Cracking the AP Chemistry Exam

Part II

About the AP Chemistry Exam


The AP Chemistry Exam is a three-hour-long, two-section test that attempts to cover the material you would learn in a college first-year chemistry course. The first section is a 90-minute 60-question multiple-choice section. The second section is also 90 minutes and consists of 3 long-form free-response questions and 4 short-form free-response questions.

The multiple-choice section is scored by a computer, and the free-response questions are scored by a committee of high school and college teachers. The free-response questions are graded according to a standard set at the beginning of the grading period by the chief faculty consultants. Inevitably, the grading of Section II is never as consistent or accurate as the grading of Section I.

The AP Chemistry exam recently changed in May 2014, and as such there is no data on the necessary raw score to get a 3, 4, or 5. The breakdown will not be decided until after the exams have been scored, and with no past exams using this curriculum there is no existing standard to judge yourself by. Just do your best!


The concepts of the AP Chemistry exam are broken down into six major themes defined by the College Board as the Big Ideas. Rather than learning multiple disparate topics (as has been done in the past), these Big Ideas interconnect principles within these topics that describe fundamental chemical phenomena. The six Big Ideas are as follows:

·        Big Idea #1: The chemical elements are fundamental building materials of matter, and all matter can be understood in terms of arrangements of atoms. These atoms retain their identity in chemical reactions.

·        Big Idea #2: Chemical and physical properties of materials can be explained by the structure and the arrangement of atoms, ions, or molecules and the forces between them.

·        Big Idea #3: Changes in matter involve the rearrangement and/or reorganization of atoms and/or the transfer of electrons.

·        Big Idea #4: Rates of chemical reactions are determined by details of the molecular collisions.

·        Big Idea #5: The laws of thermodynamics describe the essential role of energy and explain and predict the direction of changes in matter.

·        Big Idea #6: Any bond or intermolecular attraction that can be formed can be broken. These two processes are in a dynamic competition, sensitive to initial conditions and external perturbations.

This book has been arranged to teach chemistry topics grouped to each of these Big Ideas.


Different colleges use AP Exam scores in different ways, so it is important that you go to a particular college’s web site to determine how it uses AP Exam scores. The three items below represent the main ways in which AP Exam scores can be used.

·        College Credit. Some colleges will give you college credit if you score well on an AP Exam. These credits count towards your graduation requirements, meaning that you can take fewer courses while in college. Given the cost of college, this could be quite a benefit, indeed.

·        Satisfy Requirements. Some colleges will allow you to “place out” of certain requirements if you do well on an AP Exam, even if they do not give you actual college credits. For example, you might not need to take an introductory-level course, or perhaps you might not need to take a class in a certain discipline at all.

·        Admissions Plus. Even if your AP Exam will not result in college credit or even allow you to place out of certain courses, most colleges will respect your decision to push yourself by taking an AP Course or even an AP Exam outside of a course. A high score on an AP Exam shows mastery of more difficult content than is taught in many high school courses, and colleges may take that into account during the admissions process.


There are many resources available to help you improve your score on the AP Chemistry Exam, not the least of which are your teachers. If you are taking an AP class, you may be able to get extra attention from your teacher, such as obtaining feedback on your free-response questions. If you are not in an AP course, reach out to a teacher who teaches chemistry, and ask if the teacher will review your free-response questions or otherwise help you with content.

Another wonderful resource is AP Central, the official site of the AP Exams. The scope of the information at this site is quite broad and includes:

·        Course Description, which includes details on what content is covered and sample questions

·        Sample questions relating to the new exam

·        Free-response question prompts and multiple-choice questions from previous years

The AP Central home page address is:

For up-to-date information about the ongoing changes to the AP Chemistry Course, please visit:

Finally, The Princeton Review offers tutoring and small group instruction. Our expert instructors can help you refine your strategic approach and add to your content knowledge. For more information, call 1-800-2REVIEW.


As part of the Introduction, you identified some areas of potential improvement. Let’s now delve further into your performance on Test 1, with the goal of developing a study plan appropriate to your needs and time commitment.

Read the answers and explanations associated with the multiple-choice questions (starting at this page). After you have done so, respond to the following questions:

·        Review the Overview of Content Topics at this page. Next to each topic, indicate your rank of the topic as follows: “1” means “I need a lot of work on this,” “2” means “I need to beef up my knowledge,” and “3” means “I know this topic well.”

·        How many days/weeks/months away is your exam?

·        What time of day is your best, most focused study time?

·        How much time per day/week/month will you devote to preparing for your exam?

·        When will you do this preparation? (Be as specific as possible: Mondays & Wednesdays from 3 to 4 pm, for example)

·        Based on the answers above, will you focus on strategy (Part III) or content (Part IV) or both?

·        What are your overall goals in using this book?