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Is AP Chemistry Hard? 5 Key Factors Considered

Nov 13, 2022

If you are wondering about the question, ‘is AP chem hard?’, you are at the right place. AP Chemistry is quite challenging if you are unfamiliar with the material. You need to remember all these intimidating formulas with subscripts and superscripts, which is not fun! Also, it involves an unpleasant amount of math, as some students would view it. But the question is, how hard is AP chem? This article will discuss five key factors to determine how hard AP Chemistry is compared to other high-level courses. We will also discuss the factors that make AP chemistry hard. 

Five key factors in determining if AP Chemistry is hard

Before we talk specifically about the topic of ‘is AP chemistry hard?’, below are five factors that determine the difficulty level of AP classes:


1. Passing rate:

If you observe the number of test takers who score three or higher on an AP exam, you will realize how easy or difficult it is. If a good number of students are scoring passing marks, it might indicate that the class is not that hard. However, it might also indicate that the particular class attracts well-prepared, higher-achieving students who tend to do better on tests. Therefore, apart from score averages, there are other factors we must consider, such as the actual difficulty level of the content and the perceptions of the students. 

2. The five score rates:

Another factor that can be considered is the percentage of students earning the highest possible score, 5s, on the AP test. Even though students might pass an AP test in large numbers, only a small group earns the highest score. This means that it is hard to be a true master in the subject. In addition, getting a five on an AP test usually only requires the students to answer 60-70% of the questions correctly, which means that a five does not necessarily indicate complete comprehension of the test paper. 


3. The difficulty level of the content:

The difficulty level of the content is, of course, a primary determining factor of the overall difficulty of an AP course. Even if the pass rate is reasonable, the class itself might be challenging because of the vast syllabus it covers or the complexity of the content. If this is the case, a high passing rate suggests that only very talented students take the class, and average students shy away from it. 

4. How students perceive the class:

How students perceive an AP class also determines the difficulty level of an AP course. As already discussed, some classes have good passing rates because high-achieving students opt for those. However, it does not mean that these students think the course is easy. They are just more dedicated to working hard and achieving good scores. So, feedback from the students also provides a perspective on the difficulty level of the class.  


5. When students take the class: 

It is seen that students who take the class during high school are more likely to think of it as difficult. In contrast, those who take it in junior or senior high are more likely to feel comfortable with the content. Why is that? This is because, by the time students are in junior or senior high, they are adapted to the academic workload as they have already taken up their high school workloads. In addition, they have probably also already taken other AP classes. 

Now that you are familiar with the five main factors that determine the difficulty level of an AP class, let us analyze all these factors in terms of the AP Chemistry class so that we reach a conclusion about its difficulty level and find the answer to the question, ‘is AP chem hard?’.


What do the statistics indicate about the AP Chemistry exam?

Let us consider the passing rates for AP Chemistry to understand how hard AP chemistry is. The passing rate (the number of students who scored three or more) was 55.5% in 2019. This rate is lower than that for the Biology test in the same year, which was equal to around 64.6%, and higher than the US History test, whose pass rate was 53.6%. After analyzing, we find that World History, Human Geography, US Government and Politics, US History, English Language and Composition, Physics, and Environmental Science are the only subjects with passing rates lower than the Chemistry test.

This data suggests that Chemistry tests are relatively difficult, but we observe an eclectic mix of various tests with low passing rates. Passing rates might not always represent the difficulty level of an AP test; instead, they indicate a combination of the objective complexity of the content covered and which types of students tend to enroll in the class. For example, AP Environmental Science does not contain a lot of challenging topics, but the students who take this class seem less dedicated. 


Even after considering these factors, it is important to note that the low passing rates of AP Chemistry indicate its high difficulty level. It is generally seen that only the most dedicated students tend to attend the AP class, and still, many of them cannot pass the test. 

Let’s not look at how many students achieve the highest score, five, on the test. For the AP Chemistry exam, the five rates are 11.5%. There are only nine other AP tests whose five rates are lower than this. This data is consistent with the position of the AP Chemistry passing rates among other AP tests. As the five rate and passing rates are consistent, we can conclude that AP Chemistry is on the spectrum’s difficult end.


The difficulty and low passing rates are because a lot of material is covered in the course. Additionally, it involves understanding difficult concepts, memorizing twisted principles, noticing interactions between tiny abstract things, and mastering complex mathematical concepts. It may be considered similar to AP Biology in some aspects, but it is even more challenging to understand if you lack a basic understanding of Chemistry intuitively. 

Example to understand how hard AP chemistry is:

Take the example of this official AP Chemistry MCQ to understand how hard AP chem is:


is ap chemistry hard

If you have not attended AP Chemistry classes regularly, you won’t be able to solve it. It will be virtually incomprehensible to you if you have not taken any chemistry classes. If you are wondering, the answer to the question is D. Chemistry has its separate language, involving words and symbols that are rarely encountered in everyday life – unless you are a chemical engineer or a chemist, which you probably are not! Even though questions asked on an AP Biology test might be at an advanced level, the terms related to them are not as unfamiliar.


I hope the article helped you understand ‘how hard AP chem is.’ To conclude, you require a diverse skill set to succeed in AP Chemistry, and you will only be able to develop those skills if you strengthen your basics. In addition, you will have to get habitual with memorizing the properties of different chemical substances and develop an understanding of what they depend on and why these substances act in different ways under other conditions. This will help you to solve problems on the test quickly. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do students think AP Chemistry is hard?

Most students perceive AP Chemistry as hard and keep complaining:‘how hard is AP chemistry. Certain factors depend on their APtitude for the material, the strength of their basics in Chemistry, their previous experience with the subject, and the quality of their teacher. If the student is dedicated and has the guidance of a good teacher, AP Chemistry will be a lot easier. On the other hand, understanding the concepts will be very challenging if the teacher is terrible and the student is not hard-working.

2. What are the skills required to ace AP Chemistry?

Almost every type of academic skill is required to ace the AP Chemistry exam as it involves problems, lab work, and memorization of chemical properties and formulas. Its math portion includes reaction balancing, unit conversions, and other stoichiometry problems. Therefore, Therefore, AP Chemistry will be easier for you if you have good mathematical skills. 

3. What are the six main topics in AP Chemistry?

AP Chemistry has six main topics: atomic structure, Periodic table of elements, Kinetics, Equilibrium, Thermodynamics/electrochemistry, and Gases, liquids, and solutions. 

4. Is memorizing the periodic table important for AP Chemistry?

Memorizing the periodic table is very important for AP Chemistry as many questions on the test are based on it. You should know the elements in every role and column, their physical and chemical properties, and other behaviors. You should also know how to use group numbers to determine the valence electrons, the number of bonds an element can form, and their main periodic trends.

Is AP Chemistry Hard


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