Are You (really) An AP Chemistry Student?

Each year when registration time rolls around for the following year’s classes, I get students asking me questions about AP Chemistry. Some students want to take the class because they see a future in sciences. Others enjoyed General Chemistry and think AP Chemistry might be “fun”. Some students are trying to pack in as many AP courses on the transcript as possible.

However, before you register for the course, I want the expectations to be clear. It is unrealistic to expect Learning Directors to understand the expectations of each class. They have large numbers of students to schedule, and will sometimes place a student in an AP course for which they are unprepared. I have taught this course since 1998, and I have no confusion about what qualities predict success in AP Chemistry.

You might be an AP Chemistry student if:

  1. You got an “A” in Chemistry by giving your best effort the FIRST time
  2. You have strong math skills
  3. You do the reading BEFORE doing the assigned homework problems
  4. You complete assignments on time
  5. You are willing to ask questions and take advantage of office hours
  6. You have a substantial amount of time to commit DAILY to the course work
  7. You can handle the pressure of frequent, TIMED tests and quizzes

You might NOT be an AP Chemistry student if:

  1. You needed “retakes” to do well in Chemistry
  2. You find math to be puzzling, difficult, or boring
  3. You bypass assigned reading and go straight to the assigned problems
  4. You are frequently absent
  5. You expect other students to ask the questions for you
  6. You wait until weekends or vacations to try to catch up
  7. You suffer from test anxiety

It is important for students to understand that there is NO WAY to slow down in order to re-teach material. The curriculum is determined by the College Board. A college Chemistry course has three hours of lecture per week, a one-hour discussion section, and a lab section of at least three hours. That is seven hours per week. I get less than five hours per week to provide the equivalent experience. Take away time lost to rallies, special schedules, school holidays, and the four weeks we lose because the test is given in early May, and that time actually works out to about 4 hours per week. It should be apparent that we cannot slow down. Ever.

Students who do well in AP Chemistry are tenacious. They work hard, and when the material gets difficult, they work harder. If you are taking the course in order to have an AP class on your transcript, or because someone else (friend, parent, Learning Director) has convinced you to “try” it, then let me convince you to reconsider. The only graded assignments in the class are labs, quizzes and tests. There are no retakes of ANYTHING. There will be three major unit tests each semester, and they are weighted more heavily than any test you took in Chemistry.

Perhaps my favorite “quote” is a Latin proverb that says

If the wind will not serve, take to the oars.

Many bright students are unsuccessful in AP Chemistry. Look at that quote again. If you continue to challenge yourself academically, you will eventually reach a point where your natural ability is not sufficient. For many students, AP Chemistry is that point. Those who roll up their sleeves and do the hard work will succeed. Those who look for shortcuts, or someone else to blame, will fail.

Published by

Andy Allan

I am the owner-developer of and a science teacher at El Diamante High School in Visalia, CA.