April 9, 2020, by

What is the AP Chemistry exam like?

Like many things affected by COVID-19, this year’s AP Chemistry exam will be significantly different to exams of previous years. This year, instead of a 3-hr (or 4.5-hr extended time) written exam on a national exam day, students will take a 45-minute online AP Chemistry exam at home.  The exam will consist of two open book/open note long Free Response Questions.  Marks Education is here to help you as you prepare for these unusual AP exams and to best take advantage of what we know and have available to get prepped for the test!

Exam Format

Although the AP Chemistry exam traditionally has two parts – Multiple Choice (MC) Questions and Free Response Questions (FRQs) – this year, there will be only Free Response Questions.  This is actually a good thing for students, as there is a LOT more practice material available for the FRQs than for the MC.  The FRQs are also generally more straightforward, typically testing concepts a bit more directly than the MC questions.  Calculators have been allowed on FRQs in previous years, and that’s still the case this year; however, this year’s problems are “designed such that required calculations can be done with a pencil and paper, with no calculator required.” Therefore, students should expect less quant-heavy questions than those in previous years.

Exam Content

Given the widespread disruption to schools and classroom instruction, the content tested this year will be limited as well: only Units 1-7 will be included on the exam, and Units 8-9 will not be tested this year.  Below is a table showing the topic distribution from previous years for the Multiple Choice section, which gives at least an indication of the topic breakdown for Free Response, though it varies much more from year to year on the FRQs.


Unit Exam Weighting (Multiple-Choice Section)
Unit 1: Atomic Structure and Properties 7%–9%
Unit 2: Molecular and Ionic Compound Structure and Properties 7%–9%
Unit 3: Intermolecular Forces and Properties 18%–22%
Unit 4: Chemical Reactions 7%–9%
Unit 5: Kinetics 7%–9%
Unit 6: Thermodynamics 7%–9%
Unit 7: Equilibrium 7%–9%
Unit 8: Acids and Bases 11%–15%
Unit 9: Applications of Thermodynamics 7%–9%

Preparing for the AP Chemistry Exam

Thankfully there is a lot of great material out there for students to use to prepare for AP exams, especially the FRQs.  Below is a list of tips for getting ready for the real test.

  1. Access the AP Chemistry course homepage in AP Classroom on the College Board website. There are MC and FRQ problem sets for every unit, and these are excellent review tools. They do need to be unlocked by your teacher, so if they are still locked, request that your teacher open those up to begin review.
  2.  Know which topics are and aren’t covered on the exam. Also, the AP Chemistry Course and Exam Description document has an overview of all covered topics on pg 22-24, and then much more in-depth info from pg 27-152 (beyond that are the units not covered this year).  Consider a Barron’s or Princeton Review book or working with a tutor for specific topic review.
  3. Use the past FRQs and their scoring guidelines which the College Board provides on the AP Chem page.  There are links to the 2019 FRQs as well as links to the 2014 – 2018 FRQs. These are some of the best resources you have. Attempt these questions after thorough content review, and work through them as if you were answering them on the real test. Compare your answers to the published scoring guidelines to approximate how many points you would earn.  Then study the correct answers!  FRQs from earlier than 2014 can be found in pdf form by a simple web search with the year, for example “AP Chemistry Free Response pdf 2012”.

  1. Learn your reactions! Keep a list to review, and know both general forms and common specific reactions.  For example:

General: Non-metal oxides plus water yield oxyacids

Specific: CO2 + H2O → H2CO3

  1. Know the periodic table inside and out.  This is your main tool and reference that holds so much information about each element, from its mass, to its electron structure, to its chemical and physical properties, just by virtue of its location on the table.  Also be sure to understand periodic trends and the forces behind them.

AP Chemistry Test Taking Tips


  1. Be as neat and thorough in your practice work as you will need to be on the real test.  Since these are open ended free-response questions, they are graded by humans, who will need to be able to read and understand your answers and follow your calculations. Make it as easy as possible for them to award you all the possible points.  Also, don’t forget to include units!
  2. Pay attention to sig-figs! On Chemistry FRQs, students are given a grace of one significant figure in either direction, meaning if the answer to a problem should have 3 sig figs, answers with 2, 3, or 4 sig figs will be counted as correct.  However, it’s worth paying attention to these and making sure to round correctly to avoid losing any points!
  3. Attempt every part of the FRQs. Most questions have multiple parts, and there is no penalty for wrong answers, so make sure to put down something for every part of every question, even if it’s a guess. And if you are guessing, try to use your best logic and reasoning to get close to the correct answer, and include related terms and vocabulary for a shot at partial credit.

Although none of us would choose a global pandemic, take advantage of the time you have at home to get fully prepped for the shorter, online AP Chem exam this year and try to get that 5! 

Marks Education offers wide-ranging services in counseling and tutoring for students seeking admission to high schools, colleges and graduate schools.

For more information about changes to the 2020 AP exams, check out our blog post on the topic here.

If you would like help as you prepare for the AP Chemistry exam, check out the bios of our experienced AP Chemistry tutors here: Dan Bloss, Dan Hertz, Ian Perez, Christy Van Overbeke, Ellie Koo

 

 

 

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