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Advanced Placement

Is AP Chemistry Hard? A Complete Guide [2024]

Written by Apoorvaa Agarwal

Updated on: 01 Jul 2024


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  • AP Chemistry is considered one of the hardest AP classes by AP class alumnae.
  • The course explores fundamental chemical concepts such as atomic structure, chemical reactions, and thermodynamics.
  • AP Chemistry exams have an average pass rate of 54% which is lower than the average pass rate of other AP courses
  • The AP Chemistry Exam includes multiple-choice and free-response questions

Is AP Chemistry hard?

Yes, AP Chemistry course has consistently been ranked as one of the hardest AP classes.

According to a survey done, class alumnae gave AP Chemistry a rating of 7.3/10 for overall difficulty, making it the 4th most difficult AP course (while AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism, AP English Literature, and AP Physics C Mechanics being the top three).

In 2022, AP Chemistry had a pass rate of 54% which is lower than the other AP 66% average pass rate across all AP exams.

Interestingly, despite being one of the hardest AP classes, AP Chemistry was still opted for by close to 125,000 students in 2022 as it is one of the preferred AP courses of many competitive colleges/universities.

What are the topics covered in the AP Chemistry exam?

The AP Chemistry exam covers a wide range of topics related to Chemistry. Here are some of the main topics that are covered in the exam:

Name of the unitDescription
Atomic structure and propertiesThis includes topics such as the composition and properties of atoms, periodic tables, atomic structure, electronic configuration, etc.
Molecular and ionic compound structure and propertiesThis includes topics such as ionic and covalent bonding, Lewis structures, molecular geometry, etc.
Intermolecular forces and propertiesThis includes topics such as the kinetic molecular theory, photoelectric effect, solution mixtures, etc.
Chemical reactionsThis includes topics such as physical and chemical changes, types of chemical reactions, stoichiometry, etc.
KineticsThis includes topics such as reaction rates, reaction mechanisms, catalysis, etc.
ThermodynamicsThis includes topics such as endothermic and the multiple-choice section consists of 60 questions and is worth 50% of the total exam score that students have 90 minutes to complete. These questions assess students’ knowledge of a wider range of chemistry topics, including atomic structure, chemical reactions, thermodynamics, kinetics, equilibrium, acids, and bases exothermic processes, enthalpy, calorimetry, Hess’s law, etc.
EquilibriumThis includes topics such as equilibrium constants, Le Chatelier’s principle, and free energy dissolution.
Acid and basesThis includes topics such as acid and base properties, pH and pOH of acid and bases, molecular structure, and properties of buffers, etc.
Application of thermodynamicsThis includes topics such as entropy, Gibbs free energy, Galvanic and electrolytic cells, Faraday’s law, etc.
AP Chemistry topics

What determines the difficulty of AP Chemistry? 5 key factors

We all wonder sometimes, what makes the AP Chemistry test so difficult to understand, score marks, etc. Many different factors affect the difficulty of a subject.

Let us talk about the 5 key factors responsible for making AP Chemistry so difficult.

1. Exam pass rate is low

Although difficulty varies depending on the strengths and degree of preparation of each student, the pass percentage of an AP test can provide a rough idea of how challenging a certain subject may be.

In 2022, around 66% of test takers earned a 3 or above on their AP exams. Students taking AP Chemistry had a pass rate of about 54%.

You could conclude that AP Chemistry is more challenging than some other AP subjects since the exam’s pass rate is lower than the average pass rate for all other AP classes.

AP ExamPassing Score (3 or above)Perfect Score (5)
AP Chemistry54%12.5%
other AP courses66%17%
AP Chemistry Pass Rate

2. AP Chemistry course content

The difficulty of AP Chemistry is primarily determined by the depth and breadth of the study content. AP Chemistry covers a wide range of topics including atomic structure, chemical bonding, thermodynamics, equilibrium, acids and bases, and electrochemistry.

Additionally, the course requires students to have a strong understanding of mathematical concepts and problem-solving skills. The complexity of the topics covered and the level of mastery required make AP Chemistry a challenging course for many students.

In 2022, most students found Unit 8: Acids and Bases as one of the challenging units and this unit carries 11-15% of the total score which is higher than most of the other units.

3. Student background and preparation

Students who have a strong background in math and science, particularly in chemistry, may find the course more manageable than those who lack these foundational skills.

Additionally, students who have taken advanced chemistry courses or have prior experience with laboratory work may find the course less challenging. However, students who lack these foundational skills may need to invest additional time and effort to keep up with the course.

4. Quality of instruction and learning materials

The quality of instruction and learning materials can have a significant impact on the difficulty level of AP Chemistry. Effective teaching and clear explanations of complex concepts can help students better understand the material and make the course more manageable. Book a free trial lesson with our expert online AP Chemistry tutors and become ready for your AP Exams

5. Time and effort invested in studying

According to the class alumnae, AP chemistry is quite taking (6.8/10) as compared to other AP courses (5.4/10) as it includes reading, homework, lab work, and exam preparation.

Students who invest adequate time and effort in studying and practicing problems regularly are more likely to be successful in the course. On the other hand, students who procrastinate or do not allocate enough time to studying may find the course more challenging.

In summary, the difficulty of AP Chemistry is determined by a combination of factors, including student background and preparation, quality of instruction and learning materials, and time and effort invested in studying.

What is the AP Chemistry exam structure?

The AP Chemistry Exam is a comprehensive exam that tests a student’s understanding of the principles of chemistry and their ability to apply those principles to solve problems. The exam consists of two sections: multiple-choice questions and free-response questions

SectionTimingNumber of Questions% of Exam Score
Multiple choice questions90 minutes60 MCQ (Multiple Choice Questions)50%
Free-response questions105 minutesPart A: 3 long free-response questions (Each carries 10 points) – 32.6%Part B:4 short free-response questions (4 points each) – 17.4%50%
AP Chemistry score distribution

Source: College Board

How are the AP Chemistry exams scored?

The scoring system for AP Exams is based on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score.

The scores are determined by a combination of the student’s performance on the multiple-choice questions and the free-response questions.

The multiple-choice section accounts for 50% of the total score, while the free-response section accounts for the remaining 50%.

  • A score of 5 indicates that the student is extremely well-prepared for college-level chemistry and has a thorough and firm understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 4 indicates that the student is well-qualified and prepared for college-level chemistry and has a good understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 3 indicates that the student is adequately prepared for college-level chemistry and has a basic understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 2 indicates that the student is not adequately prepared for college-level chemistry and has a limited understanding of the subject matter.
  • A score of 1 indicates that the student has little or no understanding of the subject matter and is not prepared for college-level chemistry.

AP Chemistry Score Distribution:

The AP score distribution is a statistical representation of how students performed on each AP exam. It shows the percentage of students who earned each score (1, 2, 3, 4, or 5) in a given year.

AP Chemistry score distribution for 2022 is as below:

Exam ScoreNo. of studentsPercentage of students
AP Chemistry Score Distribution 2022

AP Chemistry Credit Policy:

Different colleges and universities have different policies regarding AP exam scores and credit. Some may award college credit for an AP Chemistry score of 4 or 5, while others may require a higher score or may not award credit at all.

For details refer to our AP Chemistry Credit Policy Guide.

AP Chemistry Exam Pass Rate and Mean Score Trends (2013-2022)

According to the College Board’s AP exam data, the AP exam pass rate [Students scoring 3 or more] for the AP Chemistry exam has been hovering between 52% and 56% over the past 10 years from 2013 to 2022.

For year-on-year data, refer to the AP Chemistry Pass Score Trends Graph below:

Pass score of AP Chemistry
Pass score trends of the AP Chemistry Exam

Note that the College Board does not officially classify 3 as a passing score.

Notably the average pass rate across all AP exams has been consistently higher than AP Chemistry across these 10 years.

As an example for 2022, the AP average pass rate stands at 60.2% while that of AP Chemistry is 54%.

It is also worth noting that despite its lower pass rate AP Chemistry is a popular exam for students interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

124,780 students appeared for the AP chemistry exam taking it in 2022.

One way to look at the difficulty of an AP exam is to look at the mean scores of the subject relative to overall mean scores for all AP Exams.

The mean score for AP Chemistry is consistently lesser than the mean score for all subjects. This indicates that AP Chemistry is among the most difficult AP Courses.

Refer year on year AP Chemistry Mean Score Trend Graph below:

Mean Score of AP Chemistry
Mean Score Trends of the AP Chemistry Exam

How to study for the AP Chemistry exam?

Preparing for the AP Chemistry test requires dedication, discipline, and a structured approach. Here are some tips on how to study effectively for the exam:

  1. Review the course material: Before diving into the exam preparation, make sure to review the course material thoroughly. Review the textbook chapters, lecture notes, and lab reports.
  2. Practice problems: Practice problems are key to mastering the concepts and skills needed for the exam. Use the review materials provided by your teacher or textbook, or seek out additional resources online. View our AP Chemistry practice test resource.
  3. Create flashcards: Flashcards can be a great way to memorize key concepts, equations, and terminology. Make a set of flashcards with important information and review them frequently.
  4. Join study groups: Study groups can provide an opportunity to work through challenging material with peers. Meet with other students to review material, discuss concepts, and work on practice problems together.
  5. Take practice exams: Practice exams can help you get familiar with the format and structure of the actual AP Chemistry test. Use past AP Chemistry Exams or practice tests from online resources.
  6. Seek out additional resources: There are many online resources available to help students prepare for the AP Chemistry Exam. Consider using online review materials, video tutorials, and online study groups. Some popular AP Chemistry exam prep resources include
  7. Take 1-1 private tuitions: The Wiingy AP Chemistry tutoring program adheres completely to the AP Chemistry course outline. The platform has expert AP Chemistry tutors who can help you with concepts, coursework homework help, and test-prep to help you get a top grade on the exam

Power Tip: Refer to the Wiingy AP Chemistry Exam Guide for detailed information on the AP Chemistry Exam and strategies to ace the test.

Remember, effective studying requires consistent effort over time. Start preparing early, stay focused, and stay positive.

In Summary

In 2021 and 2022, the pass rates for AP Chemistry were 58.1% and 54% respectively, lower than the average pass rate for all AP exams.

The mean score for AP Chemistry in 2022 was 2.9 out of 5.

The course is considered time-consuming and challenging, with a difficulty rating of 7.3 out of 10 based on a survey conducted for AP Class Alumnae

Despite this, AP Chemistry remains a popular and valuable course for students interested in STEM fields.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Who can take AP Chemistry?

AP Chemistry is typically taken by high school juniors or seniors who have already completed a chemistry course. Some schools may require students to have taken specific math or science courses before taking AP Chemistry.

Is AP Chemistry worth it?

Deciding on whether AP Chemistry is worth it for you or not depends on your interest and passion for the subject.

If you are passionate about STEM or want to build a career in Chemistry or just want to pursue Chemistry in college, then opting for AP Chemistry is a good decision as it helps you in getting college credits, better career opportunities, conceptual understanding, and critical thinking.

What is the format of the AP Chemistry exam?

The AP Chemistry exam consists of two sections.

The first section is multiple choice with 60 questions and is 90 minutes long.

The second section is free-response with 7 questions and is 105 minutes long. The free-response section includes three long-form questions and four short-form questions.

Is AP Chemistry harder than AP Biology?

Both AP Chemistry and AP Biology are considered as hardest AP courses. Based on the available data, it can be concluded that AP Chemistry is generally considered harder than AP Biology.

The pass rates for AP Chemistry in 2021 and 2022 were 58.1% and 54% respectively, which are lower than the pass rates for AP Biology (68% in 2022).

Additionally, the difficulty rating given by class alumnae for AP Chemistry was 7.3 out of 10, whereas AP Biology had a difficulty rating of 6.5 out of 10 according to a Reddit survey.

These indicators suggest that AP Chemistry poses a greater challenge for students compared to AP Biology.

AP Chemistry requires more Math knowledge and problem-solving while AP Biology requires memorization of different facts. Also, both require extensive lab work.

Is AP Chemistry harder than AP Physics?

If we look at the statistics, according to the College Board, in 2022 the passing percentage for AP Chemistry was 24.5% and the passing rate for AP Physics was 18.3%.

This data clearly shows that scoring a passing mark in AP Physics is more harder than scoring a passing mark in AP Chemistry.

Also, if you read about students’ experiences in online forums like Quora, Reddit, or YouTube, students who have taken both AP courses at some point in their high school years consider AP Physics to be much harder than AP Chemistry.

Is AP Chemistry worth it?

Yes, AP Chemistry is worth it.
Here are some advantages and disadvantages of taking AP Chemistry:


College Credit: Students who earn a high AP Chemistry score on the AP Chemistry Exam may be eligible for college credit or advanced placement, allowing them to bypass introductory chemistry courses in college.

Preparation for College admissions: Taking challenging courses like AP Chemistry can demonstrate to college admissions officers that a student is willing to challenge
themselves academically and can handle college-level coursework.

Better career opportunities: AP Chemistry can be beneficial for students interested in pursuing careers in fields such as medicine, engineering, and chemistry.

Conceptual understanding and critical thinking: AP Chemistry covers a broad range of topics in-depth, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of chemistry concepts. It also helps students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which can be useful in any field of study.

Difficulty: AP Chemistry is a challenging course that requires a lot of effort and time commitment. The material can be difficult to grasp, and the exam is rigorous.

Workload: AP Chemistry often has a heavy workload, with regular homework assignments, lab reports, and other coursework.

Stress: Preparing for the AP Chemistry Exam can be stressful, and students may feel pressure to perform well on the exam.

Not for everyone: AP Chemistry may not be suitable for all students, and some may struggle with the material, leading to a negative impact on their GPA.

Recommended Reading

Read our Is AP Biology hard? blog to know if AP Biology is hard or easy.

Written by by

Apoorvaa Agarwal

Reviewed by by

Priyanshi Agrawal

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