How Do I Self-Study AP Chemistry?

7 min readoctober 1, 2021

Dalia Savy

Dalia Savy

AP Chemistry 🧪

269 resources
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Thinking about self-studying for AP Chem? You're in the right place.
AP Chem is one of the more challenging courses to take, especially for self-study. However, with hard work, the right resources, and dedication, you could do it if you really wanted to.

Pros and Cons of Self-Studying AP Chem

Pros ✅

  • There are lots of resources readily available
  • PhET lab simulations are available
  • Simple exam format
  • No mandatory homework ✍️

Cons ❌

  • Lots of difficult content to cover on your own
  • Requires motivation to pace yourself throughout the year 📅
  • Textbook is expensive💰
  • If you aren't heavily interested, some units may feel boring
  • Interaction with a teacher 👨‍🏫 👩‍🏫 is very important
  • Lots of problem solving skills to acquire

The Course and Exam Description (CED) 🔖

For every AP Exam, College Board created a CED to go along with it. The CED includes an outline of the course and an extensive guide to each part of the exam. Here is the 2020 AP Chemistry CED.
Just about any question about the course can be answered by looking at the CED. The CED is separated into 6 sections: Course Framework, Laboratory Investigations, Instructional Approaches, Exam Information, Scoring Guidelines, and Appendixes.

Course Framework

The most that you could get out of the CED would be in the Course Framework section, which is split up by each unit. This section also includes the skills ⚙️ required for success in AP Chem.
Each unit splits up into key topics. Each key topic has a page with a list of concepts or ideas that you should 100% know for the AP Exam.
These key topic pages don't go in-depth! They just list a few main ideas and vocab terms/concepts that are in that key topic.
Here is an example of Unit 1, Key Topic 7 (or topic 1.7):

Image Courtesy of the College Board CED - The CED also includes topics that are usually taught in an AP Chemistry course but are not on the exam. Here, you can see an example of where knowing an exception to a principle will not be tested.

The CED can be very helpful for a self-studier! We highly recommended looking at it if you want to know what's on the exam.
The CED also has major points listed to memorize in each key topic. These are usually asked on almost every exam.

Laboratory Investigations 🥼

If you were to self-study AP Chem 🧪, you would also have to review the lab practicals and understand them without actually doing them
The CED lists a few experiments that are recommended to review and how to set them up.

Exam Information 📖

There is a ton of exam information, and even practice questions, in the Exam Information section. You might want to look at this at least twice throughout the year and complete the questions closer to the exam date.
Here's the exam breakdown:

Units Weighted on the Exam

UnitsWeight on Exam
Unit 1: Atomic Structure and Properties7-9%
Unit 2: Molecular and Ionic Compound, Structure, and Properties7-9%
Unit 3: Intermolecular Forces and Properties18-22%
Unit 4: Chemical Reactions7-9%
Unit 5: Kinetics7-9%
Unit 6: Thermodynamics7-9%
Unit 7: Principles of Equilibrium7-9%
Unit 8: Acids and Bases11-15%
Unit 9: Applications of Thermodynamics7-9%
Looking at the exam breakdown, you can identify which units you should prioritize over the others. Since about 18-22% of the exam will be about Intermolecular Forces and Properties 🌀 and 11-15% will be about Acids and Bases 🍊, you should focus on these two units more than the others.


There are two appendixes, and they both include life-saving documents. These include the periodic table of elements 💧 and a list of equations and constants.
These don't include all of the equations, constants, and pieces of the periodic table. With that said, there are some things that you will have to memorize

Study Schedule 📅

Pacing and staying on track are important when preparing for the exam. It may seem stressful, but setting weekly goals for yourself will really help relieve this stress
It is best to study the units in order ➡️ Some units require the knowledge of previous units, so learning them in order is the perfect way to digest the material.
👉AP Chemistry Pacing Guide
Fiveable has created the perfect pacing guide to help you self-study throughout the year! It includes 3 resources per key topic to ensure you have a deep understanding of everything covered on the AP Exam 🤗.

Ways to Learn 🤔

There are tons of different ways to learn AP Chem, and every single one of these ways are effective!
  • Textbooks 📚: Using just a textbook would be really effective for AP Chem. All of the content is written cohesively with tons of diagrams and visuals 👀 to help you out. The best AP Chem textbooks include a step by step explanation for each mathematical problem. There are also practice questions❓ after each unit and a few practice exams at the end of the whole textbook. Taking notes while using the textbook is the most effective way to prepare with textbooks. However, they are usually very expensive 💰 Try to borrow one from school!
  • Prep Books 🔖: Depending on the prep book you get, they may be able to replace a textbook. They may have a variety of diagrams and visuals, but the practice questions 🧐 may not be AP style. We recommend using a prep book in combination with a textbook, rather than a prep book alone.
👉Best Textbooks and Prep Books for AP Chemistry
  • Videos 🎬: There are lots of YouTube channels, like the Organic Chemistry Tutor, that cover AP Chemistry content, and their videos often vary in length. The Advanced Placement YT is still available as well, but it may be more useful during AP studying in April. Also, don't forget Crash Course!
  • Flashcards 🗂️: For the conceptual part of AP Chemistry, flashcards are perfect to use to test your knowledge!
  • PhET lab simulations 🧪: These may help with the laboratory portion of AP Chemistry. Hopefully, using these as well as a few videos, you could understand the labs more and the science behind them.
Don't be afraid to try out all of these and use a mixture of these resources. Find the way that works for you. You got this!

Practice Tests ✍️

After knowing the content, practice, practice, practice! It's essential.
You could honestly find practice questions anywhere, but official AP questions are more difficult to find. Unfortunately, the College Board only releases previous exams' FRQ questions. Multiple-choice questions are only accessible by teachers, so you may want to ask them if you could have a few for practice. However, you must destroy the MCQ packets after you complete it for confidentiality.
Otherwise, textbooks, prep books, and online resources have a lot of AP-style multiple-choice questions and free-response questions. Make sure to take advantage of these! You not only want to know the content, but you also want to know how to apply it to ace this exam 💯
When you are taking a practice exam, set a timer, and create the conditions of the real AP exam. Try to make yourself comfortable and do it without your notes beside you. Creating the atmosphere of the AP exam multiple times will relieve your stress and make you feel more confident 😅. That is what we want!

Assessing Yourself 🤨

Hm... once I take the practice exam, what do I do?
First off, while you take the practice exam, circle questions you struggled with and star questions you completely guessed on. This gives you an idea of your areas of weakness and will allow you to improve.
Once you grade yourself and check the answer key, make a spreadsheet and note every question you got wrong, the unit the question belongs to, why you got it wrong, and why the right answer is correct. Identifying your weaknesses helps you in the long run.
If you have another method that works for you, go ahead and do it. As long as you keep track of your progress, the practice tests will remain effective.

Taking the Exam

First things first, does your school offer the AP course?

If it does.... 🥳:

Talk to your counselor or an AP Coordinator about signing you up to take AP Chem. They will most likely direct you to an AP Classroom link and sign you up for the exam there.

If it doesn't... 😕:

Check out a few websites of the schools near you and if they have AP Chem. Email or call that school and ask them if you could take the AP Exam there!
It's as easy as that!

Closing Thoughts

Trying to keep yourself on track may seem difficult, but once you get into it, it'll be part of your everyday schedule 🗓️
Set a weekly or daily goal for yourself and treat yourself for completing it. Have fun with the class!
If you ever feel overwhelmed or stressed, take a mental health day. You got this, we believe in you. Good luck 🍀 😊
Browse Study Guides By Unit
⚛️Unit 1 – Atomic Structure & Properties
🤓Unit 2 – Molecular & Ionic Bonding
🌀Unit 3 – Intermolecular Forces & Properties
🧪Unit 4 – Chemical Reactions
👟Unit 5 – Kinetics
🔥Unit 6 – Thermodynamics
⚖️Unit 7 – Equilibrium
🍊Unit 8 – Acids & Bases
🔋Unit 9 – Applications of Thermodynamics
🧐Exam Skills
📚Study Tools

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