Breaking Down the AP Chemistry Test

Even if you are taking an Advanced Placement test in your best subject, the test itself can be challenging. These are not your normal high school tests! Because students can receive college credit for a passing score on an AP exam, these exams are going to test you at a college level and in a variety of ways to make sure the College Board has an accurate assessment of your mastery of the subject.

The AP Chemistry exam can be particularly difficult because it covers a ton of material. Students need to know everything from periodic table trends to thermodynamics to bonding angles to colligative properties! Not only do you have to understand the concepts, but you have to be able to do math problems related to the concept.

For example, it is one thing to know the definition of lattice energy. It is quite another to calculate the lattice energy of a given a crystal lattice composed of sodium and chlorine in a one-to-one ratio.

So even if you master the concepts, you will still need to have a firm grasp in basic algebra to be able to pass the AP chemistry test.

One of the best ways to take the teeth and claws out of the AP Chemistry test is to know what to expect ahead of time. The AP chemistry test has computer-scored multiple choice questions, and grader scored free response questions. The test breaks down like this:

75 multiple choice questions (90 minutes, no calculator)

6 Free-response questions:

Part A (55 minutes, calculator)

  • 3 multi-part quantitative questions
  • 1 question on writing balanced chemical equations

Part B (40 minutes, no calculator)

  • Multi-part questions that are essentially non-quantitative, conceptual chemistry questions

Before you look at “75 multiple choice questions” and go into freak out mode, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. As of last year, there is no longer a guessing penalty for the multiple choice section. It is in your best interest to attempt every question. For those questions that you do not know, you should take an educated guess and move on. For those questions that you do know, work steadily, methodically, and efficiently through the problems. Secondly, you are not expected to know every concept asked in the multiple choice section. Students can get a raw score of a 50 (that’s 50 questions correct out of 75) and still get a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam. Remember a score of a 3 is passing, a 4 is great, and a 5 is the highest score.

Multiple choice only covers half of the test. What about the dreaded free response questions?  Perhaps you are thinking that at least with a multiple choice question the answer is on the page somewhere. Actually, there is much to like about the free response questions.

The scoring on the free response is NOT all-or-nothing. Partial credit is given for all of the free response questions, so even if all you can do is look at the formula sheet and write down the formula you will need for the question, you should do that. Your job is to accumulate points, and anywhere you can find those points is fair game. Maybe you can only answer parts a, c, and d on one of the free response questions. This doesn’t mean you have failed the test, or that you should give up on the question all together. Write down as much as you can, and you will be surprised at how the points add up. The graders are trying to evaluate how well you know the subject area, but they can’t see inside your head. Your job is to make their job easier by showing them how much you really know by writing everything down, no matter how unimportant you may think it is.

If you need support in your AP Chemistry class check out AP Companion Courses from Revolution Prep:

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