What’s Tested on the AP Chemistry Exam

There is more to the AP Chemistry exam than chemistry know-how. You have to be able to work around the challenges and pitfalls of the test—and there are many—if you want your score to reflect your abilities. You see, studying chemistry and preparing for the AP Chemistry exam are not the same thing. Rereading your textbook is helpful, but it’s not enough.

Preparing yourself effectively for the AP Chemistry exam means doing some extra work. You need to review your text and master the strategies. Is the extra push worth it? If you have any doubts, think of all the interesting things you could be doing in college instead of taking an intro course filled with facts you already know.

Advanced Placement exams have been around for half a century. While the format and content have changed over the years, the basic goal of the AP program remains the same: to give high school students a chance to earn college credit or advanced placement. To do this, a student needs to do two things:

• Find a college that accepts AP scores

• Do well enough on the exam to earn credit

The first part is easy, since a majority of colleges accept AP scores in some form or another. The second part requires a little more effort. If you have worked diligently all year in your course work, you’ve laid the groundwork. The next step is familiarizing yourself with the test itself.

AP Chemistry Test Structure

The AP Chemistry exam consists of two parts. In Section I, you have 90 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions with four answer choices each. This section is worth 50 percent of your total score. Calculators are not allowed when taking Section I.

Section II of the exam consists of seven free-response questions (three long ones and four short ones) that are worth 50 percent of your score. The free-response questions are long, multi-step, and involved; you will spend the 90 minutes of Section II answering all seven problems. Although these free-response problems are long and often broken down into multiple parts, they usually don’t cover an obscure topic. Instead, they take a fairly basic chemistry concept and ask you several questions about it. Expect to use some formulas (many of which are provided) and crunch some numbers. Calculators are allowed when taking Section II. It’s a lot of chemistry work, but it’s fundamental chemistry work.

Topics Covered on the AP Chemistry Exam

Unit 1Atomic Structure and Properties 7–9%
Unit 2Molecular and Ionic Compound Structures and Properties 7–9%
Unit 3Intermolecular Forces and Properties 18–22%
Unit 4Chemical Reactions 7–9%
Unit 5Kinetics 7–9%
Unit 6Thermodynamics 7–9%
Unit 7Equilibrium 7–9%
Unit 8Acids and Bases 11–15%
Unit 9Applications of Thermodynamics 7–9%

For a more detailed outline of each topic, visit the College Board website. This is the official website for the AP tests, and it contains a great deal of general information that you may find useful.

Chemical Calculations

The AP Chemistry exam requires several different types of calculations, including percent composition, empirical and molecular formulas, molar masses, gas laws, stoichiometry, mole fractions, Faraday’s law, equilibrium constants, standard electrode potentials, thermodynamic and thermochemical calculations, and kinetics. When completing these calculations, pay careful attention to significant figures, precision of measured values, and logarithmic and exponential relationships. Finally, be sure to check that your results seem reasonable. For example, if you start with a few grams of reactants, you should not end up with several thousand kilograms of products. Checking the order of magnitude of your answers is a quick way to confirm that your results are reasonable.

How the AP Chemistry Exam is Scored

Beginning with the May 2011 administration of AP exams, the method for scoring the multiple-choice section has changed. Scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly. No points are deducted for wrong answers. No points are awarded for unanswered questions. Therefore, you should answer every question, even if you have to guess.

When your three hours of testing are up, your exam is sent away for grading. The multiple-choice part is handled by a machine, while qualified graders—current and former chemistry teachers— grade your responses to Section II. After an interminable wait, your composite score will arrive. Your results will be placed into one of the following categories, reported on a five-point scale:

5 = Extremely well qualified (to receive college credit or advanced placement)

4 = Well qualified

3 = Qualified

2 = Possibly qualified

1 = No recommendation

Depending on the college, a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Chemistry exam will allow you to leap over the freshman introductory chemistry course and jump right into more advanced classes. These advanced classes are usually smaller in size, better focused, more intellectually stimulating, and, simply put, just more interesting than a basic course. If you are solely concerned about fulfilling your science requirement so you can get on with your study of pre-Columbian art or Elizabethan music or some other non-chemistry-related area, the AP exam can help you there, too. Ace the AP Chemistry exam and, depending on the requirements of the college you choose, you may never have to take a science class again.

Some colleges will give you college credit for a score of 3 or higher, but it’s much safer to get a 4 or a 5. If you have an idea of which colleges you would like to attend, check out their websites or call their admissions offices to find out their particular rules regarding AP scores.

Need some help studying? Check out this sample of Kaplan’s Rapid Review Live.