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How to Succeed in AP Chemistry

by Mia Wang

Chemistry is one of my favorite subjects because it is so different from other science classes. I remember feeling intimidated by all the chemical formulas and new jargon, but with some work AP Chemistry became one of my favorite classes in high school. Although chemistry might seem daunting at first, following these tips will help you crush that AP exam in no time!

Tip 1: Learn the fundamentals.

Chemistry, like math, really builds on itself. If you don’t have a good grasp at the chemistry fundamentals this will hurt you later on! Dedicate study time to truly grasp the relationships between elements and the periodic trends (trust me this will help later on). Having strong fundamentals in the basics will make the rest of the course more manageable and easier to learn. Chemistry has many patterns, so learning how each element interacts with others will help when the reactions become more complicated!

Tip 2: Practice dimensional analysis.

Although dimensional analysis is also done in other classes like math or physics, it’s an even more important skill to master in chemistry. Units on numbers are vital to chemistry; you can learn a lot about how to get to a number by looking at its units and using dimensional analysis to work backwards. Dimensional analysis, while not a hard skill to learn, is extremely useful in all science classes.

Tip 3: Make sure your answer “makes sense”.

While it’s easy to plug numbers into a calculator and just trust the answer you get, double-checking your work could save you from missing a lot of points. For example, if you’re asked to determine the number of atoms in 50 g of table salt (NaCl) and you get 7x10-20 atoms, an alarm should go off in your head. Since your answer should be bigger than Avogadro’s number, you know you must have made a mistake along the way. It’s equally important to check your formulas and your calculator inputs because a mistake can be made anywhere. Having a gut feeling about an answer feeling wrong has helped me so many times on math, chemistry, and physics tests. Trust yourself when you feel like an answer just isn’t right (because it probably isn't)!

Tip 4: Start your AP review early.

This one sounds simple, but reviewing AP questions early can help you get a feel for the test. If you struggle with a certain concept, you should review it with a teacher, a study group or on YouTube. (Khan Academy has everything I swear!) It’s important that you’re able to identify what you struggle with because the AP test can ask about everything.

An AP review book can also be helpful for studying. These can be purchased, rented from your local or school library, or even borrowed from students who took the class last year. In addition to a book, you should utilize The College Board’s free resources about the test. AP tests require a lot of studying, especially as your test date gets closer, but when you break it up over the course of a year, you’ll save yourself time and headaches on test day.

Mia Wang is a high school science and math tutor and will be attending medical school next year.

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