Taking an Advanced Placement class is a lot of work, but it can pay off. Not only will it look great on college applications, it will also save you the time and money of taking a 101 course at the school you end up attending. Just imagine what you can do with all that extra free time in college.
Obviously, the culmination of any AP class is the test itself. It’s a one-time, make-or-break opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of the subject. And it's hard :/
The AP Chemistry test is considered one of the most difficult AP tests. In many years, up to half of students receive a failing score of 2 or lower! And, unfortunately, AP Chem hasn't gotten any easier.
Luckily, there is a solution. Those who study effectively tend to do better on the test—no surprise there. So don’t be one of those people that fail. Study hard!
But you're wondering how to study for AP Chemistry and not fail. Sure, Brainscape already offers the ultimate guide for how to study effectively in general, but how should you study for AP Chem specifically?
Today is your lucky day. Below, we share some of the best test prep tips and strategies for how to study for AP chemistry and ace the exam.
This is the stuff that the top students use to get ahead. Are you ready?
1. Learn about the exam
To do well on the exam, you gotta know what's on it. This part's easy, but necessary. Learn about the structure and topics of the exam so you can properly prepare. Details can be found on the College Board website but, here's the rough structure. (Also, make sure your calculator complies with the calculator policy).
AP Chemistry test section 1: multiple choice
There is some multiple-choice on the test (yay!). Some are single questions and some come together as a series of related questions, often about a set of data.
- 60 Questions
- 1 hour 30 minutes
- Worth 50% of total exam score
- Calculator not permitted
AP Chemistry test section 2: free response
The free response section includes both long- and short-answer questions. These test all six skills that are taught in the course: argumentation, mathematical routines, models and representations, representing data and phenomena, model analysis, and question and method.
- 3 long-answer questions, 10 points each
- 4 short-answer questions, 4 points each
- Worth 50% of total exam score
- A scientific or graphing calculator is recommended
AP Chemistry test content
Great, so what's on the test? There are 9 units tested in the course. Some of them are tested more heavily.
- Unit 1: Atonic structure and properties (7-9% of the test)
- Unit 2: Molecular and ionic compound structure properties (7-9% of the test)
- Unit 3: Intermolecular forces and properties (18-22% of the test)
- Unit 4: Chemical reactions (7-9% of the test)
- Unit 5: Kinetics (7-9% of the test)
- Unit 6: Thermodynamics (7-9% of the test)
- Unit 7: Equilibrium (7-9% of the test)
- Unit 8: Acids and bases (11-15% of the test)
- Unit 9: Applications of thermodynamics (7-9% of the test)
Notice that units 3 and 8 are disproportionately represented ... that means you should really ensure that you understand and master these units.
2. Make a study schedule
Students usually skip this, but it's essential. The best way to study efficiently—to maximize your time and not go crazy studying every moment of every day—is to be organized.
Create a study schedule. Map out your time, including what you need to study and by when. This includes creating goals for when you'll have mastered each subject. it also includes when you have free time so you don't get burned out.
Not sure where to start? Check out this video to give you a model.
3. Drill the details with flashcards
Once you have a good understanding of the general structure of the AP exam, the type of content you’ll be covering, and you have a study schedule, you should focus on truly mastering the material. One fantastic tool for this is flashcards.
Brainscape offers a set of nearly 700 AP Chemistry flashcards to help you study for the AP Chem test. Unlike traditional flashcards, Brainscape uses an adaptive learning algorithm based on cognitive science that can accelerate your learning by helping you focus on the precise areas on which you need to improve.
The Brainscape AP Chemistry flashcard collection helps you learn information in the following categories, which cover all the different subjects in the AP Chem test.
- AP Overview
- Atomic Theory and Structure
- Chemical Bonding
- Nuclear Chemistry
- Gases, Liquids, and Solids
- Reaction Types
- Descriptive Chemistry
- Laboratory Rules
Plus, it reminds you of general strategies that can help you on test day (for example, wrong answers don’t count against you in the AP test, so it’s always worth guessing on questions you don’t know the answer to).
[Pssst. Ever wonder if it'd benefit you to memorize the periodic table and, if so, the fastest and least painless way to do it? Check out the linked Academy article for all the answers. Also, don't miss out on our gorgeous (and free) printable periodic table JPG!]
4. Study example questions
The next step for preparing for the test is to study some example questions. Unlike the practice tests, which are generally taken in one go to mimic the full AP testing experience, practice questions will help you practice the specific skills you need to improve. Make sure to focus your study and practice questions on the weak links in your chemistry knowledge.
Why not go straight to the source for example questions? For a selection of recent questions, check out pages 118-143 in this PDF file from the College Board. In fact, it might be worth reading the whole document for an overview of the test and more helpful tips. More questions are available here.
5. Take practice exams
Each year, the College Board (the non-profit organization that organizes and administers AP exams) releases the free-response questions from the previous year’s test. Studying these questions is one of the best ways to prepare for the test, since it’s a real-world scenario. While the content won’t be exactly the same from year-to-year, the form of the questions and the types of logic that are tested will remain similar.
There are plenty of other practice exams online, and taking a few of these will help you assess your strengths and weaknesses. You can take these results to help plan your studies based on where you need to improve.
Since these tests are meant to be taken with the same time limits and rules that apply to the real AP test, they’ll give you a real-world experience with the “feel” of the test. Taking these practice exams should keep you from being surprised or confused by the format on test day.
6. Prepare physically
We perform our best when we feel our best. Make sure you're physically ready to nail the exam by taking care of your body as well as studying. In the days leading up to the exam, make sure you:
Check out our full guide how to optimize your brain health for exam performance.
6. Take the test day in stride
When the test day comes around, there is nothing to do but to take a deep breath and start working. Stay focused, and remember the strategies you have learned. If you take a systematic approach to the test, just like you did to test prep, you’ll get the best score you can.
How to study for AP Chemistry
Now that you know how to study for AP Chemistry, you just need to get started. If you're looking for one thing that is sure to get you the pass, try Brainscape's AP Chemistry flashcards. Flashcards really are the most effective way to remember what you learn.
The Brainscape AP Chem flashcards have been created with experts to be comprehensive and designed exactly for students like you taking the AP Chemistry course. If you want to be successful on the AP Chem exam, these are a game-changer. Check them out.
And good luck!