AP Chemistry Exam Review Ideas

notebook with text "AP Exam Review"

The AP Chemistry Exam is getting closer. What will you provide your students to review for the big day?

The Advanced Placement Chemistry Exam is a beast! Students need to know a lot of content and how to apply it to so many different situations. It can be very daunting for students (especially my students as this is their first AP science course). And the stress can also be compounding for novice and experienced teachers as well. A lot of factors will influence how you will be able to review and prepare for the exam. So I broke down my strategies into two sections; how I reviewed for the exam when I didn’t have much time in class, and how I review now that I do have time in class.

Review Tactics - When Time is Limited

We started practice early. As early as feasibly possible (maybe as early as February), I had students practice multiple choice questions on Mondays, calling them “MCMs” (no, not “Man Crush Mondays”… “Multiple Choice Mondays”). I would assign 10-15 questions that had been covered earlier in the year (dependent on the complexity of the questions and how much time I was willing to spend). At first, I would allow the students to take more time than is allotted on the actual exam (the exam has 60 multiple choice in 90 minutes which is roughly 1.5 minutes per question so I was giving nearly two minutes each). As the weeks went on I decreased the time they could spend per question until it matched the AP multiple choice timing. Back then I used sample multiple choice from very old released exams dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, which I still made available on my website for students to use at home. But if I were to do this now, I would use the multiple choice questions in the secure exams, available on the AP Audit website after you log in. Please remember that the students cannot keep these exams, so they must be collected after each use.

We made cram sheets. Each pair of students was assigned a specific topic and had to create a full review sheet (could be multiple pages) that included diagrams and pictures, vocabulary words, and worked examples. Some years I had a lot of students enrolled in AP chemistry so I made it into a competition: the team with the best cram sheet for their topic was given prizes and all winning cram sheets were posted for the students to access and use. You can see old cram sheets on my website.

We bought review books. I assigned certain chapters for weeks at a time. I would collect and check on Mondays (while they were taking the multiple choice). The students had to annotate the chapters by underlining key ideas, boxing in vocabulary words, and highlighting parts that were confusing (since many of the books come with answers worked out I needed some way to know they were actually utilizing the book). The district paid for the books, which was exceptionally awesome. There are tons of books out there such as Adrian Dingle’s Crash Course, 5 steps to a 5, The Princeton Review, Barron’s AP Review, etc. My major issue with review books is that most of the questions are not structured like the actual AP FRQs so I didn’t want to use them as a standalone way to review. But they often summarize the information well.

We had out of class review sessions at the local library. Only dedicated students really showed up (and a few that were forced by their parents). Each review session was 2 hours and would review 2-3 major topics at a time. We would see old exam questions and review common misconceptions and pitfalls.

We took a mock exam. The mock exam was a previously released exam, outside of school, volunteer only. It really showed students how they would perform and how they could improve. It also exposed them to the pressure of the timing of the test and how the pages of the exam are formatted. Again, the local library came to the rescue here, though many high schools would probably allow you to use their facilities. A follow up meeting was held to review the answers.

Review Tactics for In-Class Time

The major reasons I have more time in class for exam review now are because I have refined my teaching over the course of a few years to include the specific learning objectives outlined in the AP Course and Exam Description (CED) with only a few additions. I also began flipping my classroom a few years ago which really increased the amount of time I have in class for AP questions practice. It is so much nicer having time in class to review because I am not spending my free time outside of school to prep the students and all students are able to participate in the review. This year I have four solid weeks to review with my students.

We started with a mock exam. We used the most recent practice exam (on the audit website), timed at 75 minutes for the 50 multiple choice on day one, questions 1-3 in 60 minutes on day two, and questions 4-7 in 28 minutes on day three (similar to timing on the exam in which students will have 60 multiple choice questions in 90 minutes and all the free response questions in 1 hour and 45 minutes (the practice exam doesn’t include 10 field test questions that the normal exam will). If you choose to have the students perform a mock exam you can split up you time however makes sense to you. Generally the long questions take approximately 20 minutes each and the short questions take approximately 7 minutes each. It is definitely time consuming to do, but the mock exam is so helpful. The students really felt the time crunch (although all my exams are timed throughout the year). They got to see how the exam is formatted, with the free response questions all grouped together with lined paper for work. It really helps them feel more comfortable with the exam if they can see what it will look like ahead of time. I graded all the exams (this was time consuming!) and gave notes to students about where their answers should be written (not squeezed in corners, not between the questions, rather on the lines provided) and hints about how to write answers clearer and more concisely. In class, we went over the exam question by question in teams. I gave them the scoring guidelines and the students were able to see what was expected of them. Students were able to ‘find points” they could have answered correctly which helped give them hope for a better grade as we reviewed more.

We complete all the practice exams. I have 42 minutes of class time daily and an additional 42 minutes every other day all year (but I started late in the Northeast.. after labor day… ugh). So on 42 minute days we complete one long and one short questioned timed to 28 minutes and then we review it by looking at the scoring guidelines. I use the older practice exams (also available on the audit website) because the answers are not easily available for the students to look up. On 84 minute days we do the two free response questions, but then we also complete 20 multiple choice questions in 30 minutes and review those together in teams. In four weeks we should be able to complete most of the 2014-2018 practice exams. I like to practice the exams from most recent to older in case we don’t get to the 2014 practice exam. The students often cite that this is their favorite way to review. Please remember the students should not be taking practice exams home because they are secure exams. They are supposed to be use in class only.

We make videos. My students are assigned one long and one short free response question to solve on video (hands and paper only, no faces). We use the old published free response exams from College Board. The students obviously have access to the answers online. So their mission is to read the free response question, read the scoring guidelines, and then make a video that explains the answers in “student language”.  The students become experts about the topics in their question. I started this last year and a student who had a review question about Coulomb’s Law was so excited to see it on last year’s exam stating, “I KNOW I got that question right!” which is the reason I continue to do this review assignment. The rubric I use is added below. It is counted as one quiz grade per video. This year I will have my students work in pairs so they can see more questions. Each pair will have two long and two short response questions to record (so it is the same amount of work per student as last year). Once all the video are complete, I upload them to Edpuzzle (a free video site) so only my students’ can see each other’s videos. From that website I am able to monitor which students watched the videos that their peers made and I can embed comments (in case I would like to elaborate on a portion of their video) and add questions. This year I will have my students create one question for their video that is similar to the question presented in the video (preferably something that targets what the recorder thought was the most difficult part of the problem). I will post the videos with that question embedded. Students watching the video will have to answer that question along with a brief summary of how they thought the video helped them review and what they still have questions about. I have 17 students, which will mean 34 videos. But the videos are easily uploaded and it won’t take me too much time. This way the students are solving in class practice exams without available answers and still solving old exam questions on their own time where the answers are available. And the students have their peers explaining the scoring rubric because sometimes the language in the rubrics are hard to navigate for students.




Explain how you know which equation or vocabulary words are needed



Explain how you know which numbers to plug in for each variable



Explain any unit conversions and why you needed to convert them



Explanations are clear and understandable; in student language



Writing is clear and visible in the video



Video is >20 min for long questions and >7 min for short questions




In summary, the best thing you can do for your students is to provide them with the opportunity to try as many AP problems as possible without burning them out. The more problems they try, the more patterns that they will be able to see, and hopefully apply to the exam in May. What review tactics do you suggest? Please share with us in the comments!