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Thomas Broderick

AP Chemistry Exam

When I was in high school, AP Chemistry was the stuff of legends. AP Chemistry students were their own clique, always bragging about the dangerous experiments they did and how they got to make ‘gold’ pennies the week after the AP Exam. Also, it was one of the classes where the students wrote letters to the next year’s class describing the best ways to ‘survive.’


AP Chemistry Exam -Mgaoosh


The AP Chemistry Exam certainly isn’t easy. Yet, like any standardized test, it isn’t impossible. If you pay attention in class, study, and do a little (or a lot of) test prep, test success is certainly within your reach.

As this article is long, here is a table of contents if you just want to learn something specific about the Exam:

Note: This information provided in this article is up to date with revisions made to the AP Chemistry Exam in Fall 2014. As you look for study materials online, be cautious of those dated earlier than the May 2015 exam. Though the Chemistry hasn’t changed, the learning objectives have. I’d hate for you to waste time tackling practice problems covering material that no longer appears on the exam.

How You’re Assessed on the Exam

The AP Chemistry Exam is a 3 hour and 15 minute exam that assesses the knowledge you gained during the course of your AP Chemistry class. Most students who take AP Chemistry only do so after taking an introduction to Chemistry class along with Biology. Both these classes provide students with necessary skills and information.

The exam is based around a Concept Outline containing six big ideas. Below, I have summarized each big idea.

  1. The elements and their interactions with one another.
  2. Structure and arrangement of atoms, ions, and molecules
  3. Changes in matter and transfer of electrons
  4. Rates of chemical reactions
  5. The laws of thermodynamics
  6. The interactions of molecules and atoms

Within these six big ideas are literally dozens of learning objectives. Yes, there is a lot to learn in AP Chemistry, but take some solace in the fact that you’re not the one tasked with teaching it all before test day.

Successful Time Management

In this section I will break down the length of the AP Chemistry Exam, and offer suggestions on how to make sure you successfully finish each section of the test. First, a piece of recycled advice from my ACT articles: take multiple timed practice tests to become used to the tests format, content, and pacing. For students will a College Board account, a full-length test is available for you to take.

Section I: Multiple Choice (60 Questions, 90 Minutes, 50% of Exam Score)

First, take a look at my article on ACT Time Management. The same basic rules apply to the AP Chemistry Exam’s multiple choice section. You have exactly 90 seconds to answer each question. Fortunately for you, the AP Chemistry Exam is graded the same way as the ACT. Only correct answers count. If you’re stuck on a question and 90 seconds have passed, it’s time to guess and move on.

Now, I understand that it’s impossible to exactly time 90 seconds, especially when you have more important things to do like answer questions. There are ways to get around this. In short, check how many questions you have answered at the end of 9 minutes. If you’ve answered 6 questions, you’re on track. Any less than that and I’d recommend more practice tests between now and test day to improve your time.

Break (10 Minutes)

Break is an important time during any AP Exam. Even though the AP Chemistry Exam is only two hours long, don’t waste your break. Visit the restroom and drink a little water. But most importantly, eat something! Section II of the Chemistry Exam requires a lot of brain power.

Section II: Free Response (7 Question, 105 Minutes, 50% of Exam Score)

In Section two, you will answer 3 long free response questions and 4 short free response questions. To best conserve your time, think of each question as a series of tasks. Each task is represented by a question’s part a, b, c etc.

When time begins, use the first 1-2 minutes to examine how many tasks you have to complete the 105-minute time limit. If you know the exact number, you can better manage your time.

Section II Pro-Tip: If you’ve taken multiple timed practice tests, and are comfortable with time management, try to squeeze in the last 2-3 minutes to review what you wrote. Even if the correct answer is in your mind, the stress of the situation might cause you to leave out important information in your replies. If you have time to catch these mistakes, you can fix them.

Test Content: Section I (Multiple Choice)

Even though the exam in its current form is only two years old, many multiple-choice questions from previous years’ AP Chemistry Exams are still a valid way to practice for test day. If your teacher knows what he or she is doing, you will see old (but still relevant) exam questions on just about every one of your tests.

The multiple-choice questions will test your Chemistry knowledge in many different ways. Some questions will be ‘stand alone,’ while others will be grouped together around a data set or chart. Like when taking the ACT, when you encounter a group of questions, take a moment to read what the questions are asking before analyzing the data set or chart.

One last thing about time management: If you’re comfortable with time management on other standardized tests, you should have little to no trouble with the AP Chemistry Exam’s multiple-choice section. Even so, remember my previous advice: if necessary, guess and move on.

Test Content: Section II (Free Response Questions)

Like many of the questions on the multiple-choice section, to answer the Free Response questions, you need to analyze data in the form of text, charts, or graphs, or graphics. Also, don’t forget your calculator. You can use it on this part of the exam.

Let’s say, for example, the seven free response questions represent 15 tasks (parts). That means you have just over 7 minutes to complete each task. To write your best replies, consider trying the following strategy when you tackle a practice AP Chemistry Exam:

  • 1-2 minutes: Plan out your reply.
    • Time to brainstorm. Write relevant information in the margins of your test booklet. If the question requires any calculations, do them now.
  • Write your reply.
    • Remember that graders are not looking for the next great American novel. The only things that matter are that you a) answer the question and b) follow the directions.
      • If you take multiple practice tests, the act of writing answers under pressure will become second nature, something that doesn’t take up a lot of brain power compared to the questions themselves.

The End

AP Chemistry is course traditionally taken by 11th or 12th grade students. After the exam is over, you have summer break or graduation to look forward to. Yet as you relax by the pool, pack for college, or flip burgers at your part-time job, AP graders across the country are reading your replies and assessing your chemistry knowledge. In short…

The College Board will release AP Chemistry scores in early July.

Yep, one day in the middle of summer you’ll get a small envelope in the mail with an even smaller number inside. For those of you that earn a 5, congratulations. You definitely just earned yourself some delicious college credit. For the 4 and below crowd, you should double-check your college’s requirements on accepting AP Chemistry scores below a 5.

“But,” you may retort. “I earned a 4. Why wouldn’t my top choice colleges accept 4s?” Take it from me, someone who almost failed Chemistry 101, college chemistry is hard….really hard. As far as most colleges are concerned, unless you’re a chemistry savant, there’s no way you’re taking a second year chemistry course as a freshman.

But hey, there are certain advantages to retaking chemistry in college. First of all, it’s a good time to ‘fill in the gaps’ that occurred in AP Chemistry. Also, coming into Chemistry 101 with a foundation of knowledge is a great thing. The experience will be less stressful for you than to students who did not take AP Chemistry in high school. After all, freshmen year in college is already stressful enough. Why complicate things?

Final Thoughts

AP Chemistry is one of the hardest high school courses yet devised by man. You may fail a few tests, and spend more than a few nights burning the midnight oil. But remember, the AP Chemistry Exam doesn’t care how much you struggled leading up to test day. Even students who stumble along the way still can, and do, earn a 5.

Till next time, Magooshers.

About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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