The College Board has a list of topics that may be on the exam, but is that the best order to teach the topics? Maybe, but not for me, and here is why.

Before I begin, Iet me say I’m just stating what I do. I’m not saying it is the best way, but it works for me and my students. I teach at a public, comprehensive high school, and I have anywhere from a 70-100% pass rate on the AP exam each year. My students have generally taken Chemistry Honors the previous year, but I do have students who have only taken Chemistry I or who haven’t taken Chemistry sign up for my class.

First, you are probably wondering in what order I teach the topics. Here you go.

  1. Chemical Foundations (3 weeks)
  2. Stoichiometry (2 weeks)
  3. Solution Stoichiometry (3 weeks)
  4. Gas Laws (2 weeks)
  5. Thermochemistry (2.5 weeks)
  6. Kinetics (2.5 weeks)
  7. Equilibrium (3 weeks)
  8. Optional- Nuclear
  9. Thermodynamics (2 weeks)
  10. Electrons and Periodic Trends (2 weeks)
  11. Chemical Bonding (2.5 weeks)
  12. Intermolecular Forces (2.5 weeks)
  13. Acids and Bases (3 weeks)
  14. Electrochemistry (1.5 weeks)
  15. Review (Whatever time I have left)
  16. Movies and fun labs (during 2-week block of AP testing)
  17. Qualitative Analysis Lab as the “essay” required for their final exam

Second, I started teaching this order because I coached a fall sport, girls’ soccer, and a spring sport, swimming. It allowed the topics during coaching to be easier. But over the years, I’ve discovered that this order really does make sense.

I like to start with Chemical Foundations. It helps everyone get to know me, and my policies and procedures. This is the unit that I lecture the least in, and instead, I have students work in cooperative groups and complete POGILS, card sorts, and around-the-room problems. This helps build teamwork and allows students to develop relationships that will be important later in the year.

The topics then build in complexity, and students develop an understanding of what they need to be successful in class. 

And while these topics may seem like review; I teach additional content they didn’t receive in their first-year course. For example, in Chemical Foundations, we learn about Mass Spectroscopy graphs and the difference between percent abundance and relative abundance graphs. In the Stoichiometry unit, students learn about empirical and molecular formulas and calculate the amount of excess reactant left over. In Gas Laws, I teach about mole fractions, Graham’s Law, and so on.

By late October, students have gotten to know me and my teaching style and formed relationships with each other and group chats to get help from their classmates. And this is where we start to dive into the content I truly consider AP level…Kinetics, Equilibrium, and Thermodynamics. 

As we get closer to spring break and seniors are busy writing essays for last-minute college applications or scholarships, my students start to lose focus. It is nice to hit some more of those review topics…electrons, bonding, intermolecular forces. Just as in the beginning, while I am reviewing first-year content (and those students who haven’t taken Chemistry before are learning it for the first time), new topics are added, such as PES, formal charge, and more complex IMFs.

Around the end of February, I start having students work on the review books. I let students choose their review book, but since they are mostly the same, I have them work through one or two chapters each week. I do extra credit for completing these, but it is only in my small, 20% formative category. (BTW- Students can also earn extra credit by tutoring after school or working on outside research projects.)

Then, as the AP exam starts looming, we cover Acids, Bases, and Buffers as well as Electrochemistry. I find this to be a good way to review equilibrium and solution stoichiometry before the exam. Every year, there seems to be an Acid-Base and Electrochemistry FRQ, so I like these to be fresh in their minds. 

I didn’t explicitly mention this, but I like to “spiral” my content, so topics come around twice during the year. I teach atoms at the beginning of the year, but we must dig back into the content when we learn about electrons. I also teach Thermochemistry (delta H)  first, and then about two months later, I teach Thermodynamics (delta S and delta G), but again students will need that enthalpy and heat content to solve for these.

I usually only end up with a week or two of review before the exam, but as I mentioned, students have, hopefully, been using their review books since late February so my students feel fairly well prepared.

 I’m sure if I did fewer labs and fun activities (Halloween Demonstrations, Tie Dye, Mole Olympics, etc.) I would have more time for review, but I find these to be memorable experiences for students. 

Again, this post was not meant to tell you the order to teach your content, but I wanted to let you know that not all AP Chemistry teachers teach in the same order and I think it is worth considering if following the College Board order is right for you and your students.

Please let me know if you have any questions or want more information on something I mentioned.

Thanks for reading and HAPPY TEACHING!