The trouble with the college study guides and the AP Chemistry practice exam is not the reason the questions are so difficult, but the way the multiple choice questions are written. In the College Board tests for chemistry there are too many unique types of compounds. More importantly, too many different types of reactions between those compounds and each other, but nowhere to put it.
As a second-year chemistry student who is stuck in a room reading out of a reading assignment by a fellow English teacher, I was beginning to lose my mind. At least in English literature class, there are many choices of words to fit with a book’s plot, so in English literature class we can decide if Shakespeare is the author.
But here, the professor did not put his name on the test, nor did he provide us with any such choices. The wrongs that a college professor could easily avoid with some creative writing is no match for the problems he has caused in the minds of his students. I don’t know how he ever thought he could make students believe he was an expert on chemical reactions.
The real problems with the exams are in the description of the physical aspect of the reaction. Here, I am referring to the description of reactions as if it were a physical problem rather than a statement of fact. In biology classes, professors will attempt to describe the process of a chemical reaction, instead of asking the students to convert data from charts to the word sheet.
Here is the alternative that a good chemistry teacher should have offered. Have the professor provide you with four or five pairs of atoms, or groups of atoms, which react with each other, instead of giving you dozens of ways to describe a reaction that may not work. This would be less confusing, but it would also be more meaningful to the student.
The correct description of a chemical reaction would still describe the physical aspect of the reaction. It would say something like, “Two quarks join together, forming a proton and an electron.” That is a description of the chemical reaction that you are being asked to perform.
When the chemistry faculty asks the questions, they are asking you to solve the problems. They have already defined the subject matter. Once they give you their prescribed answers, the task becomes one of finding the word that fits with that answer.
Instead of asking the students to determine if two elements are truly identical, the professors should be asking the students to discover the physical properties of the elements in question. Students should then be asked to test the results of those properties.
We must not allow our chemistry professors to redefine the meaning of a word as they want to. These professors have no respect for the truth and they are actively trying to confuse their students. If we are to have a reality-based education, this behavior needs to stop.
It is obvious that the professors are intentionally putting their favored answers into their tests. And no matter how many times they tweak the questions to change the answer choices, the standard Chemistry is still the same.
If this sounds unbelievable, take a look at the test papers that students are required to read. Look at them critically; some of the questions are asking students to manipulate the results of chemical reactions, while others are asking students to identify if a substance is present or absent.