To the uninitiated, AP classes might seem intimidating. And especially more so if it's a subject like chemistry, which features complex formulas, subscripts, and superscripts.

Students might be thrown off by complications like stoichiometric units or the complex scientific jargon they encounter in the AP Chemistry course description. But it's not as complicated as it looks!

The AP Chemistry curriculum might be intense, but it's an incredibly fascinating subject, especially if you've studied chemistry at lower levels before this.

A Pyrex beaker containing a red liquid
Several prospective students shy away from taking advanced chemistry when they see the AP Chemistry course description. The complex terminology coupled with the subscripts and superscripts used to denote chemical elements are found to be pretty intimidating (Source: Visual Hunt)
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How Difficult Do Students Find AP Chemistry?

The content covered in the AP Chemistry curriculum plays a prominent role in how difficult students perceive the subject to be.

Since AP classes are a notch above regular high school classes, only high-performing students are mentally and physically prepared.

Even those that pass it may come out thinking they've been put through stress! In short, you may find the contents of the course difficult due to the complex nature of the academic content.

Even if there is a high percentage of passing students, it just shows that these classes have high passing rates, and only high-performing students attempt AP Chemistry.

And if you're confused by the public perception of AP exams, speak to those around you who may have attempted it. Student feedback can be the best way to gauge the difficulty of the class.

How students perceive the difficulty of this class also depends on when in high school they attempt it. If they take it earlier, they're more likely to find it challenging.

Furthermore, if they attempt it in senior year, they're bound to find it easier since they would have adapted well to high workloads while becoming privy to the idea of AP exams.

AP Chemistry Coursework

AP Chemistry learning objectives include:

  • Memorizing formulas and principles
  • Perfecting math skills
  • Visualizing interactions between subatomic particles

In many ways, it relates to AP Biology but is certainly more complex and abstract.

If you haven't studied chemistry before, you will find the terminology incomprehensible. This is because chemistry has its own language, represented by symbols and words that aren't used in daily life unless you work in a chemistry laboratory.

To excel at AP Chemistry, you need to draw upon a wide range of skills, from memorization to analytical thinking and deductive reasoning.

You must also memorize the properties of chemicals and understand why they behave the way they do. It will require candidates to be fast with their calculations and be able to crunch numbers if needed.

A typical question from AP Chemistry practice tests would require students to mix their practical understanding with their theoretical knowledge of the subject matter.

An example of such a question would ask students to dip into their knowledge of acids and bases and infer how they would interact with each other in several given scenarios.

Without a strong understanding of the curriculum, students will find it hard to justify their answers.

Hence, AP Chemistry follows a cumulative structure where the curriculum builds upon past topics and requires students to apply their critical thinking skills to answer complex questions.

A person drawing the structure of organic chemical molecules on a blackboard with a chalk
Attempting AP Chemistry practice tests is a good way of determining where you stand and how well you're likely to score a high grade on your exam. However, you must make sure that you know the difference between official and unofficial practice material (Source: Visual Hunt)
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Should You Consider Taking AP Chemistry?

Most students will tell you that the AP chemistry grading scale is quite tough. But how well a student performs on the AP Chemistry exam depends on their aptitude for chemistry and their teacher.

An unqualified teacher can make simple concepts hard to understand for students. Some may even make well-prepared students forget what they learned!

AP Chemistry is known for having an arduous preparation process with copious amounts of homework, and as such, it is only for students who generally excel at chemistry.

Also, AP classes are designed to be taken in junior or senior year when students have already gone through introductory courses in the subject.

Keep in mind that AP Chemistry involves a full range of academic skill sets, from practical experiments to theoretical work. Therefore, it is best to go in with experience.

Moreover, the mathematical aspect of AP Chemistry is arguably the most difficult to tackle; it focuses on:

  • Stoichiometry problems
  • Balancing equations
  • Converting units
  • Devising mathematical relationships between reactants and products

Therefore, if you want to excel at AP Chemistry, it's necessary to have a strong background in math.

Most students who have taken AP Chemistry seem to agree that it involves much more effort than regular high school chemistry lessons, but it's a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

Lastly, their perception of the class is also influenced by the teacher's ability, the practice materials used, and their learning environment.

Should You Take AP Chemistry?

Before you sign up for AP Chemistry, there are a few steps you can take to ascertain whether you'll be able to stay in sync with the rigors of the course:

Talk To AP Chemistry Students and Teachers

Each school offers AP classes differently, so the ones at your school could be less challenging than those offered at other high schools.

To understand the AP Chemistry lessons in your school, talk to the teachers and the students currently enrolled in these classes.

Ask them about their experience with the coursework and how they fared with the demands of the course. Hearing them out will give you a valuable new perspective

You can also request them to recommend AP Chemistry resources that they found helpful. Also, talk to your guidance counselor as they may have access to statistical data on the class.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Before starting AP Chemistry, it's a good idea to identify where your academic strengths and weaknesses lie. With enough practice, these things are easy to pinpoint.

For example, if you're good at science and math, chances are you will find AP Chemistry easier than those without a math background.

Compared to other classes like AP Biology, AP Chemistry is much more math-centric. It requires objective answers, which can be quite a challenge for students who rely on memorization.

Account For Your Schedule

AP classes can be hard to manage with your regular school workload. In addition, if you're taking other challenging courses like AP Biology, know that it will be difficult to manage another advanced class.

Ideally, a student should not be taking more than two AP classes at once, especially if they're also involved in extracurriculars.

Instead, try to take an introductory chemistry class the year before you plan to sit for your AP Chemistry exam.

A set of test tubes and measuring cylinders with colored chemicals
AP Chemistry curriculum is a notch above regular chemistry lessons that students take in high school and includes some advanced topics that most students don't learn till college (Source: Visual Hunt)

Strategies For AP Chemistry Study

Having delved into the specifics of the exam, there are some handy AP Chemistry exam tips and techniques you can follow to help you with your prep.

Therefore, when studying and revising your coursework, keep some of these tips in mind:

Master The Basics First

AP Chemistry course material is cumulative and develops using previous topics and concepts. Without understanding the core ideas, you can never advance to the more complex problems and questions.

As a result, you should always start your AP Chemistry preparations from the basic concepts covered at the start of the year.

If you're struggling with a core concept, perfect your understanding of it before moving onto more advanced topics. Otherwise, you'll end up wasting time and effort and end up getting more confused.

Do Not Jump To The Answer

Chemistry, like math, is a subject that involves solving every question step-by-step, and as such, the work should be reflected in the answer.

Unfortunately, students who use review books tend to jump to the answer explanations when they find themselves struggling with a question.

This can be a serious handicap when you're attempting the actual exam and don't have an answer book to fall back on.

That is why it is so important to attempt every problem yourself and understand the reasoning behind the answer.

Even if you like to consult the answer book, try and re-do the problems after checking the answer. Arriving at the solution yourself can help you tackle similar problems easily in the future.

Take A Diagnostic Test

There are AP practice tests available for practically any subject. For example, you can search for AP Chemistry practice exams online or find one in a review book.

A diagnostic test is modeled after the real AP exam and helps prospective students practice for the actual exam.

Once you've completed your test, check the answers and score yourself. Mark out the questions you've attempted incorrectly and note where you seem to be lacking.

This method will allow you to know where you stand before you sign on for the real deal.

Do Tons Of Practice Problems

If you struggle with some questions, refer to review books, study guides, and online exercises to help with the topic.

Find similar problems in your AP Chemistry review books and textbooks and try to follow the same methodology. AP Chemistry is like math, and the more you practice, the better you'll get at it.

Prepare For Your AP Chemistry Exam With A Private Tutor

One thing that readers will gather from our summary is that AP chemistry is nothing to scoff at. The concepts are complex, the preparation is tricky, and the resources hard to find.

Therefore, to be best prepared, it is advised that you hire a private tutor to walk you through the complexities of the subject.

If you're planning to sit for your AP Chemistry exams, train with a private tutor and improve your chances of earning a high score. Sign up with Superprof and find qualified chemistry tutors near you.

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Ian