How to Study for an AP Chemistry Exam

Three Parts:Studying BasicsPreparing for the ExamStrategizing for the Exam

AP Chemistry is a difficult course that culminates in an exam at the end of the year. If you do well on it, you have the potential to enter college with some chemistry credits under your belt. Success on the exam is all about putting in the time and effort to study the material. Ideally, you will make a study plan allowing at least two weeks (the more time, the better) to focus on the exam material. Knowing the concepts that will be covered and taking practice tests are the best ways to study for the final exam.

Part 1
Studying Basics

  1. 1
    Make a study plan. Ideally, you want to start reviewing early in April to give yourself enough time to really study everything. Set aside at least an hour each day to review the material or do practice questions. If you didn’t start studying early, you’ll need to make a condensed plan. Make an outline of all the concepts you need to study and prioritize them based on the likelihood it will be on the test and your mastery of the material.[1]
    • If you only have a week or two to study, you need to set aside at least three hours a day to focus on chemistry. Start by focusing on the concepts you really struggle with and then review the material you know pretty well a few days before the exam.
    • Take at least one practice exam before the actual test day. Ideally, you will have taken 3-4 practice exams to prepare.
  2. 2
    Start with the basics. Chemistry is a subject that continues to build upon itself so if you haven’t mastered the basics, you will get stuck very early. Review the concepts from the beginning of class, focusing on the ones that gave you trouble early on.[2]
    • Mastering the basic concepts will make it much easier to approach complex problems.
  3. 3
    Read problem solutions and then do it yourself. It is easy to think you understand a problem when you’re reading through the solution. This is the best way to start studying, but you also need to go back and attempt the problem yourself. It may not be as easy without the solution in front of you.[3]
    • Chemistry is most easily understood by doing actual problems. Make sure you understand how to solve a problem and get the correct answer.
    • Always double-check the units at the end of the problem. If the units don’t make sense or the answer logically can’t be right, you need to go back and figure out what went wrong.
  4. 4
    Buy an AP Chemistry review book. Review books are a great resource to help you focus your studying. You can work through the book and the material without having to create an intensely detailed outline on your own. It can also help you structure your time and study habits.[4]
    • Review books also have practice problems and full practice exams that are very useful for studying.
  5. 5
    Form a study group. Forming a study group with your classmates is a great way to stay on schedule with your studying. It is also very helpful to study with other people who may understand the material better than you do. You can quiz each other or explain concepts in different ways to help each other out.[5]
    • Set up a study group schedule and stick to it.

Part 2
Preparing for the Exam

  1. 1
    Take practice exams. The best way to study for the test is to take practice exams either from previous years or from review books. The College Board releases the free-response questions from the previous year’s exam. While the questions will not be identical from year-to-year, it will give you a good idea of the format and the type of questions you will be facing.[6]
    • Practice tests are a great way to evaluate where you have weaknesses. Use this as a guide to tailor your studying to the concepts you struggle with.
    • When taking practice exams, abide by the time given for the actual exam. This will help you with your pacing so you don’t run out of time on the day of the test.
    • Practice tests from review books can be harder or easier than the actual exam, so try to find and take exams from the College Board.[7]
  2. 2
    Know what is not included on the exam. You can easily simplify your studying process by knowing what you will not see on the exam. This helps you narrow your study focus and avoid spending time on concepts you know won’t be on there. While these concepts may be useful as background knowledge, you will not need to know them specifically for the test. This list is not exhaustive but includes some of the concepts you can spend less time on:[8]
    • Assignment of quantum numbers to electrons
    • Phase diagrams
    • Nuclear chemistry and molecular orbital theory
    • Extensive organic chemistry
    • The Nernst equation
    • Lewis acid-base concepts and computing pH changes in buffers
  3. 3
    Practice chemical reactions. Knowing the different types of chemical reactions, how they occur, and how to find their products is essential for the exam. Single and double replacement, synthesis, decomposition, combustion and redox reactions are all ones that you need to know.[9]
    • Know how to recognize each type of reaction and how products are formed.
  4. 4
    Memorize the essential chemical calculations. There are many concepts that are a “must” to know for the exam. Knowing how to do the following calculations with ease will make the exam that much easier:[10]
    • Percent composition, mole fractions, and molar solutions
    • Kinetics calculations, titration calculations, and thermodynamics calculations
    • Equilibrium constants, standard electrode potentials, Faraday’s laws of electrolysis
    • Stoichiometric relations and gas laws
    • Molecular formulas from empirical formulas and empirical formulas from experimental data

Part 3
Strategizing for the Exam

  1. 1
    Pace yourself for each question. The AP Chemistry exam is a long test and is all about proper pacing. There are two sections: multiple choice and free response. The best strategy for the multiple choice section is to go through all of the questions and answer as many as you can, taking 40 seconds per question. Mark a “Y” next to questions you know you can answer with more time and an “N” next to questions you have no idea how to answer.[11]
    • Try to get through all 60 questions in about 40 minutes (15 questions per 10 minutes).
    • Give yourself about 10 minutes for the short question and 16 minutes for the long question free responses.
  2. 2
    Answer the questions you know how to do. Go back through the multiple choice questions and address all of the ones you marked with a “Y”. If you have successfully gotten through all of the questions in the first pass in 40 minutes, you should still have 50 minutes left for the section. Spend the next 40 minutes answering the questions you are pretty sure you can answer.[12]
    • Ignore the questions you marked with an “N”.
  3. 3
    Attempt to answer the questions you are unsure of. With ten minutes left to complete this section, go back through a final time and try to answer the questions you have no idea how to solve. Try to eliminate at least two of the answers and make an educated guess for the answer.[13]
    • There is no penalty for guessing, so try to answer every single question.
  4. 4
    Read the entire question before answering. This step is especially important for the free response section. You want to make sure you are providing an answer to what the question is asking before you try to solve. Many questions have multiple parts, so read each question before answering and think about how the previous answer helps you answer the next question.[14]
    • Use proper significant figures for each response.
    • If a question asks you to use the answer to the previous question, make sure you use it.
    • If you couldn’t come up with an answer to the previous question, but know how to answer the next part, make up a number and explain how you would solve with that number.
  5. 5
    Explain your answers to maximize credit. If the question asks you to compare two answers or explain/justify your answer, make sure you do it. Simply stating an answer will not be enough for full credit. Clearly articulate your reasoning to get all of the points or at least partial credit.[15]
    • Present your work neatly so that exam graders can read it easily and give you the credit you are due.[16]


  • Prepare the necessary supplies for the exam the night before.
  • Take frequent study breaks. You'll want to study for an hour, then take a ten minute break.
  • Turn off all electronic devices while studying to avoid distractions.
  • Review past homework and class tests.
  • Study in a well-lit room.
  • Get plenty of sleep the night before and eat a good breakfast the next day.


  • Don't leave an answer blank; you don't want to lose points and there is no penalty for guessing.
  • Don't leave your studying until the night before. Otherwise, you may have to pull an all-nighter, and you won't be fully focused for the exam.

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Categories: Advanced Placement Courses and Exams