Column: How to pass an Advanced Placement exam – chemistry edition

Editor’s Column

Isaac Mejia is the Features editor for Ethic News

Advanced Placement courses can be difficult and chemistry is infamous for being one of the harder AP classes that high schools have to offer. However, an effective strategy and early preparation can make passing the exam a lot more feasible. Here are some practical tips that actually helped me score a five on the AP Chemistry Exam.

1. Review Book

Purchasing a review book is essential to passing the exam. A review book includes multiple full-length practice exams, practice multiple-choice questions (MCQ) and practice free-response questions (FRQ) for each unit. 

In my opinion, The Princeton Review brand of books is a more reliable option than Barron’s. (ISAAC MEJIA/ Ethic News)

But which review book should I buy? I advise the Princeton Review brand of review books, preferably the issue of the year that you will be taking the exam. For example, I took the exam in 2021 so I got the 2021 review book. The multiple-choice and free-response questions are tailored specifically to the AP curriculum and provide almost the exact same questions that I received on the test. While some people might recommend Barron’s AP Chemistry Review book, I do not. I personally made the mistake of buying Barron’s review book first and ended up buying the Princeton Review anyways, because I felt Barron’s did not correlate with the curriculum as precisely as I would have liked. 

Review books are affordable and perfect to utilize right before chapter and unit tests in class. You can buy them on Amazon and should purchase one as soon as school starts: the sooner, the better.

2. AP Daily Video Notes

A screenshot from the College Board website that shows how the Daily Videos are organized chronologically within each unit. (ISAAC MEJIA/ Ethic News)

AP Daily Video notes are notes that the College Board provides for students. They provide a general overview of each concept within the nine units and tell you specifically what you need to know for the exam. They should not act as your only source of notes; they should be used in addition with your teacher’s notes. After you take notes on a specific topic, reinforce it by watching the videos either the same day or a couple days after. This forces you to look over the same material more than once. It keeps the concepts fresh in your mind and can provide you with important information that your teacher might not provide.

3. Flashcards

There is a lot of information that you are expected to learn throughout the course of the school year and remembering simple key terms can easily be cast aside. However, knowing these terms is helpful, because they are prevalent throughout the multiple-choice and free-response section of the test. Using flashcards and spaced repetition will help you learn definitions concretely and prevent you from confusing topics with one another. Flashcards should be made specific to your individual needs.

4. Spring Break

A major component that helped me get a high score on the exam was reviewing at the right time. While spring break is supposed to be a “break” from school, it is also the perfect time to start looking over covered material, because it provides you with the opportunity to focus solely on reviewing the units that your teacher has covered up to that point. By the time the test approaches next month, reviewing will be easier and less overwhelming. The topics will already be fresh in your mind and you will be ahead of the game.

5. Timing

This is a simple but underrated tip. Time yourself when you practice taking MCQ and FRQ, so that the time crunch of the real exam isn’t a problem.

6. Practice Tests

Practice MCQ and practice FRQ are needed to pass the test. While your review book should be able to supply you with some, the more the better. The College Board provides “progress check” practice tests which include both MCQ and FRQ for each unit.  I did all of them. Also, FRQ from previous years are available on Google to use if you want more.

The College Board’s updated 2021 layout has Progress Checks located at the end of each unit and requires teachers to unlock them for student use. Progress Checks can help students identify the concepts they are excelling and the concepts they need to improve. (ISAAC MEJIA/ Ethic News)

Finally, I recommend taking a full-length practice AP Exam before the actual test. This will help you gauge what you do know and what you need to study more. It will provide you with a sense of how long the test actually takes and make it less intimidating because you will already know what to expect. 

Everyone has their own strategy for conquering the AP Exam and everyone’s studying techniques are different. However, I believe that these six tips will help you pass the test with a five.

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