How to Prepare for AP Chemistry Exam – All Year Long

AP Chemistry is known for being a difficult class in school—and a difficult test! However, if you’re taking AP Chemistry, you’ve already proven yourself to be a bright student and highly capable of studying complex topics. And while I wish I could tell you there was a quick and easy way to ace the test in May, there isn’t. Hard work and planning are what you need for scoring a 5 on the AP Chemistry test.

Here’s how.

In School: Understand Fundamentals

There’s an old English proverb by Lord Kanye West: you must crawl before you ball. Learning (and in a perfect world mastering) the fundamentals of Chemistry will give you a great foundation to understand advanced topics. But you have to be proactive and put the work in.

In the classroom, take those extra steps to understand introductory topics at the beginning of the class before moving on. It’s tempting to breeze over the information and get help from friends just to get a good score on an assignment, but in the long run it won’t be worth it. Cramming just to pass a unit quiz won’t help you retain information. You’re going to need that information months later.

So, talk to your teacher if you are having trouble with a concept. Make sure to get it. You’ll quickly learn that concepts in Chemistry (and plenty of other subjects, too) build on themselves as the course progresses.

For example, mastery of topics like atomic structure and electrons can be used to help explain bonding, ionization, and oxidation-reduction reactions. Learning about ionization will be much easier when you don’t have to rebuild all of that basic stuff to get there.

If not, the class will snowball out of control and you’ll find yourself really struggling. The last thing you want is to spend the year playing a constant game of catch-up.

Asking for help may not be your favorite thing, but building self-advocacy is critical to success in education, esp. college. Teachers want their students to succeed. They will help you. So ask. Ask questions until you fully understand the material to the point that you can teach it to someone else.

At Home: Practice, Practice, Practice

There’s another old English proverb: practice makes perfect. There isn’t much that can prepare you for the AP chemistry test except for the test itself. It’s a three hour and fifteen minute test, broken down into a 90-minute, 60-question multiple-choice section and a 105-minute free response section.

In other words, this test is an endurance trial.

I can’t recommend enough that students take multiple practices tests before the actual test to build stamina, reduce mental fatigue, identify content areas that need more reviewing, and become familiar with the style of questions on the test.

Tell help you conquer your practice tests, and use that time effectively and efficiently, here’s a practice test plan:

Before you take your first practice test:

  1. Read sample responses to free-response questions.
  2. Practice answering some free-response questions untimed to get a feel for the process.

Keep the following in mind when practicing free response questions:

  • Read the question at least twice before attempting to answer to be sure you answer the question thoroughly.
  • If a part of a questions relies on using the answer to a previous part, use your prior results to answer it. If you couldn’t complete a previous part, make up an answer and explain what you would have done.
  • Be specific!
  • Show your work, round calculations to appropriate significant figures at the end of the problem, and use appropriate units.
  • Clearly label your axes on graphs.
  • Once you are fully familiar with the format, it’s time to…

Take a practice test! (Barron’s AP Chemistry includes plenty of practice tests for you to choose from.)

  1. Plan on taking the test under standard test conditions, which means timed and in a quiet place. Set aside an afternoon or morning to take the test, make sure you’re well-rested, and set a timer.
  2. Once you’re done, reward yourself with a break! You just took a great step toward getting a high score on test day.
  3. Grade the practice test.
    Make notes about which type of questions you’re missing. Are there specific topics that need to be explored more fully? Are there fundamentals that need to be reviewed? Make a comprehensive study guide for yourself.
  4. Review missed questions thoroughly.
    Most practice tests provide the answers and explanations. Read these and understand why you missed the question, figuring out what topic is at the heart of the question.

Review!

  1. Study problem areas from your first test.
    Dedicate time to reviewing the topics you struggled with in your practice test.
    You can find practice problems specific to those areas in your study guide or test book (or online!).
    Try approaching one topic a day instead of doing it all at once. It will most likely be multiple hours of study, so be sure to split up the studying. The key is to retain all this information, so you need to give yourself time to take it all in!
    After studying a subject, remember to quiz yourself on the material a week later to assess whether you retained the information.

Repeat! (Because each released AP exam contains a slightly different spread of topics covered, the more practice tests you take the better prepared you’ll be for the topics you’ll see on the official exam date.)

AP Chemistry can be overwhelming and frustrating, but you have all the tools to succeed. With dedication and a strong study plan, you can rock it on test day!

Depending on how you do, you should work through a prep book or hire a tutor to review test strategies and content. If you’re not sure how to proceed, give us a ring after taking a practice test; we’ll talk you through your results and give you honest and specific recommendations for getting ready.

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