Understanding the Logistics of the AP Chemistry Exam

As with any exam, a crucial part of your success is going to be centered around knowing how the exam is structured.

How many questions will there be? What kind of questions will be asked? How much time will I have? What other materials am I allowed to have with me during the exam? This post answers all of those questions (and more) as they relate to the newly revised AP Chemistry examination.

The AP Chemistry exam has a long history, and over the approximately 50 years that it has been around, it has seen a number of changes.

It first underwent a significant overhaul in terms of content and structure prior to May 2014, but the new chemistry content is not discussed here; rather, this post summarizes the logistics and format of the 2015 AP Chemistry exam.

To learn more about the content changes, check out my article "Ace the New AP Chemistry Exam with These 10 Tips".

The Overview

The test is split into two sections: the multiple-choice portion and the free-response portion. The time allowed for the free-response section is slightly longer than the multiple-choice section, but each is equally weighted towards your AP Chemistry exam score.

The Multiple-Choice Section

The multiple-choice section of the exam will include 60 questions, each with four possible answer choices (A–D). You will have 90 minutes to complete these 60 questions. The College Board has said that up to 50 percent of the questions may be organized in “sets,” which is a group of 2–6 questions that address a preceding collection of data (called a “stem”). The stem could be a table, diagram, graph, or description of an experiment or procedure, which, when taken together, should supply all of the information that you need in order to answer each of the questions that follow.

There is no penalty for a wrong answer in the multiple-choice section, so it is in your best interest to answer all of the questions (even if you have to guess). Interestingly, only 50 of the 60 questions will actually count toward your AP score, with the remaining 10 being used by the College Board for “statistical purposes only” — meaning that they use them to try out new questions and to calibrate their level of difficulty. Of course, you have no idea which of the 60 questions fall into which category, so this information is largely irrelevant to you — you should try to answer ALL 60 questions correctly!

During the multiple-choice section, you are not permitted access to a calculator. Having one, though, would be of no real consequence since the questions are designed to allow you to answer any numerical questions via estimation, mental arithmetic, or some basic algebra. On the plus side, you do have access to a periodic table, and the equations and constants sheet that come with the exam.

At the end of the multiple-choice section there will be a 10 minute break before…

The Free-Response Section

The free-response section of the exam is made up of a total of seven questions, and 105 minutes are allocated for this part of the exam. It’s worth noting that in May of 2014 (the first time that the new curriculum was examined), only 90 minutes were allocated for this part of the exam. Over 70 percent of all candidates scored zero points on the final question, indicating that the College Board had failed to allocate sufficient time for the free-response question on the new exam. The company received many complaints, and as a result, they added 15 minutes to the free-response section for 2015. It remains to be seen if these extra 15 minutes will stay in place going forward.

The seven free-response questions are divided into three long and four short questions, but each has multiple components that a student must answer. There are calculator-based questions (as well as ones that are not), so you have access to a calculator for the free-response section; you also have the periodic table and the equations and constants sheet that you had for the multiple-choice section. There is no restriction in terms of moving around within the free-response section as there was prior to 2014, so you may tackle the questions in any order that you choose.

So that's it! 3 hours and 15 minutes to show off your AP Chemistry knowledge by answering 67 questions — good luck!

Still worried about passing the test? You can use to Noodle to find affordable AP Chemistry test prep or tutors near you to help you.

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