Studying for the AP Chemistry exam is a challenging undertaking. There are so many different topics and types of problems that you're expected to master, some of which you might not have fully understood in your class.
This AP Chemistry study guide is written to help you effectively navigate the road towards the AP exam. I'll give you all the information and resources you need to create a study plan, review the content, and practice your skills.
What’s the Purpose of This AP Chemistry Study Guide?
This guide will aid you in preparation for the AP Chemistry exam and any other assessments you encounter in your class. The first section outlines a study plan that will help you review the material effectively before the test. You can also use this plan as general advice for the best way to use practice tests in the context of your studying throughout the year.
The next section lists study tips that specifically apply to AP Chemistry. It’s nice to have some strategies in hand before you begin prepping so that you get the most out of your time with the material!
The section after this deals with the content of the course, divided by chemistry's Big Ideas. I’ll link to notes that provide information detailing each of the content areas and give you some supplemental videos that may help with explanations.
Finally, I’ll provide online resources that you can use to test your knowledge of AP Chemistry, including practice multiple-choice quizzes by topic area and sample free-response questions.
Alright, let's do this.
AP Chemistry Study Plans
AP Chemistry has many different components: data interpretation, math problems, concept memorization, logical reasoning. Where do you start? I'll describe the basic study process step-by-step first and then provide an approximate timeline.
Step 1: Take and Score an Initial Diagnostic Test
Practice tests are available online, through your AP teacher, or in review books.Take your diagnostic test under the same time constraints as the real exam (1 hour 30 minutes for multiple choice and 1 hour 45 minutes for free response).You should aim to take your first full-length practice test around the beginning of your second semester.
Side Note: Even though they can be useful, you should always be wary of practice tests from review books. Whenever possible, try to use official tests from the College Board to judge your score level instead of tests that were written by prep companies. Unofficial tests are often significantly easier or harder than the real AP test.
Step 2: Evaluate Your Results
When you’re done, go back through your answers and score the test. Keep track of which types of questions you answered incorrectly (or answered correctly because of a lucky guess). This will allow you to collect a repository of concepts that you need to work on before taking the real test.
Step 3: Study Weak Content Areas and Do Practice Problems
Refer to your notes, review book, or information included later in this guide to refresh your knowledge of ideas that you had trouble with on the practice test. If you’re struggling with a particular type of problem, find a similar problem in your textbook, review book, or online, and walk yourself through the steps of solving it.
First, just read the solution explanation. Then, try to do it yourself without looking at the explanation and see if you can find the right answer. If you go through a few problems or questions like this in areas that need work, you will start to build up comfort with the material.
Step 4: Take and Score a Second Practice Test
When you feel you’ve addressed the main issues you noticed on the first diagnostic test, you can take another practice test to measure your improvement.
Overview of the Entire Process:
- Take and score a practice test (3.5-4 hours)
- Analyze and categorize your mistakes (1-2 hours)
- Do practice problems and study content that correspond to your areas of weakness on the test (2-3 hours)
- Take and score a second practice test (3.5-4 hours)
After the second practice test, check your progress. If you’re satisfied, you can stop here at nine to 13 hours of studying, but I'd say that's the minimum study time for this test. Assuming you still want to improve or get more comfortable with the format of the exam, you can repeat the cycle as many times as necessary to reach your goals.
Oh boy, a study plan that never has to end!
AP Chemistry Study Strategies
Before we get to notes on content, here are some study tips that you should keep in mind as you review. In a subject like chemistry, there's a huge difference between looking over the material and actually learning it.
#1: Start With the Basics
AP Chemistry is a subject that builds on itself from the ground up. If you don’t understand the essential reasoning behind the properties of different elements, you’ll have trouble answering more obscure problems down the road.
For this reason, your studying should begin with the topics that were covered earliest in the year. If there’s a concept you learned early on that’s still giving you trouble, you should revisit it right away to solidify your understanding. If you don't absorb foundational knowledge before solving complex problems, you’ll end up wasting your time and getting more confused (or memorizing how to solve a specific problem without expanding your understanding of the concept).
#2: Do It Yourself
When studying a subject that requires step-by-step problem solving, students often read answer explanations and overestimate their levels of understanding. Everything seems so clear when you’re reading about it, but you'll feel different during the AP test when all you have is the problem in front of you.
That's why it’s critical to re-do problems yourself after looking at the answer explanations. Learning by doing is the only way to go with chemistry. If you can find the solution on your own while genuinely understanding how you got there, you’ll do well on similar problems when they come up in the future.
#3: Double Check for Logic and Units
When you finish a chemistry problem, you might be tempted to accept the answer you calculated right away and continue to the next question. Before you do, check to make sure that your answer matches up with what you know about the problem and its scale. Many issues with units and significant figures can happen in chemistry, so you should double check to verify that your answer is in the correct form and makes logical sense.
#4: Invest in a Review Book
If you have the means, I’d highly recommend buying a review book to supplement independent studying. Review books can provide you with more concise explanations of concepts and better ideas for how to structure your time. They also have practice tests and questions that you can consult as you review different parts of the curriculum. Check out our article on the best AP Chemistry review books for more specific ideas.
It's time to break open your piggy bank (if only so it doesn't break you open first based on its incredibly disturbing facial expression).
AP Chemistry Content
First, I have for you a super sweet interactive periodic table! The periodic table is your best friend in AP Chemistry, and you’ll have access to it on the test. You should know all about the different types of elements and what the numbers in the table mean! This other site is also useful for sorting the elements according to their various unique properties.
Here are links to some notes for the main topics that fall under each of the "Big Ideas" of the course. The Big Ideas represent six fundamental themes of AP Chemistry under the newly organized curriculum. These resources should help you to review key concepts if you find that you're missing sections in your notes from class:
Big Idea 1: The chemical elements are fundamental building materials of matter, and all matter can be understood in terms of arrangement of atoms. These atoms retain their identities in chemical reactions
- Chemical Foundations
- Scientific method
- Significant figures
- Basics of systematic problem-solving
- Organization/classification of matter
- Atomic structure and periodicity
- Electromagnetic radiation
- Max Planck and quantum theory
- Atomic spectrum
- Mass spectrometry
- Bohr model
- Quantum mechanical model
- Quantum numbers and electron orbitals
- Coulomb’s Law
- Periodic trends
- Atoms, Molecules, and Ions
- Fundamental laws of chemistry
- Dalton’s atomic theory
- Millikan’s oil experiment
- Rutherford’s metal foil experiment
- Timeline of milestones in the history of chemistry
- Atomic structure
- Types of bonds
- Chemical formulas for molecules
- Organization of the periodic table
- Naming compounds
Big Idea 2: Chemical and physical properties of materials can be explained by the structure and arrangement of atoms, ions, or molecules and the forces between them
- Types of chemical bonds
- Bond polarity and dipole moments
- Ions: size and electron configuration
- London dispersion forces
- Lewis structures
- VSEPR Model
- Covalent Bonding: Orbitals
- Liquids and Solids
- Intermolecular forces
- The liquid state
- Structures and types of solids
- Structure and bonding in metals
- Vapor pressure and state changes
- Phase diagrams
- Gas laws of Boyle, Charles, and Avogadro
- Ideal gas law
- Gas stoichiometry
- Dalton’s law
- Kinetic Molecular Theory
- van der Waal’s equation
- Atmospheric chemistry
- Gas law practice problems
Big Idea 3: Changes in matter involve the rearrangement and/or reorganization of atoms and/or the transfer of electrons
- Atomic and molar mass
- Percent composition of compounds and determining formulas for compounds
- Structure of chemical equations
- Balancing chemical equations
- Limiting reactant problems
- Percent yield
- Types of Chemical Reactions and Solution Chemistry
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
- Chemical Equilibrium
- Equilibrium conditions
- Equilibrium constants
- Solving equilibrium problems
- Le Chatelier’s principle
- All about energy
- Enthalpy and calorimetry
- Hess’s Law
- Spontaneity, Entropy, and Free Energy
- Gibbs Free energy (G)
- Entropy changes in chemical reactions
- Free energy and chemical reactions
- Free energy
- ...and pressure
- ...and equilibrium
- ...and work
- The Nucleus
- Nuclear stability and radioactive decay
- Kinetics of radioactive decay
- Nuclear transformations
- Thermodynamic stability of the nucleus
- Nuclear fission and fusion
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
- Properties of Solutions
- Solution composition
- Factors affecting solubility
- Vapor pressure of solutions
- Boiling point and freezing point variation
- Osmotic pressure
- Solubility and complex ion equilibria
- Solubility and solubility products
- Common Ion effects
- Acids and Bases
- The pH scale
- Calculating pH
- Acid-base properties of salts and oxides
- Calculating acid strength
- Lewis Acid-Base Model
- Solving acid-base problems
- Acid-Base equilibria
- Buffered solutions
- Acid-base indicators
- Bozeman Science playlist of AP chemistry essentials
- ChemGuy video lectures that cover the entire AP curriculum
- Khan Academy videos on every topic in chemistry
This is how jazzed up you'll be when you watch these videos.
Online Practice Resources
This is a list of free online resources that have practice tests and problems that may aid in your studying. If you need more practice, you should also consider buying a review book or asking your AP teacher for additional official practice tests.
The College Board has free-response questions (along with scoring guidelines) from past tests (2006 to 2013) on its site for AP Chemistry. You can also find free-response questions from 2014 to 2017 on the AP Student section of the College Board website. All of these are great for practice!
I like this site because it’s not all multiple choice. You have to solve problems completely on your own, which awesome practice for the AP test. There are tons of different activities that relate to all aspects of the course, and you can check your answers as you find them. This is a helpful resource for practice problems that will allow you to develop a strong fundamental understanding of the concepts.
Albert has sets of practice questions organized by concept and Big Idea. Each question is labeled Easy, Medium, or Hard, so you’ll know whether you’ve mastered the material. The site also records your progress and the accuracy of your answers in each topic area to make it easier to identify where your skills still need work. All questions are multiple choice, so make sure you also practice open-ended questions elsewhere (or do some of the problems without looking at the answer choices).
This site has a bunch of practice tests on all topics related to AP Chemistry. Each test has a difficulty rating along with a listing of the average amount of time required to complete the questions. These tests are multiple choice, but there are plenty that will ask you to solve stoichiometry problems or balance equations. Just like Albert iO, once you’re well-versed in the material, you can try to do the problems without looking at the answer choices.
This is a resource that offers short multiple choice quizzes on all topics in AP chemistry. The quizzes are only five questions long each, so they’re good for quick review of concepts that you already know fairly well.
Barron’s provides a free online sample test with the same format as the real AP Chemistry exam. The multiple-choice is scored automatically, and free-response scoring guidelines are provided.
Wander the Barron wasteland of your mind.
AP Chemistry is tough. It covers so much information, and most of it is complex and challenging to understand. Take a diagnostic test before you start studying so you can devise a plan that fits your needs, whether that means studying for 10 hours or 40 hours.
I’d recommend that you use the study strategies and supplemental resources in this guide to bolster your understanding of the material. If you’re willing to work hard to master every topic in AP Chemistry, the test will be a much less stressful experience!
If you're still planning out your future high school schedule, take a look at this guide that will help you decide which AP classes to take in addition to chemistry.
Do you plan on taking the SAT II in addition to your AP exams? Find out how subject tests compare to AP tests and which scores are more important for college applications.
How high does your AP score have to be to qualify for college credit? Learn more about getting credit for AP classes in college.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.