How to Pass the CLEP Chemistry Test

If you have never heard of the CLEP tests before I’ll give a brief overview. The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) allows you to take tests on specific subjects, e.g. Chemistry, Biology, College Algebra, and if you acheive a certain score then you are granted credits toward that course.

However, it’s important to note what score you’ll need on the test is decided by your university or community college that you attend. So it’s very possible a score of 50 is needed on the Chemistry CLEP test to receive credits at University A where a score of 55 might be needed at University B and at University C they do not award any credits for the CLEP Chemistry test. So it’s very important that you check with your community college or university to see what score you need and whether they grant credits for passing. The average cost of the test is $100, but you should check with your testing center to make sure.

Now, I wanted to take the CLEP Chemistry exam and pass it to receive equivalent credits for Chemistry 101 and Chemistry 102 with labs. However, when searching for information on how to best study for the chemistry exam I did not find much information or really any study guide. Most of the information was about how it’s the hardest exam and the links that were given directed me to college level textbooks and online college level chemistry courses. I wanted to avoid this because a college level textbook on chemistry is usually filled with examples and other fine points where I just wanted to know the main points, the basics that is, so I could pass this exam. Similarly, I didn’t want to watch all the lectures when I could read through a book and learn just as much if not more in that given time period.

For my background I did not remember any high school chemistry and I’m not particularly excited or even interested in learning about chemistry. The only thing that was in my favor going into studying for the CLEP chemistry exam was that I could handle the mathematics. So, if you are interested in chemistry or have a background in it and remember some of it, then the time line and study materials might vary for you. But if your position is similar to mine hopefully this study guide will help you.

CLEP Chemistry Outline

The College Board actually has an outline of the topics that you will need to know in order to do well on the exam. The major topics on the test are…

  • 20% – Structure of Matter
  • 19% – States of Matter
  • 14% – Descriptive Chemistry
  • 12% – Reaction Types
  • 10% – Equations and Stoichiometry
  • 9% – Experimental Chemistry
  • 7% – Equilibrium
  • 5% – Thermodynamics
  • 4% – Kinetics

I recommend going through their outline and looking at the specific items listed in each topic. However, you can see that if you only focus on the greater than 10% topics than the sum of them is 75%. So Structure of Matter, States of Matter, Descriptive Chemistry, Reaction Rates, and Equations and Stoichiometry account for three-fourths of the chemistry test. However, I would not recommend skipping the other areas. Make sure to study those too.

CLEP Scoring

On the College Board’s website they state that one point is awarded for each right answer and you are not penalized for answering or skipping questions. So this means you should answer every question whether you know the answer or not. Of course, now you want to know how many questions you need to get right to get that 50 or whatever score you need to pass. That’s tougher because there are 75 questions on the test but the score range is from 20-80. Since there are 75 questions and a possible maximum score of 80, then one would think that some questions are weighted more than others and it becomes hard to predict how many questions you need to answer right. Another problem is that some of the questions are research for potential future questions on the test. The best method is just to try to learn the material and answer every question to the best of your ability.

Resources

This is where I ran into trouble. There wasn’t really a general study guide or study materials laid out. You had some people recommend this or that here and there and then some recommended studying a college chemistry textbook or watching college level chemistry lectures, i.e. 60 minute videos of chemistry lectures. So what I did is try to take the best ones and the ones that are most practical for a person that has an hour or two to study everyday or maybe just a couple hours on the weekend. Here’s the list I complied…

The Chemistry: Concepts and Problems
This guide was very good. It covers a lot of chemistry material on the CLEP test. If you are starting with close to zero experience with chemistry I would recommend this. If you go through Chemistry: Concepts and Problems and take notes on the major points and relevant points you’ll be able to create a mini study guide that you can refer back to. What I liked about Chemistry: Concepts and Problems was they constantly tried to reinforce the ideas with self tests at the end of the chapters where you can assess what you have learned. I definitely recommend this if you are a complete beginner to chemistry.

Schaum’s Outlines
There are two listed with one being the Outline of Beginning Chemistry and the other being the Outline of College Chemistry. If you are not beginning chemistry you can probably skip the beginning one. Or if you are a beginner and if you want something more rigorous you can just go for the college level outline. The purpose of these outlines is you let you practice problems.

Khan’s Academy
There are about over 100 videos that are relevant to the Chemistry CLEP. I would recommend checking out these videos if the explanations in the books are not good enough for you or you want to see an example done. Plus they are free.

REA
I did not use the REA CLEP Chemistry book. I heard the content in it was not that great. The only reason it is listed is because it has two practice tests that can be used.

Peterson’s Tests
For about 20 dollars you can take three practice tests. The practice tests are timed and you have a hour and a half to complete them and I would recommend making sure when you take the tests the timer is on.

CLEP Chemistry Exam Guide
This is definitely a must buy. The questions on this test are harder than the Peterson tests and are more reflective of what will actually be on the test. The cost of the examination guide, at the time of this writing, is 10 dollars.

AP Tests
I consider these to be essential also. If you can take an AP test and score about 40-50 questions right then you are ready to take the real CLEP Chemistry test. If you find two to three tests that you can practice with it will help you immensely.

Chemistry College Textbook
Going through the whole textbook isn’t a wise move. Why? Because the textbook contains a lot of information much more than what will be on the exam. It’s best to use a Chemistry College Textbook as a reference and to use to practice problems. I would recommend either buying an older version online at amazon which would be probably less than 10 dollars or going to a library and checking out a textbook.

The Study Guide

Ok, so here’s the study guide that will help you pass the CLEP Chemistry test. The first thing you need to do is print out the outline of the topics for the CLEP Chemistry test. If you are a complete beginner and bought the Chemistry and Concepts book, then go through that book and take notes on the important information in each topic so you can reference them later for studying.

While you are going through the Chemistry and Concepts book use the Schaum’s Outlines, either the beginning or college, to practice problems that correspond to each chapter in the Chemistry and Concepts book. Similarly, you can also look up the specific topics in the college chemistry textbook, if you bought one, and practice those problems too.

If you already know some chemistry and just purchased the Schaum’s Outlines, either beginning or college, then go through the topic list and do the corresponding problems in the Schaum’s Outlines. You can supplement with the Khan Academy videos where needed also.

Once you believe that you have gone through the topic list and have a sufficient amount of knowledge about the topics, go and take the first Peterson test. If you score below 60% on the test you might want to review the topics again and study more.

If you scored above 60%, that’s good. It shows you are actually learning and knowing the material. Now go through all the questions you got wrong and try to understand why you got them wrong. Also look over the topic list and be honest with yourself about what you need to study and practice more. If you have to use Schaum’s Outlines or go to the Khan Academy and look over the topics that you need to practice or learn. If you have a college chemistry textbook it might be a good idea to review the topics and practice some problems from that textbook also.

After you have looked over the questions and topics you don’t understand and have hopefully learned them, go take the second Peterson test. Again you should be getting 60% or better, ideally 70% this time. After you take the second test review as needed like you did with the first one.

Now at this point I would recommend taking an AP test. If you have two or three AP tests that you can take that’s great. Take one after you review your second Peterson exam. If you score around 40 questions right, not percent, then you are definitely are close to being able to pass the CLEP Chemistry comfortably.

Again review what you got wrong on the AP test and continue to study the areas that you find problematic. Now take the third Peterson exam. Again you should be scoring at least 60% right and by now hopefully scoring in at least 70% or ideally 80%.

Since the Peterson exams are easier than the actual CLEP test if you have taken all three of the Peterson exams and didn’t score well I would suggest reviewing more problems and topics. However, if you did score well that’s good because now you can move onto the CLEP Chemistry Exam Guide.

When taking the CLEP Chemistry Exam Guide I would recommend setting it up like the actual exam. You should have about two hours of free time to take it and correct it. You should set the exam time to an hour and a half and make sure you have scratch paper also. If you score highly on this practice test which is about 60%, then you have really increased your chances of passing the CLEP Chemistry exam.

The only thing left is to finish taking any AP practice exams that are left and to review and study the topics. Again, if you take the AP exam and are getting roughly 40-50 questions right, not percent, then now you are ready to take the CLEP exam. Good Luck.

Exam Tips

The first tip is to remain calm. Chances are good if you took the practice exams and scored in the ranges I listed you will do well. However, considering the test can be really hard and the questions can seem very different from the practice exams you took it’s important to not panic over this. I state this because when I took the test it kind of shocked me because the practice problems from the practice exams seemed more computational than the test questions. So what this means is that you need to make sure you have a conceptual understanding of the practice questions.

A useful trick is being able to rule out certain answers. Sometimes you might read the question and have no clue what the answer is. If that’s the case you can look at the answers and try to rule out ones that are wrong and narrow your options to more acceptable options.

It’s kind of useless to give out specific information that’s on the test because each test is different. So if I said to know the color of some elements it’s entirely possible that you might have zero questions regarding color. So the only thing I can recommend is knowing the topics listed in the outline and making sure you score high enough on the practice exams.

Good luck.

11 Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this! I am going to seek out these materials for my 17 year old who will prefer to CLEP out of the Chemistry requirement for his AA. I am so very glad you took the time to put all this together. You helped one person for sure!!

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  3. Hello. Thanks for the information. I have the opportunity to get the 2015 CLEP Guide at a discount or I can wait 2 weeks and get the 2016 version. Would there be a big difference between the two in your opinion?

  4. Thank you so much. This site really helped me out. I really appreciate the effort you’ve put into documenting your whole process of getting through CLEP. I don’t usually post comments on websites, but this one was a must. Thank you once again!

  5. I’m with Kush on this one…never bothered to post again but this was incredibly considerate of you and very helpful!!

  6. Thanks SO much for taking the time to put this together! I was in the same boat, with no chemistry background and no resources. This will help a ton!

  7. This post has been incredibly helpful for me as I’ve been planning my strategy for studying for this exam! Like several of the other posters, I rarely comment; however, I couldn’t help but express my gratitude for your post! You have certainly helped me streamline my study plan 🙂

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