Is AP Chemistry Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide

Are you considering AP Chemistry? We review the ins and outs of AP Chemistry to help you find out if this course is right for you.

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by James Mielke

Published on March 14, 2022 · Updated on April 7, 2022

Edited by Tyler Epps
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Is AP Chemistry Hard? A Complete 2022 Guide


AP Chemistry consistently ranks as one of the hardest AP classes. In May 2020, less than 60% of students passed the AP Chemistry exam.

But even in the face of serious academic rigor, more than 145,000 students enroll in AP Chemistry each year. Why? AP classes can boost transcripts, prepare students for college, and can help offset the cost of college through earned credits.

On this page, we explore what content AP Chemistry covers and what makes the class difficult. We also highlight the ins and outs of AP test scoring. Continue reading to see if AP Chemistry is right for you.

What Does AP Chemistry Cover?

This course introduces learners to the topics and skills that are the foundation of college-level chemistry classes. Students in AP Chemistry classes tackle a curriculum reviewed and approved by a college professor. Keep reading to review additional examples of AP Chemistry course content.

What Determines the Difficulty of AP Chemistry? 3 Key Factors

Prospective students should consider various factors and questions before enrolling in an AP course, including the subject's level of difficulty. Continue reading as we highlight three key factors determining the difficulty of AP Chemistry.

The Pass Rate

One useful factor when determining the difficulty of an AP course involves cold, hard data: the pass rate. In 2020, students who completed AP Chemistry courses had an overall pass rate of about 56% — 15% below the 71% pass rate of all AP classes that year.

Additionally, fewer students obtain perfect scores on AP chemistry exams than on other AP tests.

The lower numbers for both pass rates and perfect scores indicate that AP Chemistry is significantly more challenging than other AP classes. Review the table below for AP Chemistry pass rate data.

AP Chemistry Exam Pass Rates
AP Class/Exam Pass Rate (3 or Higher) Perfect Score (5)
AP Chemistry 56.1% 10.6%
All AP Classes 71.13% 19.57%

Source: College Board

While data can offer a window into a particular course's difficulty, raw numbers without context fail to provide the full picture. The strength of a school and the competency of a teacher can dramatically impact a student's success in an AP Chemistry course.

Access to student support services like tutoring and online test preparation programs can also influence testing outcomes.

The Course Material

The difficulty of an AP class often depends on the amount of course content that a curriculum covers. Not only do AP Chemistry students grapple with theoretical concepts, but they also spend a considerable amount of instructional time applying theory in a lab-based environment.

Students typically tackle nine units during their AP Chemistry class while developing science practices, including model analysis, models and representation, and representing data and phenomena. Additionally, AP students utilize mathematical knowledge to solve chemistry problems.

Your Subject Skills

Another key factor when determining difficulty is a student's set of subject skills — recommended prerequisites include high school coursework in both chemistry and algebra II.

Students who typically excel in math and science classes should feel relatively comfortable in AP Chemistry.

Throughout this course, students design experiments, test theories, and learn to produce effective graphs and models to present chemistry-based ideas. AP Chemistry students also learn to balance chemical equations and develop scientific claims backed by evidence.

When Should You Take AP Chemistry?

AP Chemistry is one of the more difficult AP classes. Students often complete the class during their junior or senior year to ensure that prospective colleges review the grades and exam scores during the application evaluation process.

A solid grade in the class and passing score on the exam can demonstrate a student's ability to handle complex and rigorous college-level coursework.

While not barred from enrolling in an AP Chemistry class, first- and second-year high school students may not have completed the required prerequisite classes in chemistry and algebra II.

As AP Chemistry is challenging, students should have developed competency and comfortability with various math and science topics. Due to its challenging nature, students are not encouraged to complete other AP classes alongside AP Chemistry.

AP Chemistry Exam: What You Need to Know

Thousands of students take the AP Chemistry exam, and a significant percentage pass the test and earn college credit. Review the table below to see how students perform on the AP Chemistry exam.

AP Chemistry
Exam Score Number of Students Percentage of Students
5 15,464 10.6%
4 27,012 18.6%
3 39,135 26.9%
2 34,913 24.0%
1 29,016 19.9%

Source: College Board

How Is the AP Chemistry Exam Structured?

During the more than three-hour AP Chemistry exam, students complete questions in two distinct formats. The test contains 60 multiple choice questions and seven free-response essay questions.

Test-takers have 90 minutes to complete the multiple-choice section and 105 minutes to complete the written section. Test proctors encourage students to bring a graphing calculator, and they provide students with a list of applicable formulas and a copy of the periodic table.

How Is the AP Chemistry Exam Scored?

Individuals evaluating AP tests grade on a scale of 1-5. A score of 3 or higher is considered a passing grade. The two sections of the AP Chemistry exam — multiple-choice and free-response — each makes up 50% of a student's score.

When preparing for the AP Chemistry exam, students should consider which test section feels more comfortable. Students who may struggle with the written portion of the exam may want to dedicate more study time to that area.

How the AP Chemistry Exam is Scored
Section 1 50%
Multiple-Choice Questions 50%
Section 2 50%
3 Long-Answer Questions (10 Points Each) 32.6%
4 Short-Answer Questions (4 Points Each) 17.4%

Source: College Board

AP Chemistry: What Score Do I Need for College Credit?

Whether or not AP Chemistry test scores translate into college credit varies depending on the college or university. Some schools do not accept test scores for college credit, while others are more generous.

Generally, a grade of 4 or 5 is the key to securing college credit for an AP class. However, some schools accept grades of 3 or higher, so be sure to reach out to prospective schools to confirm their AP test policy.

Due to its inherent difficulty, most schools require a score of 3 or 4 when offering college credit. When in doubt, you can refer to this AP credit policy search tool.

Should I Take AP Chemistry?

When considering which AP classes to take, students should recognize that workload and academic strengths can help determine which test is a good fit. Not every student can handle every discipline, but those with STEM skills and science and math prerequisites may want to try this challenging AP course.

In addition to evaluating certain factors, prospective AP students may want to reach out to teachers and past students to get a feel for what to expect in an AP Chemistry class. Science and math teachers may also have insight into whether or not AP Chemistry is a good fit.

Frequently Asked Questions About AP Chemistry

true Is AP Chemistry worth taking?

For students with strong math and science skills, enrolling in an AP Chemistry class can be worth it. The course introduces learners to college-level chemistry, while offering them the chance to earn college credit. Students gain essential chemistry knowledge that they regularly apply in a lab setting during this class.

AP tests are more challenging than standard high school classes. However, enrolled students can gain first-hand experience with college-level coursework with the possibility of saving money on tuition in the form of college credit. AP Chemistry can be a valuable investment for many college-bound students.

true Is AP Biology harder than AP Chemistry?

While AP Chemistry has a reputation as one of the more demanding AP courses and exams, a closer look at the data is a bit more complex.

About 84% of AP Biology students scored in the 2-4 range in May 2020, while fewer than 70% of AP Chemistry test-takers fell in that same range. Additionally, nearly 20% of AP Chemistry test-takers earned a score of 1, while only 7% of AP Biology students earned the lowest score.

Furthermore, AP Chemistry has a higher percentage of students earning a score of 5 than those taking the AP Biology test. This data underscores the value of taking AP classes that mirror academic skills and experience.

true Do colleges care about AP Chemistry?

Colleges are aware of the varying difficulty levels of AP courses and tests. As a result, students who secure top grades in their classes and pass the AP Chemistry exam can help boost their academic transcripts.

AP Chemistry consistently ranks as one of the toughest AP exams, and students who get through it unscathed reveal both STEM talent and college readiness. That said, AP Chemistry is not a requirement for college. Students who possess other strengths can find ways to boost their college resume through both academic and non-academic activities.

Feature Image: Portra / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Learn how to find the "easiest" AP classes, which have more flexible study requirements, and earn college credit through classes with high exam pass rates. Learn how to ace AP Biology to boost your GPA and earn college credit. Skip the prerequisites and get placed in a college-level biology course. If you're about to take the AP environmental science exam, use this guide to prepare and calm your nerves.

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