How Hard is AP Chemistry? 

how hard is ap chemistry

I would be lying to you if I disagreed with the fact that AP Chemistry is an intimidating subject. Formulas with superscripts are only some things that make it a complex subject.

Welcome to this article if you are one of the students who is consistently wondering “Is AP Chemistry worth it?” or “How Hard is AP Chemistry?”

Let us thoroughly acquaint ourselves with the ins and outs of AP Chemistry.

What makes AP Chemistry Hard?

A lot of factors make a subject difficult. Let’s look at them.

1. The Passing Score

The cold-hard data, that is, the pass rate, determines the difficulty level of any AP exam.

Pass Rate = Candidates scoring 3 or above / Number of test-takers

If a good number of students score 3 or more, it indicates that the subject is relatively easy.

This was the pass rate, along with perfect score in AP Chemistry in 2021:
The pass rate of AP Chemistry (56.1%) is quite low than the average pass rate putting all AP Classes together (71.13%). The same goes for scoring the perfect grade as well where students scoring a 5 in AP Chemistry is a mere 10.6% in comparison to 19.57% (perfect score in overall AP classes).

That makes AP chemistry look hard.

However, at times, we should not look at the data and take it at face value.

Factors that contribute to a better passing rate and perfect score in an AP:

  • More number of meritorious students taking the course
  • Competency of the teacher
  • Whether or not a student can afford tutoring

2. AP Chemistry Curriculum

Another essential factor that determines the difficulty level of any course is the designed syllabus.

chemistry lab

Like any other Advanced Placement course, AP Chemistry’s curriculum is also based on introductory college-level chemistry classes. AP Chemistry helps build the foundation of the complex chem chapters in college so that you don’t have to start from scratch.

AP Chemistry Syllabus

  • Unit 1: Atomic Structure and Properties
  • Unit 2: Molecular and Ionic Compound Structure and Properties
  • Unit 3: Intermolecular Forces and Properties
  • Unit 4: Chemical Reactions
  • Unit 5: Kinetics
  • Unit 6: Thermodynamics
  • Unit 7: Equilibrium
  • Unit 8: Acids and Bases
  • Unit 9: Application of Thermodynamics

Apart from all the theoretical concepts, students have to spend considerable time in the chemistry labs applying the hypothesis in controlled experiments.

Do you want to know the exam pattern of AP Chemistry?

Read AP Test Timings to get a complete idea.

3. Correct Time to Take AP Chemistry

AP Chemistry is one of the most demanding Advanced Placement courses. But does taking it at one particular high school level make it less complicated?

To answer this question, I interviewed a few Brave-hearts who opted for AP Chemistry in their high school careers. Most of them have agreed that AP Chemistry seems less complicated when opted for in Junior or Senior High. Why is that so?

Why Junior or Senior High is better time to take AP Chemistry

  • Students are already used to the high school workload.
  • Students have opted for other Advanced Placement courses. Therefore, they are aware of what they are getting into.
  • Students have already studied Chemistry before Junior High, which has helped them to understand the basics of Chemistry.

4. Abilities Required to Take AP Chemistry

AP Chemistry students need specific prerequisites to be good at the subject.

As per my interview, students who excelled in mathematics and science classes found AP Chemistry a comfortable subject. If you are considering opting for AP Chemistry sometime in your high school career, then make sure you have taken great chemistry courses and algebra 2 to solidify your foundation.

Anchoring additional skills will also help you to do well in AP Chemistry:

Memorization: AP Chemistry demands that students learn a tremendous amount of qualitative and quantitative information.

Visualization: AP Chemistry does not limit itself to jotting down formulas but analyzing pictorial representations of chemical systems and processes.

Data Analysis: AP Chemistry is all about being presented with experimental data and analyzing the results to justify the claims.

Contextual Understanding: AP Chemistry is a tricky subject at its best. Your contextual understanding will be tested during the multiple-choice section of the exam. The answers will not be a direct assertion of the question. You must apply your contextual knowledge to solve the questions correctly.

Join EnthuZiastic AP classes to score 4 or above and get closer to college of your dreams.

Statistics: How Hard is AP Chemistry?

These statistics will help you make your decision in an informed manner. Facts and data always come handy when making an important decision.

AP Chemistry vs. Other STEM Subjects

Fewer number of students enroll in AP Chemistry in comparison to other STEM subjects such as AP Biology, AP Physics, or AP Calculus.

College Board has reported that around 160,000 students appear for AP Chemistry, whereas, 170,000 students enroll for AP Physics, 212,000 for AP Biology and 430,000 for AP Calculus. These numbers show the number of students enrolling in AP Chemistry is far less than the other science subjects.

ap chem vs other subjects

Grades Scored in AP Chemistry

Another factor that demonstrates the difficulty level of AP Chemistry is the grades scored in the subject. College Board has revealed that in 2021, 15,464 (10.6%), 27,012 (18.6%), 39,135 (26.9%), 34,913 (24%), 29,016 (19.9%) have scored 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grades respectively.

AP Chemistry Score in 2021
AP Chemistry Score in 2021


The data shows the number of students scoring a perfect grade is lesser than the ones scoring the lowest. The mere fact that a whopping 19.9% students fail to score a secure grade in AP Chemistry goes on to show how difficult it can be for most students.

Tips for doing well in AP Chemistry

Scoring a perfect 5 will be an easy task if you follow the tips I have gathered for you:

Practice Test Questions: You must consistently practice the test questions for AP Chemistry, be it the multiple-choice ones or the free-response ones. This will give you a head start on the exam preparation and save you from untoward surprises.

Revision: Revise consistently at regular intervals. Don’t scramble through your notes right before the exam. Last-minute mugging up will only tank your grades.

Power of Highlighting: Keep highlighting substantial portions when reading AP Chemistry textbooks. This will help you assimilate the subject’s crucial parts under one color so that you can read only some of the book while revising.

Mathematical skill: Hone your mathematical skills at every part of your preparation for AP Chemistry. This will help you to solve complex chemical equations with ease.

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Self-Study for AP Chemistry

I get asked a lot of times, “Is it possible to self-study for AP Chemistry?”

The answer is both yes and no.

If you opt to self-study, then understanding the theoretical aspects of AP Chemistry will be easy.

But what about the lab experiments?

Laboratory investigations are a mandatory part of the AP Chemistry course curriculum. You need an approach toward self-study to fulfill your laboratory commitments. Simply put, you will have to review the lab practical without doing the experiments.

You should always take AP Classes from a professional Chemistry teacher for holistic learning, theoretical or practical.

Take a note of our collection of AP articles to know more:

Honors Vs AP Classes Cost of an AP Exam
Benefits of AP Classes Life of an AP Student
How many AP Classes Should I Take How Much do AP Classes Boost GPA


Is AP Chemistry hard to self-study?

One of the more challenging courses to take, particularly for independent study, is AP Chemistry. Nevertheless, if you are genuinely committed to it, you can do it with perseverance, the proper means, and determination.

Does AP Chemistry have a lot of Mathematics?

AP Chemistry contains a good amount of mathematics. You should understand ideas and be able to calculate in AP Chemistry, which frequently requires math from Algebra 2 or above.

What is the most challenging topic in AP Chemistry?

Students have reported that they find Atomic Structure and Properties the most challenging unit among the others.

What is the average grade in AP Chemistry?

College Board has stated that AP Chemistry grades amount to an average of 2.66.

Is 3 a good score in AP Chemistry?

The College board describes 3 as a ‘qualified’ score in any Advanced Placement test.

Is AP Chemistry harder than regular chemistry?

AP Chemistry and regular chemistry deal with the same concept. AP Chemistry delves into greater detail. Therefore, as long as you have a firm understanding of those ideas from conventional chemistry, it should be easy for you.

Does AP Chemistry look good in college applications?

AP Chemistry looks fantastic on a transcript or recommendation letter. The most outstanding schools and institutions are more interested in how applicants stand out in high school.

What happens if you fail AP Chemistry?

Whether you pass or fail in AP Chemistry, everything stays the same. You can still enroll in college whether you receive a passing or failing mark on your AP exam.

Does AP Chemistry have a lot of homework?

AP Chemistry is notoriously known for having lots of homework and challenging tests, mainly if you include the number of experiments you have to spend time on in the laboratory.

Do you need to memorize the periodic table for AP Chemistry?

Yes, you need to memorize in AP Chemistry since it comprises all the foundational elements of chemistry. Therefore, please don’t keep it lying around till your exam. Understanding the periodic table is crucial for the entire year.

What are the most demanding AP exams?

The most difficult AP exams are AP Biology, AP Chem, US History, English Literature, English Language, AP Environmental Science, US Government, World History, and AP Physics.

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Conclusion: Is AP Chemistry Worth It?

AP Chemistry is not for every high school student out there. But if you are a science-enthuziast or have a genuine inclination towards Chemistry, don’t think twice about opting for this subject.

However, remember, even if you are not naturally good with numbers, you can still score well in AP Chemistry if you study it. Even geniuses have to keep on practicing to get the best results.

Therefore, dear chemistry enthusiasts, study, practice, and revise.

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