General Education

10 Tips to Help You Maximize Your AP Chemistry Score

10 Tips to Help You Maximize Your AP Chemistry Score
Maybe your teacher simply hasn't taken the time to find out what will be covered on the test, and if that’s the case, take on the responsibility yourself! Image from Unsplash
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Adrian Dingle April 7, 2015

If you want to score a 5 on the AP Chemistry exam, follow these tips. Find out what's different about the 2015 test and how it may affect your prep strategy.

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Getting a high score on your AP Chemistry exam can be a game-changer. It can mean receiving college credit, skipping intro classes, and potentially saving money on tuition.

If you are looking for help on scoring that five, use these tried-and-true tips to get there.

10. READ the question, and then, ANSWER the question!

Yeah, it sounds obvious, I know, but the tendency for students to either answer a question that they imagined had been asked — or perhaps one that they wished had been asked — can really be quite strong! For example, if a question were to ask about the effect of temperature on reaction rate, don’t imagine (or wish) that the question had asked about the effect of temperature on the equilibrium constant. Read questions carefully, and underline the most important components that you know the answer must address.

9. Be conscious of time.

Like most exams, the AP Chemistry exam is not an open-ended exercise that allows you to casually stroll through the questions without a care in the world. Time matters, and you must get to the final question in each section of the exam — after all, it may be the easiest question on the whole test! This means that being aware of the time that has passed is crucial. Set an approximate goal to get to a particular question at a specific time, and regularly monitor your progress. If you don’t normally wear a watch, you should make an exception on exam day.

8. Practice answering AP questions.

The only way that you will ultimately be assessed is by the answers that you give to real AP questions — not to those on your homework or in your textbook. Look online for the questions from previous AP Chemistry exams. You can find questions used on earlier versions between 1999–2013 or sample questions from the 2014 exam. As you revise your answers, think critically about which topics you are struggling with and may need to review.

7. Know what’s NOT on the test!

Your AP chemistry teacher may have a particular soft spot for phase diagrams, quantum numbers, colligative properties, or even extensive organic chemistry, but these are examples of topics that will not be tested on the AP chemistry exam in 2015. Maybe your teacher simply hasn’t taken the time to find out what will be covered on the test, and if that’s the case, take on the responsibility yourself! Make sure you know what can, and equally importantly, what cannot, be assessed so that you focus your preparation and don’t waste time.

6. Understand the logistics of the exam.

Know the number of questions on each section (multiple-choice and free-response) of the exam. Know when you are allowed to use a calculator and when you are not. Know when the periodic table and equations and constants sheet are available to you and when they are not.

5. Present your work neatly.

There are no points for neatness or presentation per se. However, there is a very good reason to present your work in an organized and legible fashion: Graders are human. That means that late at night, after slogging through many days of grading thousands of exam papers, the last thing that a grader wants to do is try to decipher your scrawl and scribble. They are likely to get frustrated at the effort it’s taking and may not give you the benefit of the doubt if there is a judgment call to be made about one of your answers. Help them to help you!

4. Pay attention to units and significant figures.

There is only one point in the whole free-response section assigned to significant figures, and, moreover, it is not flagged for you. Make the best of this opportunity and avoid losing the easy point. As a broad rule of thumb, record your answer to any numerical problem with the same number of significant figures as given in the weakest piece of data.

3. Check your answer to each calculation for feasibility.

Use your understanding of chemistry concepts to assess whether your calculations seem logical. For example, can an acid have a pH above 7? Every time that you feverishly punch numbers into a calculator in order to spit out another answer to a numerical question, STOP! Ask yourself, “Does this number make sense?” This habit will help you to pick up silly mathematical or computational errors (decimal point in the wrong place, typed into the calculator incorrectly, and so on) and can eliminate careless lost points.

2. Invest in a great review book.

Maybe you have not had the benefit of a great set of reference materials during your course. Now is the time to change that. There are lots of resources on the market, but make sure that they have been upgraded to reflect the new test and new format.

1. Be aware of the new emphasis on the re-designed exam.

In 2014, the “new,” redesigned AP Chemistry exam was examined for the first time, and although much of the chemistry content remains largely the same, the exam has placed a new emphasis on a few things. Increasingly, expect to see problems that are presented in the multiple-choice section in ‘sets’ of up to six questions that reference a single collection of data. Look out for an increased need to explain physical and chemical phenomena at the particulate (ionic, atomic, molecular) level. In that same light, expect to see particulate diagrams and models of those atomic level things more often. Finally, expect references to lab situations that lean on your ability to design and describe an experimental technique to solve a problem.

Good luck!


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