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CLEP® Chemistry Examination Guide

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The Chemistry exam covers material that is usually taught in a one-year general chemistry course.

2017 CLEP Official Study Guide

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This study guide provides practice questions for all 33 CLEP® exams. The ideal resource for taking more than one exam. Offered only by the College Board.

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The Chemistry examination covers material that is usually taught in a one-year college course in general chemistry. Understanding of the structure and states of matter, reaction types, equations and stoichiometry, equilibrium, kinetics, thermodynamics, and descriptive and experimental chemistry is required, as is the ability to interpret and apply this material to new and unfamiliar problems. During this examination, an online scientific calculator function and a periodic table are available as part of the testing software.

Scientific Calculator

A scientific (nongraphing) calculator is integrated into the exam software, and it is available to students during the entire testing time. Students are expected to know how and when to make appropriate use of the calculator. The scientific calculator for the CLEP exams, together with a brief video tutorial, is available to students as a free download for a 30-day trial period. Students are encouraged to download the calculator and become familiar with its functionality prior to taking the exam.

Get more information about the scientific calculator and download a trial version.

Students will find the online scientific calculator helpful in performing calculations (e.g., arithmetic, exponents, roots, logarithms).

Knowledge and Skills Required

The examination contains approximately 75 questions to be answered in 90 minutes. Some of these are pretest questions that will not be scored. Any time spent on tutorials and providing personal information is in addition to the actual testing time.

Questions on the Chemistry examination require candidates to demonstrate one or more of the following abilities.

  • Recallremember specific facts; demonstrate straightforward knowledge of information and familiarity with terminology
  • Applicationunderstand concepts and reformulate information into other equivalent terms; apply knowledge to unfamiliar and/or practical situations; use mathematics to solve chemistry problems
  • Interpretationinfer and deduce from data available and integrate information to form conclusions; recognize unstated assumptions

The subject matter of the Chemistry examination is drawn from the following topics. The percentages next to the main topics indicate the approximate percentage of exam questions on that topic.

Structure of Matter (20%)

Atomic theory and atomic structure

  • Evidence for the atomic theory
  • Atomic masses; determination by chemical and physical means
  • Atomic number and mass number; isotopes and mass spectroscopy
  • Electron energy levels: atomic spectra, quantum numbers, atomic orbitals
  • Periodic relationships, including, for example, atomic radii, ionization energies, electron affinities, and oxidation states

Chemical bonding

  • Binding forces
    • Types: covalent, ionic, metallic, macromolecular (or network), dispersion, hydrogen bonding
    • Relationships to structure and to properties
    • Polarity of bonds, electronegativities
  • Geometry of molecules, ions, and coordination complexes: structural isomerism, dipole moments of molecules, relation of properties to structure
  • Molecular models
    • Valence bond theory; hybridization of orbitals, resonance, sigma and pi bonds
    • Other models, for example, molecular orbital

Nuclear chemistry

  • Nuclear equations, half-lives, and radioactivity; chemical applications

States of Matter (19%)


  • Laws of ideal gases; equations of state for an ideal gas
  • Kinetic-molecular theory
    • Interpretation of ideal gas laws on the basis of this theory
    • The mole concept; Avogadro's number
    • Dependence of kinetic energy of molecules on temperature: Boltzmann distribution
    • Deviations from ideal gas laws

Liquids and solids

  • Liquids and solids from the kineticmolecular viewpoint
  • Phase diagrams of one-component systems
  • Changes of state, critical phenomena


  • Types of solutions and factors affecting solubility
  • Methods of expressing concentration
  • Colligative properties; for example, Raoult's law
  • Effect of interionic attraction on colligative properties and solubility

Reaction Types (12%)

Formation and cleavage of covalent bonds

  • Acid-base reactions; concepts of Arrhenius, Brønsted-Lowry, and Lewis; amphoterism
  • Reactions involving coordination complexes

Precipitation reactions

Oxidation-reduction reactions

  • Oxidation number
  • The role of the electron in oxidation-reduction
  • Electrochemistry; electrolytic cells, standard half-cell potentials, prediction of the direction of redox reactions, effect of concentration changes

Equations and Stoichiometry (10%)

  • Ionic and molecular species present in chemical systems; net-ionic equations
  • Stoichiometry: mass and volume relations with emphasis on the mole concept
  • Balancing of equations, including those for redox reactions

Equilibrium (7%)

Concept of dynamic equilibrium, physical and chemical; LeChâtelier's principle; equilibrium constants

Quantitative treatment

  • Equilibrium constants for gaseous reactions in terms of both molar concentrations and partial pressure (Kc, Kp)
  • Equilibrium constants for reactions in solutions
    • Constants for acids and bases; pK; pH
    • Solubility-product constants and their application to precipitation and the dissolution of slightly soluble compounds
    • Constants for complex ions
    • Common ion effect; buffers

Kinetics (4%)

  • Concept of rate of reaction
  • Order of reaction and rate constant: their determination from experimental data
  • Effect of temperature change on rates
  • Energy of activation; the role of catalysts
  • The relationship between the rate-determining step and a mechanism

Thermodynamics (5%)

State functions

First law: heat of formation; heat of reaction; change in enthalpy, Hess's law; heat capacity; heats of vaporization and fusion

Second law: free energy of formation; free energy of reaction; dependence of change in free energy on enthalpy and entropy changes

Relationship of change in free energy to equilibrium constants and electrode potentials

Descriptive Chemistry (14%)

The accumulation of certain specific facts of chemistry is essential to enable students to comprehend the development of principles and concepts, to demonstrate applications of principles, to relate fact to theory and properties to structure, and to develop an understanding of systematic nomenclature that facilitates communication. The following areas are normally included on the examination:

  • Chemical reactivity and products of chemical reactions
  • Relationships in the periodic table: horizontal, vertical, and diagonal
  • Chemistry of the main groups and transition elements, including typical examples of each
  • Organic chemistry, including such topics as functional groups and isomerism (may be treated as a separate unit or as exemplary material in other areas, such as bonding)

Experimental Chemistry (9%)

Some experiments are based on laboratory experiments widely performed in general chemistry and ask about the equipment used, observations made, calculations performed, and interpretation of the results. The questions are designed to provide a measure of understanding of the basic tools of chemistry and their applications to simple chemical systems.

Study Resources

Most textbooks used in college-level chemistry courses cover the topics in the outline given earlier, but the approaches to certain topics and the emphases given to them may differ. To prepare for the Chemistry exam, it is advisable to study one or more college textbooks, which can be found in most college bookstores. When selecting a textbook, check the table of contents against the knowledge and skills required for this test.


A survey conducted by CLEP found that the following textbooks are among those used by college faculty who teach the equivalent course. You might purchase one or more of these online or at your local college bookstore.

  • Chang, General Chemistry: The Essential Concepts (McGraw-Hill)
  • Cracolice and Peters, Introductory Chemistry (Cengage)
  • Gilbert et al., Chemistry: The Science in Context (W.W. Norton)
  • Goldberg, Fundamentals of Chemistry (McGraw-Hill)
  • Hill and Kolb, Chemistry for Changing Times (Prentice-Hall)
  • Joesten et al., The World of Chemistry: Essentials (Cengage)
  • Kelter et al., Chemistry: A World of Choices (McGraw-Hill)
  • Moog and Farrell, Chemistry: A Guided Inquiry (Wiley)
  • Snyder, The Extraordinary Chemistry of Ordinary Things (Wiley)
  • Zumdahl and DeCoste, Introductory Chemistry (Cengage)

Online Resources

These resources, compiled by the CLEP test development committee and staff members, may help you study for your exam. However, none of these sources are designed specifically to provide preparation for a CLEP exam. The College Board has no control over their content and cannot vouch for accuracy.

Score Information

Passing Score for Chemistry
ACE Recommended Score*: 50
Semester Hours: 6

Each institution reserves the right to set its own credit-granting policy, which may differ from that of ACE. Contact your college as soon as possible to find out the score it requires to grant credit, the number of credit hours granted, and the course(s) that can be bypassed with a satisfactory score.

*The American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT) has evaluated CLEP processes and procedures for developing, administering, and scoring the exams. The score listed above is equivalent to a grade of C in the corresponding course. The American Council on Education, the major coordinating body for all the nation’s higher education institutions, seeks to provide leadership and a unifying voice on key higher education issues and to influence public policy through advocacy, research, and program initiatives. Visit the ACE CREDIT website for more information.