Is AP Chemistry easy or hard? We reveal the AP Chem difficulty rating, based on a unique combination of 2021 pass rate data, and 2,627 class reviews from real AP alumnae collected by r/APStudents.

Is AP Chemistry Easy Or Hard?

AP Chemistry is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.1/10 for overall difficulty (the 4th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed).

The pass rate is slightly lower than other AP classes, with 51% graduating with a 3 or higher.

AP Chemistry is quite widely-taken (134,316 entries last year), and 86% would recommend the class, which is very slightly lower than other AP classes.

Is AP Chemistry Easy or Hard – Difficulty Rating

Whilst AP Chem is rated as very hard, alumnae reviewers enjoyed the subject, and found it was manageable with regular study throughout the year, good review resources, and a thorough understanding of underlying concepts and particularly tricky topics.

You can see how AP Chem compares to other classes for difficulty in the below chart:

AP Chemistry difficulty

We’ve highlighted AP Chemistry and related scientific classes (Biology, Environmental Science and Psychology) only – to see the full version of this chart, check out our article ranking ALL the AP classes from easy to hard.

You can read more about AP Biology, AP Environmental Science and AP Psychology here.

How Difficult Is AP Chem – As Rated By Class Alumnae

AP Chemistry is considered very hard, with class alumnae rating it 7.1/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 4th-most-difficult out of the 28 large AP classes surveyed.

how hard is AP Chem

What Is the AP Chemistry Pass Rate 2021?

The AP Chem 2021 pass rate was 51%, slightly lower than the all-AP average.

Almost three-quarters of candidates received a 1, 2 or 3. Only 16% of students achieved a 4, and 11% attained 5, both significantly lower than the all-AP-classes average.

AP Chemistry Pass Rate / Score Distribution Over Time: 2021, 2020, 2019…

The AP Chem score distribution has held quite steady for the past 5 years of exams, with a 4% drop in passing grades between 2020 and 2021.

Is AP Chemistry Time Consuming To Study: As Rated By AP Chem Alumnae

AP Chemistry is rated as quite time-intensive relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for time needed to study each class, with 1 = least time needed, 10 = most time. The average rating for AP Chemistry was 6.7/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.3/10).

Is AP Chem Easy or Hard To Self-Study

AP Chemistry is rated as very hard to self-study relative to other AP classes.

A survey of AP alumnae asked for a rating out of 10 for how easy each class is to self study, with 1 = easiest to self study, 10 = hardest to self study. The average rating for AP Chemistry was 8.4/10 (vs the average across all AP classes of 5.7/10).

How Hard Is AP Chemistry: 175 Real AP Chem Alumnae Share Their Experiences

If you’re looking forward to taking AP Environment, it’s important to take both the positive and negative feedback in context. There are multiple factors that could contribute to a great or poor experience of the class, such as your teacher, struggling with science, and your personal preferences as a learner.

86% would recommend the class, which is very slightly lower than other AP classes.

The majority of the reviews focus on course enjoyment, the importance of underlying concepts, the need for basic math (and a calculator), and helpful study methods.

1.      Many students really enjoy AP Chem …

“The concepts may seem easy/simple at first glance, but there are a myriad of applications that you need to be familiar with to pass the AP exam. I know it’s a difficult process trying to wrap your head around a million new things, but I’m really glad I took it since AP Chem provides a very solid foundation for more advanced chemistry in college.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“AP Chemistry is too dense of a subject to not study. You will have to put in extra time to truly capture the many concepts and strategies that go with the class. However, I really enjoyed the labs, and AP Chemistry provides a look in life that can’t be found in any other class.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Oh man, you’re in for a treat with this one. Use the Princeton review book to study for tests and the AP Exam, make sure you do your labs correctly and have data for the lab reports, teach yourself electrochem if you have a bad teacher. That’s all” – AP Chemistry Score: 3

“’Every day was constant learning and moving on to the next topic. i had a strong understanding of regents chem that helped me but it required a lot of group thinking” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“It was a great class and I loved it! Talk to the other students in your class and work together to understand the material.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

“Class is awesome (dependent on teacher), probably the most you’ll learn in any ap. Do a ton of frqs, multiple choice, UNDERSTAND instead of memorize – a 5 is totally doable – topics are difficult but so gratifying to learn” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

2. … despite finding it a difficult class

“Very interesting class, but difficult subject material” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“AP Chem is maybe the most heavy class I took in high school, and was rather stressful at times. However, I had a great teacher and class, and I genuinely enjoyed the class content, so that helped me pull through the course.” – AP Chemistry Score: 3

“Review books won’t help as much as direct review from a teacher, I’ve found. This course is difficult but so rewarding. I would highly recommend taking a class rather than self studying.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

3.      AP Chemistry requires some proficiency at math

Understanding the math behind the chemistry is critical to this class. If you can go back and forth between equations and chemical concepts in the larger picture, you’ll be much better off.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“If you’re good at connecting mathematical relationships with actual atomic/chemical behaviors, you’re golden” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Don’t take it if you’re not good at math” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

4.      You need a good base of knowledge and understanding

“Make sure you know your chem fundamentals or have taken a chem. course before this – class moves very fast and assumes you have prior chem knowledge” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“If you try to memorize everything you’re gonna have a bad time. Rather you should focus on understanding the material.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Practice, practice, practice! … You don’t need to be amazing at math since you have the help of a calculator, but you still need to be very familiar with all relevant equations and how they work. Good luck with this class.”- AP Chemistry Score: 5

“The content covers a vast amount of concepts, many of which are challenging to get your head around. The class is difficult, but the amount you learn about the universe and how it works is so great that the class is worth taking. Very fun.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

Know mechanical aspects of chemistry (dimensional analysis, stoichiometry, nomenclature) so that you don’t need to worry about them during the year” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Memorize your facts as fast as possible, and it helps to know the periodic table very well.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“If you try to memorize everything you’re gonna have a bad time. Rather you should focus on understanding the material.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

5.      Some topics require extra attention

“Spend extra time studying thermo, equilibrium, acids/bases (especially titration), and electrochem because these topics almost always come up. Try not to rely on review books too much. Instead, work on past FRQs and MC questions to prep for the exam.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“It’s tough. please please please understand equilibrium well. no hope of acid/bases if you don’t understand equilibrium to its fundamentals. also get familiar w/ polyatomic ions the summer before!!!!” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Acids and Bases might be underplayed by your teacher, but definitely not by Collegeboard.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

“Make sure to have a solid knowledge of acid-base reactions and all relevant topics including titrations, indicators, etc.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

What Does It Take To Succeed: How To Study For The AP Chem Exam

What is AP Chemistry? Course Outline & Requirements

According to College Board:

“The AP Chemistry course provides students with a college-level foundation to support future advanced coursework in chemistry. Students cultivate their understanding of chemistry through inquiry-based investigations”.

Prerequisites for AP Chem are the successful completion of a general high school chemistry course, and Algebra II.

AP Chemistry has a lab requirement: “25 percent of instructional time engages students in lab investigations. This includes a minimum of 16 hands-on labs (at least six of which are guided inquiry). It is required that students keep a lab notebook throughout.”

You will develop skills in:

  • Describing, analyzing and interpreting models and representations
  • Determining scientific questions and methods
  • Creating models of chemical phenomena
  • Solving mathematical problems
  • Developing scientific arguments

The exam consists of one 3 hour 15 minute exam, with 50% (90 minutes) of multiple-choice questions (MCQs) and 50% (105 minutes) with 7 free-response questions.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Chemistry course page.

Examiners’ Reviews: Takeaways From AP Chemistry Test Assessors

College Board released the following official comments about the 2021 exam results:

Multiple-choice section

  • “As usual, students scored significantly higher on the multiple-choice section than on the free-response questions.”
  • “P Chemistry students demonstrated solid mastery of Units 4 (Chemical Reactions) and 5 (Kinetics), with ~15% of students earning a perfect score across all questions about these units.”
  • “Students generally scored least well on Unit 1 (Atomic Structure and Properties), in which 5% of students answered all questions correctly and 8% answered none correctly; Unit 7 (Equilibrium), and Unit 8 (Acids and Bases).”
  • “Students generally demonstrated somewhat stronger understanding of Transformations and Energy than of Scale/Proportion/Quantity and Structure/Properties.”
  • “Students demonstrated strongest skills on questions that required application of Science Practice 1 (Models and Representations; 11% of students answered every such question correctly) and Science Practice 4 (Model Analysis).”
  • “Students’ scores would increase with more proficiency on questions related to Science Practice 2 (Question and Method)—somewhat lower than their performance on all other science practices.”

Free-response section

The strongest sections were:

  • “Long Question 2 about silicon spectra; 9% of students earned 8–10 points out of 10 possible.”
  • “Long Question 3 about copper sulfate precipitation; 16% of students earned 8–10 points out of 10 possible.”

For best results, you may therefore want to consider investing a little extra study time on Unit 1 “Atomic Structure and Properties”, Unit 7 “Equilibrium”, and Unit 8 “Acids and Bases”. You should also focus on Big Ideas 1 and 2, which are, respectively: “Scale/Proportion/Quantity” and “Structure/Properties”; and Science Practice 2 “Question and Method”.

For more details, see: College Board’s AP Chemistry 2021 exam results page.

How To (Self) Study AP Chem: Advice From Class Alumnae

Practice tests and problems will be a great help …

Take mock exams, and try to avoid using a calculator whenever possible throughout the year.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

Always do the homework, Webassign if possible, study for the AP exam by looking at past exams” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“The best way to study for tests and quizzes is to go through released AP exams and do questions which are relevant to the material.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

“Doing a [ton] of practice problems is more useful than memorization.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Takes more practice than the other AP tests I’ve taken.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Studying will make your life easier. Before the exam, make sure you do a [ton] of practice tests, it helps alot’ – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“If you want to do well on the AP Exam do the practice tests on the CollegeBoard website and use a review book. I got an A in the class but didn’t do as well on the AP Exam because I didn’t prepare properly.” – AP Chemistry Score: 3

Do practice problem after practice problem. If you get a bad grade on something, don’t let it discourage you as this will cause you to do bad on the next test, too. It is very possible to succeed in this course with hard work and diligence.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

… especially when it comes to free-response questions

Do a lot of FRQs. A BUNCH. Like 6-7 per unit, it will save your ass many times. Chemistry FRQs aren’t too hard, but they’re usually tedious and/or time consuming, so understanding what you’re supposed to do in a short amount of time will help you complete sections more quickly. Also practice MC, and don’t forget to study up on your polyatomic ions and charges for each column of the periodic table. Electron configurations and stuff. DON’T GET OVERWHELMED. The FRQs look hard, but they’re not bad. One step at a time.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

“Take LOTS of practice tests and do AP FRQ’s” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Make sure you understand the concepts and read the textbook thoroughly, also be sure to do plenty of practice free response questions to understand the general format and types of questions” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

AP Chem requires dedication throughout the year!

“Self-study is the most important way to succeed on the test and in class.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

Do the work. Don’t slack off, especially on all the base concepts. Do lots of practice problems (FRQ and MC) to prep for the exam and familiarize yourself with the format if your teacher doesn’t use the same style.” – AP Chemistry Score: 3

“STUDY STUDY STUDY!!!! There is absolutely no chance of doing well on this test if you do not STUDY!!! IMO review books are a must. 4-6 weeks beforehand skim through a review book and figure out which topics you need to review. Review those topics and do LOTS of practice problems with them until you can do the problem before you actually do it. Practice tests also help immensely, especially with timing and getting a feel for the style of the test.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

Study over AP questions when studying for tests throughout the year. Learn how to do math without a calculator. Look over and correct any and all tests or quizzes afterward.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

Study topics often throughout the year so they’ll stick. A month or two before the AP test, go through as many FRQs and released multiple choice questions as you can and learn from your mistakes. Make sure you understand the concepts and can apply them appropriately. I recommend watching Bozeman Science and following the one-month study guide from Albert.io.” – AP Chemistry Score: 5

“Utilize you time at home wisely. The moment you are shaky with a topic READ the textbooks at home for more clarification. Don’t let yourself fall behind” – AP Chemistry Score: 3

“DO YOUR HOMEWORK! You cannot cram for this test in the weeks prior as it is a whole lot of information to understand. Make sure when your teacher goes over the information that you thoroughly understand every part of it as things you learn later may build upon it. It is very easy to get lost so you need to keep up.” – AP Chemistry Score: 4

Best books and test prep resources for AP Chemistry

The most popular textbook for test prep and review for AP Chem is Princeton Review, used by 63% of students. It has an average rating of 4.9/5.0 from reviewers on Amazon.com.

Best AP Chemistry Textbooks for Prep & Review

Other popular AP Chemistry test prep / review books and resources for include:

Where next?

Find out how AP Chemistry compares to other classes: click here for an overview of all AP Classes ranked by difficulty, from easiest to hardest.

Or check out how other science courses are rated with our analysis of Is AP Biology Easy or Hard?

Wishing you every success in the class!


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