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What Is the Difference Between Chemistry & AP Chemistry?

by Lori Garrett-Hatfield, studioD

High school students have a choice for their science classes. In their sophomore or junior years, they may choose to take either chemistry or Advanced Placement chemistry. While these two classes are similar, they have different characteristics and a different pace, and students must decide which chemistry class will best suit their needs.


High school chemistry is the study of relationships, according to the California Department of Education. Each chapter or step in chemistry builds upon the other. The chemistry class begins with atomic and molecular structures. Students must understand each element in the periodic table, and its placement on the table. Second, a student must understand chemical bonds and that breaking of the chemical bonds releases energy. Properties of matter form from the making and breaking of chemical bonds. Third, students learn to balance chemical equations and calculate the molar mass. Fourth, students move to understanding acids and bases. Then students learn about solutions -- organic and inorganic. They also need to understand how nuclear reactions are different from other reactions.

AP Chemistry

Advanced Placement chemistry, according to the framework provided by The College Board, is taught at a more rapid pace than a regular chemistry class. The first framework in AP chemistry is the atomic table and the elements. The class also discusses the mole as a unit of measure and begins to work equations dealing with mass and moles. The student is required to analyze and explain data. The first framework in AP Chemistry class, according to The College Board, also discusses solutions. There are fewer frameworks in the AP Chemistry class, but each framework is deeper and more involved.


A major difference between a chemistry class and an AP chemistry class is that the AP class is taught using the same curriculum nationwide because the AP exam in chemistry is national. Also, the AP chemistry class involves much more student analysis and explanation of subject matter earlier than in a chemistry class. Third, students in AP chemistry are asked to view a lot of chemical changes, and interpret the differences. The notion of balancing equations comes in the third framework, and solutions are discussed at the same time as chemical equations. Finally, AP chemistry lists a series of practices that a student must be able to do in order to pass the test, which are not needed in a chemistry class.

Choosing a Course

In order to choose the proper course, chemistry or AP chemistry, questions should be asked. If the student plans on majoring in a science, engineering or mathematics field, she may want to consider taking AP chemistry. If a student wants to receive as much college credit as possible before he leaves high school, she may consider AP chemistry. Finally, if the student plans on attending a selective university, she may want to think about taking AP chemistry. If however, the student is not planning on majoring in a science or math field, or feels his mathematics skills are not as good as his language arts or social studies skills, he may want to pass on AP chemistry and just take chemistry.

About the Author

Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.

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