than just completing the assigned homework without truly understanding it. Below are some tips about how to efficiently use your study time.

1. Use online video lectures to solidify challenging topics covered in class lectures and labs

If you are struggling with certain topics after going over them in class and talking about them with your teacher, watch AP Chemistry videos from a reliable source that explain these topics. You could also purchase a prep book. Make sure you carefully choose videos and prep books that focus on the ideas you are struggling with because students sometimes spend excessive amounts of time watching videos and going through books that do not address their specific struggles. Putting a lot of time into watching videos or reading an entire prep book does not guarantee success in the AP course!

Try not to get distracted watching videos or reading books that are not actually helping you conquer your weak points. It is important to understand ideas and trends, not just memorize them, so that you can apply these ideas and trends to new information you encounter. Identify topics in your notes that you need help understanding and then concentrate the time you spend watching video lectures on those portions. Check out resources like Khan Academy, Bozeman Science, and the College Board, which all have helpful AP Chemistry videos. These resources can also be used in place of class lectures if you are independently studying AP Chemistry.

2. Study with AP-level practice questions that include thorough explanations

Complete practice questions that are similar in format and difficulty to the actual AP exam and that provide detailed explanations of the correct and incorrect answer choices. The explanations should contain all of the background information needed to answer the question as well as images to help you understand and remember the information you learned.

Using educational visual aids helps you gain an immediate advantage. Your learning is greatly enhanced when you complete practice questions that include graphics for the correct and incorrect answer choices. Explanations for each practice question should guide you step by step through the ideas and explain how to arrive at the correct answer while also indicating where a mistake occurred if you answered incorrectly. Take a look at the next point if you want to see how these explanations are presented in the UWorld question bank.

3. Be familiar with what AP Chemistry questions look like and understand how to answer the different question types

Complete AP-level practice MCQs in all of the formats and types used on the actual AP Chemistry exam, including questions with text, particle diagrams, reactions, data tables, graphs, and calculations. For more detailed information on how to answer different types of questions, check out our guide on AP Chemistry Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ).

You should also practice writing responses to FRQs. The College Board website has FRQs, the scoring rubrics, and sample student responses to FRQs from previous AP Chemistry exams. By understanding the important parts of the FRQs, you will know what you need to include when answering these questions, which is crucial to scoring a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam. When practicing FRQs, you should come up with your own response and then check it against the scoring rubric to grade it. It can be helpful to grade and review these FRQs with a classmate.

The more you practice and the more familiar you are with the MCQ formats and how the FRQs are graded on the AP Chemistry exam, the easier it will be to determine the correct answer quickly.

4. Use online study tools that allow you to track your performance

You want to get AP Chemistry study materials that let you track how well you are doing on practice questions in each unit. These study tools should let you track your performance on chemistry content and on the different science practices.

  • Content: AP Chemistry has approximately 160 unique sub-topics. It is important to monitor your progress in each subtopic to ensure that you are understanding everything in the course. The AP Chemistry Unit Guide gives you an overview of the course and also includes a list of the sub-topics. If you learn the information covered in each sub-topic, you should do well on the exam.
  • Science Practices: The AP Chemistry exam tests how well students can apply different science-related skills in addition to assessing their content knowledge. The College Board has termed these skills "science practices."

    The MCQ and FRQ sections of the AP Chemistry exam test these science practices. Therefore, you also want to monitor how well you do with each science practice as well as your progress with each sub-topic. In this way, you can pinpoint which science practices you have mastered and those that you are struggling with.

    You can use FRQs from past AP Chemistry exams to practice writing free responses. When grading yourself on practice FRQs you complete, use the scoring rubric from the College Board and be sure to track how you do on both the content and the science practices. Determine which sub-topics and science practices give you the most trouble so that you can work on them some more.

    While looking at practice AP Chemistry questions and the corresponding science practice, be sure to watch out for common errors associated with mathematical calculations, reading graphs and tables, interpreting diagrams, and scientific reasoning.

    Check out our AP Chemistry Course Description to get more information about the science practices tested on the AP Chemistry exam.

The best recommendation we can give you is to select an educational tool that allows you to analyze your content and science practice performance.

5. Create flashcards with spaced repetition technology and use them regularly to test what you know

How well you comprehend new material will vary depending on the nature of the topic. You will easily understand some topics while others will be more difficult for you to grasp. As you go through this course, you should put the AP Chemistry concepts you’re learning into groups based on whether your knowledge level is high, medium, or low for that concept.

If your knowledge level is low or medium for a particular AP Chemistry concept, you should make flashcards using the practice questions and content you are struggling with (regardless of whether you got the questions correct or not).

Don’t forget to periodically test yourself on the content you understand well. You need to keep this information fresh in your mind. This is where a flashcard tool that uses spaced repetition technology comes in handy.

How is spaced repetition technology beneficial to you? The spaced repetition presents flashcards with complex topics more often until you understand them, and then these flashcards appear less often to promote long-term retention. You will come across flashcards from all your knowledge levels, but how often you see different cards depends on how well you know that particular concept. This is a very useful tool! Find AP Chemistry study materials that let you make these types of virtual flashcards.

6. Continually quiz yourself on material you are struggling with

After you have completed enough practice questions to e put together a substantial set of flashcards, you should focus on completing more practice questions covering the topics you are struggling with. This process of reviewing and re-testing concepts you initially got incorrect is known as remediation and will help you achieve the level of mastery required to score a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam. Completion of remediation will leave you feeling secure that you can score a 5 on your AP Chemistry exam. Remember that!

It will be very important for you to continue to test yourself on the topics you are most comfortable with as you make progress on your weaker content areas. This will help maximize the number of points you earn on the exam.

Find an online platform containing both AP exam-type practice questions and a remediation function. You want to get to the point where all of the content is in your high knowledge level group so that you can go confidently into your AP Chemistry exam and ace it!

7. Set up study sessions with your classmates

Setting up study sessions with your classmates who are just as driven as you are to help prepare for the AP Chemistry exam can be very helpful. But you should be careful that these study sessions don’t turn into a social event that distracts you from studying and being productive. Your classmates should be just as motivated as you are to ace the exam.

While you quiz yourself with AP-level practice questions and go through the flashcards with your classmates, take turns questioning each other and describing complex topics to one another. You can even grade each other’s FRQs and discuss them afterwards. Keeping each other motivated and holding each other accountable can be really beneficial in achieving your end goal!

8. Take practice tests simulating the exam conditions

Lastly, 1-2 months before the May exam date, you should do practice questions in the form of a mock test while in a setting that simulates the exam conditions.

For a full length exam, you would complete 60 MCQs within 90 minutes. After a 10-minute break, you would do 7 FRQs (3 long and 4 short) within 105 minutes.

During the 10-minute break, take note of how you are feeling. Use the restroom if necessary, and if you are thirsty or hungry, have a drink or snack to ensure you are as comfortable as possible going into the second portion of the exam. When the break is over, get right back to the mock exam as if it were the real thing.

The College Board’s testing policies state that you are not allowed to bring in any food or drink (including bottled water) into the exam room. But with the permission of the proctor, you are allowed to leave the exam room during the 10-minute break to get a drink or snack. So remember to bring something to eat and drink during the break. Keep reading to find out about some great tips to try on exam day!

Step IV: Be prepared on exam day

You’ve almost reached the end of our AP Chemistry Study Guide! This next portion is the final step in your trek through AP Chemistry. You have gone through the class, studied hard, completed several AP Chemistry practice questions, quizzed yourself using flashcards, and read through everything in your notebook. The next and final step is being prepared for test day. Remember that if you have stuck to the AP Chemistry study tips in this study guide, a lot of the hard work is already complete! Listed below are some tips to help you feel ready to conquer the AP Chemistry exam on test day.

1. Put together a list of the items you should bring with you to the exam

Be sure to pack No. 2 pencils with erasers for the MCQ section, black or dark blue ink pens for the FRQ section, as well as a scientific or graphing calculator for the FRQs. You should also bring something to eat and drink during the break. Dress comfortably and in layers in case the room is too hot or cold.

2. Avoid last-minute studying and rest on the day before the exam

Try to avoid any desire to cram last-minute studying the day before the exam, but rather focus on getting into the right mindset and pack everything you need to bring. You can take a walk or do some other light exercises to help ease your mind and relax. Make sure to go to bed at a reasonable time and turn off all screens and electronics to get a good night’s rest. A warm bath or some caffeine-free tea are great ways to ease anxiety and help you relax.

3. Make sure to eat right and ease your mind on exam day

Be sure to eat a well balanced breakfast on test day to give your brain what it needs to function properly. Try to avoid any unhealthy foods containing lots of sugar as this will cause spikes and drops in your blood sugar, which could interfere with your ability to perform at your best when taking the exam. Additionally, do not have any more caffeine than usual on test day so that you do not get jittery. You can alleviate some stress by taking a walk or doing some light exercises.

4. Use proven methods to minimize exam day anxiety

It is totally normal to feel anxious on test day! Don’t worry; here are some tips that can decrease these anxious feelings:

  • Before you leave for the exam, review your checklist to ensure you are bringing everything with you. It is a good idea to arrive at the test site early so that you do not have to stress out about getting caught in traffic and arriving late for your exam.
  • Don’t forget that you have already put forth the effort in preparing for the exam! You already did the consistent studying, so you will feel even more confident on test day.
  • If you have test anxiety, consider seeking help before the test. There are exercises you can do to relax your body, including deep breathing and picturing positive and peaceful scenarios. Your school counselor may be able to help you with this, so be sure to ask them.
  • Throughout the exam, focus on yourself without paying attention to what other students are doing.
  • Keep a positive attitude and remind yourself of all the hard work you have put into this course. You can do it!

You have come to the end of our AP Chemistry Study Guide and Materials! With this information, you will be able to work hard during the course and do well on your AP Chemistry exam. Don’t forget that the best way to prepare for an exam is to complete practice questions with the same format and difficulty as the actual exam.

Best of luck; you’ve got this!

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