The AP Chemistry Exam: An Expert Guide with Tips for Success

16/02/202423 minute read
The AP Chemistry Exam: An Expert Guide with Tips for Success

For students in AP Chemistry, the AP Chemistry Exam is an opportunity to show what you know, boost your college apps with a high score, and even earn some college credits before finishing high school! With all of the benefits of getting a strong score, it makes sense to find out everything you can about the exam and how to prepare. In this post, we’re going to cover how the AP Chemistry exam is structured, the skills tested, and how it's scored. You'll also get expert tips on how to prepare ahead of time in hopes of getting the best score possible.

A Snapshot of The AP Statistics Exam

Advanced Placement (AP) courses bring college-level course content and rigor to high school classrooms in the US. Each course comes with a corresponding assessment. Curricula and exams are governed by the College Board.

While taking the formal assessment is optional, a high score is a sign of college readiness and can even earn you college credit in that subject in US and Canadian universities.

In addition, a high score on any AP exam can elevate your university application profile, constituting a distinct marker of academic ability and spotlighting advanced academic rigor on your high school transcripts.

The AP Chemistry Exam tests your chemistry knowledge across a wide range of fundamental principles and skills, including:

  • Explaining, analyzing, or interpreting chemical properties or phenomena
  • Testing or evaluating a hypothesis or prediction using scientific methods and scientific reasoning
  • Using graphs and data to represent chemical phenomena
  • Applying math-based problem solving

Exam Duration:

The exam lasts 3 hours and 15 minutes.

Calculators Allowed?

Starting with the 2023 exam, a scientific or graphing calculator is recommended for use on both sections of the exam.

Key Elements:

The AP Chemistry Exam has consistent question types, weighting, and scoring guidelines every year.

Section I. has 60 Multiple Choice Questions (MSQ) which count for 50% of the total score.

Section II. has 7 Free Response Questions (FRQ), counting for the remaining 50% of the total score.

The FRQs assess all 6 of the course skills:

  • models and representations
  • question and method
  • representing data and phenomena
  • model analysis
  • mathematical routines
  • argumentation.

The questions consist of 3 long-answer questions, for 10 points each, and 4 short-answer questions, for 4 points each.

With this overview in mind, let's delve into the core content covered on the exam.

What's Covered on the AP Statistics Exam?

The AP Chemistry Exam revolves around 4 Big Ideas guiding AP Chemistry course content.

Quantities in chemistry are expressed at both the macroscopic and atomic scale. Explanations, predictions, and other forms of argumentation in chemistry require understanding the meaning of these quantities, and the relationship between quantities at the same scale and across scales. Properties of substances observable at the macroscopic scale emerge from the structures of atoms and molecules and the interactions between them. Chemical reasoning moves in both directions across these scales. Properties are predicted from known aspects of the structures and interactions at the atomic scale. Observed properties are used to infer aspects of the structures and interactions.At its heart, chemistry is about the rearrangement of matter. Understanding the details of these transformations requires reasoning at many levels as one must quantify what is occurring both macroscopically and at the atomic level during the process. This reasoning can be as simple as monitoring amounts of products made or as complex as visualizing the intermolecular forces among the species in a mixture. The rate of a transformation is also of interest, as particles must move and collide to initiate reaction events.Energy has two important roles in characterizing and controlling chemical systems. The first is accounting for the distribution of energy among the components of a system and the ways that heat exchanges, chemical reactions, and phase transitions redistribute this energy. The second is in considering the enthalpic and entropic driving forces for a chemical process. These are closely related to the dynamic equilibrium present in many chemical systems and the ways in which changes in experimental conditions alter the positions of these equilibria.

Take AP Chemistry for Mastering Content

With a high enough score on your AP Chem exam, you'll be able to skip over introductory chem courses in college! And, and even if you don't score well, taking AP Chemistry is a great way to build your science foundations for greater success in college.

If AP Chemistry is not offered at your high school, find out if you're eligible to take AP Chemistry and other AP courses online through our top-rated Crimson Global Academy (CGA).

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The 9 Content Areas for the AP Chemistry Exam

To prepare students for the AP Chemistry Exam, the AP Board breaks the core content into 9 principal content areas. For each content area of we've also listed the corresponding exam weighting, based on College Board exam guidelines.

1. Atomic Structures and Properties7-9%
2. Molecular and Ionic Compound Structures and Properties7–9%
3. Intermolecular Forces and Properties18-22%
4. Chemical Reactions7-9%
5. Kinetics7-9%
6. Thermodynamics7-9%
7. Equilibrium7-9%
8. Acids and Bases11-15%
9. Applications of Thermodynamics7-9%

What’s the Format of the AP Chemistry Exam?

The exam is split into two main sections, a Multiple Choice Questions section (MCQ) and a Free Response Questions section (FRQ).

The MCQ has 60 questions total, with the total points possible making up 50% of the points you can earn on the test.

The FRQ consists of 3 long-answer questions (10 points each) and 4 short-answer questions (4 points each). The 7 questions together make up the remaining 50% of the points you can earn.

SectionDurationScore WeightingStructure
60 Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQ)90 minutes50%The questions are either discrete questions or question sets, in which students are provided with a stimulus or a set of data and a series of related questions.
7 Free-Response Questions (FRQ) 105 minutes50%There are 3 long-answer and 4 short-answer questions. Long-answer questions are worth 10 points each; short-answer questions are worth 4 points each. The questions assess all 6 of the course skills: models and representations, question and method, representing data and phenomena, model analysis, mathematical routines, and argumentation.

How Long is the AP Chemistry Exam?

The duration of the exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes in total.

The MCQ section = 90 minutes long (average of 1.5 minutes per question)

The FRQ section = 105 minutes (for 4 short-answer and 3 long-answer questions)

Why AP Exams Matter More Than Ever

How is the AP Chemistry Exam Scored?

MCQ Section

The MCQ section is 60 questions, scored digitally, for 50% of the total exam score.

FRQ Section

In the FRQ section, you can earn up to 10 points on each of the three long-answer questions, and up to 4 points each for each of the four short-answer questions. All seven are scored manually, and account for 50% of the total exam score.

SectionNumber of questionsPoints per questionWeighting
MCQ60 questionsAll weighted equally50%
FRQ7 questions (3 long-answer questions + 4 short-answer questions)Up to 10 points for each long-answer question (30 points maximum) Up to 4 points for each short-answer question (16 points maximum)50%

Remember: The total number of points you score for each section contributes to 50% of your total score — so both sections are equally important!

AP Statistics Exam ScoreQualificationClosest Equivalent College Grade
5Extremely well qualifiedA+ or A
4Very well qualifiedA-, B+, or B
3QualifiedB-, C+, or C
2Possibly qualified-
1No recommendation-

To increase your chances of getting credit at a top university, you’ll need a score of 4 or 5 - that’s the score most schools accept to grant college credit.

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How to Prepare for the AP Chemistry Exam: Expert Tips

1. Study Past Questions

An extended period of content review and regular test practice is a fundamental approach, and one that definitely applies to getting good grades on the AP Statistics Exam.

Here's an additional tip: explore past exam questions to get a feel for the format, question types, and the level of difficulty you can expect. This exercise not only helps you identify your weak spots but also boosts your confidence as you become more familiar with the exam's nuances.

2. Review the Chief Reader Report

Review the AP Chem Exam Chief Reader Report provided by the College Board. This report is a great window on unique insights, such as a nuanced description of what skills examiners were looking for in responses to past question types, and examples of common mistakes made by students in previous years, helping you avoid similar pitfalls and fine-tune your strategies for success.

3. Understand Common Tasks Verbs Used on the Exam

AP Chemistry questions often come with specific task verbs providing well-defined task direction, valuable clues that help you objectively gauge what's expected as you tackle specific test items. Don’t underestimate the importance of this! As you prepare for the exam, review the list of task verbs below and apply this guidance as you explore past test questions or take practice tests.

CalculatePerform mathematical steps to arrive at a final answer, including algebraic expressions, properly substituted numbers, and correct labeling of units and significant figures.
DescribeProvide the relevant characteristics of a specified topic.
DetermineMake a decision or arrive at a conclusion after reasoning, observation, or applying mathematical routines (calculations).
EstimateRoughly calculate numerical quantities, values (greater than, equal to, less than), or signs (negative, positive) of quantities based on experimental evidence or provided data.
ExplainProvide information about how or why a relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome occurs, using evidence and/or reasoning to support or qualify a claim. Explain “how” typically requires analyzing the relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome; whereas, explain “why” typically requires analysis of motivations or reasons for the relationship, process, pattern, position, situation, or outcome. Also phrased as “give one reason.”
Identify/Indicate/Circle Indicate or provide information about a specified topic in words or by circling given information. Also phrased as “what is?" or “which?” or other interrogatory words.
JustifyProvide evidence to support, qualify, or defend a claim and/or provide reasoning to explain how that evidence supports or qualifies the claim.
Make a claimMake an assertion that is based on evidence or knowledge.
Predict/Make a predictionPredict the causes or effects of a change in, or disruption to, one or more components in a relationship, pattern, process, or system.
Represent/Draw/Write an Equation/Complete a DiagramUse appropriate graphs, symbols, words, and/or models to describe phenomena, characteristics, and/or relationships.

4. Check Out Online Resources

Check out the list of AP Chem Exam online study resources, curated by the College Board.

These resources are all endorsed by various AP Chemistry course teachers, providing you ample avenues for additional self study and review of relevant chemistry concepts and principals.

5. Be a Calculator Master!

Students sitting for the AP Chemistry Exam are allowed to bring a calculator and use it for both the MCQ and FRQ sections. Here's an expert tip from educators with the College Board:

Since a calculator is allowed for the entire free-response section, accurate answers are expected. Be familiar with the functions on your scientific calculator in order to select the appropriate calculator buttons. For example, some calculations might involve the entry of numbers in exponential notation, the conversion into or from common and natural logs, and perhaps percent.

If you're unsure about calculator policy, learn which graphing calculators are approved for use by the College Board for this exam.

6. Work with a Tutor

A highly qualified tutor can provide personalized assistance, offer targeted feedback, and help you navigate challenging topics. It's like having a dedicated coach in your corner, ensuring you're fully prepared for whatever the exam throws at you.

If students ask me if they can self study and get a 5 on the AP Chemistry Exam, I answer YES... maybe SOME students can do that, but not many. The fact is diligent application in a high-quality AP Chemistry course and additional test prep with the support of a qualified tutor are typically the best way to really equip yourself for getting a 5 on the exam. Even for students benefiting from top-notch instructional support, scoring a 5 on the AP Chem test is a daunting challenge!

If you’re looking for the perfect score, the support of a strong tutor matched to your learning style is crucial. Thanks to our network of tutors, many with Ivy League backgrounds, we provide an easy way to find expert tutors ready to help out.

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Tips For the Exam Day

1. Be an Expert Test Taker!

From pacing yourself, to being attentive to avoiding common types of careless mistakes, applying top-notch test-taking skills consistently during the exam session is a crucial way to boost your overall performance.

I recommend you check out the detailed list of AP Chem test-taking tips provided by the College Board.

2. Get a Good Night’s Rest

One foundation for performing your best on the AP Chem exam is getting a good night's sleep. This isn't just a casual suggestion; it's a game-changer.

Your brain needs to be firing on all cylinders, and a well-rested you is more likely to tackle those AP Chemistry challenges effectively.

Experts recommend the following:

  • Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep before exam day
  • Create a bedtime routine to wind down
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day
  • Resist the urge to pull an all-nighter – it’s never worth it.

3. Deep Breaths and Mindfulness

As you enter the exam room, find your Zen zone. Take a few deep breaths — in through the nose, out through the mouth. This isn't a cliche; deep breathing calms your nervous system, reducing anxiety.

Remind yourself that you've prepared for the AP Chemistry Exam thoroughly. Read each question carefully, underlining key terms. This helps organize your thoughts and signals to your brain that you've got this under control.

4. Manage Your Time

Time management is your invisible companion in this AP test-taking adventure. Mastering time management during the exam is crucial - here’s how to do it:

  • Don't get stuck: If a question feels like quicksand, don't let it pull you under. Mark it, skip it, and revisit it later.
  • Be efficient: Use your mastery of the task verbs (listed above) and apply this as you're reading and interpreting exam questions. Don't let your mind wander: identify key terms, underline essential information, and focus on what's being asked.

5. Pack Smart

When packing your exam essentials, think like an objective experimental chemist.

As mentioned above, you’ll need the right calculator, but you’ll need to pack a few other things too:

  • ID
  • Sharpened Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Water Bottle

Maybe a lucky charm too??... If it brings you comfort, toss it in!

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