Fewer calculations on the AP chemistry exam?

February 10, 2016

Are there really fewer calculations on the new AP chemistry exam?

Ever since the new AP exam came into existence, there’s been a lot of talk about the removal of a large chunk of quantitative (calculator based) questions from the new AP curriculum when compared to the legacy course. People have been bemoaning the lack of such, and how math has become significantly less relevant on the exam than it once was. Some people think that this is a step in the wrong direction, while others not only think that it is the right thing to do, but they have also suggested that in reality, there has not been any reduction in the number of calculations required.

Fewer calculations on the AP chemistry exam?

In truth, in order to investigate this fully, one would need more data than we currently have. We’d need to look at all of the points awarded on maybe 5-10 years worth of exams, and see how the %’s of points awarded for calculations stack up on the old and the new exams. However, right now we don’t have that luxury, but we do have an alternative that may give a window into what we might expect if we actually did that analysis.

So here are some facts. Perhaps they mean very little, but they are facts.

Quantitative aspects REMOVED
Quantitative aspects ADDED

The calculation of molality

Calculations associated with freezing point depression

Calculations associated with boiling point elevation

Calculations associated with osmotic pressure

The calculation of the change in pH of a buffer on addition of an acid or base

Calculations of ∆G from ∆G°

Calculations involving the Arrhenius equation

*Calculations involving urms

*Calculations involving Graham’s law of effusion and diffusion

Quantitative application of the Nernst equation

*The Rydberg Equation and associated calculations

*Conversion of Kp to Kc and vice-versa

Percent by mass calculations

Percent by volume calculations

Calculations surrounding the concentrations of species in polyprotic acids

*Assumed, given that the mathematical relationship has been removed from the new AP Equations and Constants Sheet.

Yeah, that’s a TON of quantitative stuff removed, and NOTHING quantitative added. PES, Mass Spec, Biology applications, alloys and all of the newer emphasis do not add any quantitative aspects. Surface tension, capillary action, semi-conductors and chromatography add nothing (I don’t think an Rf calculation would count!), nor does Work or Coulombs law since I don’t think that either would ever be tested quantitatively. You might say that Mass Spec can be used for average atomic mass calculations and you’d be right, but that’s not an addition since such calculations (from isotopic abundance data) were always there.

So, there you have it. It would appear next to impossible for calculator based questions not to have a significant decrease in emphasis given what’s been thrown on the scrapheap and what’s replaced it but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.


  1. Scott

    Interesting blog. Based on the two “new” exams administered and the practice exams, it seems clear there is less math on the MCQ compared to previous years. I’m actually OK with the movement in that direction, especially given calculators cannot be used for that portion of the exam. I cannot help but wonder why students cannot use a calculator on the MCQ. They can use an equations sheet now, so I wonder what keeping is CB from permitting calculators for use on the MCQ? I cannot believe they want to emphasize mental math skills.

      • Scott

        There has been a focus on this in my school. I’ve looked any many sample questions from the new exam. It is definitely different. As long as students are allowed adequate time (the issue with the first new AP Chemistry exam), I don’t see having to read more as a significant issue. It really depends on what the exam is assessing. The SAT assesses reading and comprehension skills. The AP Chemistry Exam should assess Chemistry, not reading.

        • Adrian

          The SAT assesses reading and comprehension skills. The AP Chemistry Exam should assess Chemistry, not reading.

          I think that’s the whole point! I suspect that kids who are able in chemistry but less able in language (e.g., EFL learners), are going to suffer – that’s just not right.

          • Scott

            I totally agree and have seen it happen to students in my own classes. Just another reason why it is so important to use old AP questions as part of instruction. Students can get used to the language of the exam, which at times, can be odd.

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