Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chemistry CLEP

I had only a few minutes of Chemistry in high school, so I started studying with no prior experience, but I did know that I was interested in the subject.

I studied for this exam for 3 months. I think if I had started with the right materials, I could have studied for only 2 months. I earned an astonishingly high score of 67, which I think means that I got as much as 80% of the questions correct.

My impression after studying and taking the practice tests is that this is a very learnable topic as long as you have the right study materials. Schaum's Outline of College Chemistry: Jerome L Rosenberg, Lawrence Epstein: Books - I decided to use the 8th ed instead of the 9th because it received a good review from a CLEP tester and said it was for independent study. I was hoping it would be the only book I would need for this exam. I found out, though, that the Schaum's book is not all-inclusive. There are a lot of basic foundational concepts, like how the periodic table is set up, that need to be found elsewhere. I ended up learning a lot of the material backwards. I spent a lot more time lost and frustrated than I would have liked while trying to solve problems. As I took practice tests at the end of my studies, I was getting the impression that the actual test would not be as problem-oriented as I expected. This means I probably wasted a lot of time trying to do the deeper problems and could have just read the book to learn more about some of the concepts, after getting the foundational information in the other sources. That being said, I still could have used more practice solving basic Chemistry problems (not nearly the depth of Schaum’s, which is a good resource for problem-based courses).

Chemistry - CliffsNotes - These are excellent. Learn every word. They really did a good job of simplifying and making understandable some complicated topics. The only thing I did not like was that the sample problems to work through on my own did not have any answers given. (I suspect there is a book version of this, which probably does have answers.) I also used their glossary and “cheat sheet”.

online videos - Resource: The World of Chemistry - I took some notes on videos #3-24 out of 26 total. I liked being able to see chemistry experiments and other examples were helpful. There is also a lot that is just a general overview of the topic. As an alternative, I’d recommend finding a website that shows an overview of lab equipment and what each item is used for. I’d also look for some basic chemistry experiments to watch.

Interactives . The Periodic Table . Intro - I really enjoyed using this excellent website on the Periodic Table. I spent an hour reading the whole site. Be sure to keep the information about characteristics of the different periodic groups to memorize.

After studying all of this, I added 2 more books - Chemistry Concepts and Problems and REA CLEP. Chemistry: Concepts and Problems: A Self-Teaching Guide (Wiley Self-Teaching Guides): Clifford C. Houk, Richard Post: Books - This is great! I would recommend starting with this book; it starts with the very basic information and builds from there. Next read the periodic table website. Then work through CliffNotes; then add REA. After that, look at the Official Study Guide and see what topics have not been covered yet, and find some resources for those. CLEP Chemistry (REA) The Best Test Prep for (REA Test Preps): Kevin R. Reel: Books (+ download of Errata mentioned in customer feedback at Amazon) This book is a concise list of notes on the topics that need to be studied for the exam. I needed to learn the material through other sources and then use this as a refresher. It is nice to have the guidance of what areas are most important to understand. It also has 2 practice tests.

Practice test #1 - 45 Correct out of 75 questions, 60%, 56 scaled score

Practice test #2 - 50 Correct out of 75 questions, 66%, 60 scaled score

I think Peterson’s online has CLEP and AP practice exams for this. I only used the CLEP exams.

Practice test #1 - 66 Correct out of 80 questions, 82%

Practice test #2 - 61 Correct out of 80 questions, 76%

Practice test #3 - 66 Correct out of 80 questions, 82%

CLEP Official Study Guide - Practice test - 42 out of 60 questions, 70% (with 10 minutes of extra time)

I also had a friend’s notes, quizzes, and textbook for General College Chemistry I and II and high school chemistry. Mostly I read through some of the notes and all of the quizzes and looked a few things up in the textbook.

Plus, this list of online resources (all looked good, but I did not get to use them):

Chemistry Study Guides - SparkNotes (I noticed they give answers to the practice questions.)

SparkNotes: SAT Chemistry

A fellow studier also recommended ALEKS -- Assessment and Learning, K-12, Higher Education, Automated Tutor, Math to me. I believe they offer a free trial.

I did not get a chance to look at anything that said AP. I did find a CliffNotes AP practice test, which I did not get to try, at this link:

5 Chemistry Practice Exams:Title Information - CliffsNotes (click PDF on the left)

Chemistry, 4th Edition :Title Information - CliffsNotes (chapter with sample questions – click PDF on left) (I noticed this has a good explanation of quantum numbers.)

Chemistry CLEP Free Study Guide! - Just before I was finished studying, I was told about this website. It would have been a good starting point for me, when I needed to look a few topics up on the web for clarification.

Khan Academy may be another possibility for the basics, but I did not know about these videos at the time I was studying.

Memorize – It’s never too early to start memorizing the important material. Here is a list of some of the information that I memorized and the best source I found for them:

scientists (REA), nomenclature and ions (Concepts), organic functional groups (Schaum’s**), hybridization (REA), solubility (REA), definitions (Cliffs glossary is a good start, but find another one, too)

bonds, radioactivity, formulas, periodic properties (a mix of all sources)

Look for patterns to make memorizing easier, such as positive enthalpy is endothermic as is breaking bonds which is going from solid to liquid to gas.

I couldn’t learn enough about acids/bases and oxidation/reduction. I used a textbook to memorize the list of acids/bases and oxidizing/reducing agents.

I tried to learn/memorize as many of the “simple” things as I could and accrue points that way. Things like quantum numbers (REA, Cliffs AP), bond order (Schaum’s**), and orders of reactions (REA, practice tests) were still confusing but I seemed to know enough about them with these resources.

Strategy – Since it is hard to finish the test on time, I had seen tips to go through and answer easy questions quickly and then start over and work on more difficult parts. When I tried this on practice tests, it left me feeling very unsettled and uncommitted to answering anything on the practice test. For the real test, I ended up answering each question as it came and making sure I stayed on time (25 questions by 30 minutes, half of 75 questions by 45 minutes, 50 questions by 60 minutes, and all 75 questions by 90 minutes). I gave my best answer and marked a lot, but I don’t know why I marked any since I knew I wasn’t going to have the time to look at them again. I didn’t have much time to really think through problems or chemical reactions, so it would help to be as familiar with those as possible.

Periodic Table – I had read a tip that they don’t always give the full periodic table during the test, but during the pre-test, they show one that you can sketch out on scratch paper. Another idea was to note an early question that does show the whole table. I used both ideas. It is possible, though, that I needed neither because when I checked their table on about 5 questions during the test, it was always complete with atomic symbol, number, and weight for each element. They often give molar mass in the problem, but did not give any formulas.

Calculator – I had read that I wasn’t allowed to bring my own, but I had some trouble understanding the CLEP calculator on the test computer. Make sure it is in degrees (deg) not radians (rad). Then try floating decimal (flo) and scientific notation (sci) during the pre-test. I used both during the test. I just found the EE button (power of 10 - Schaum’s**) on my calculator – I love it. I wasn’t able to figure out how to use EE with square or square root on their calculator. I also needed to double-check all of my calculations. I am going to need some extra practice before I take a math exam.
Update: The CLEP Sampler can be downloaded from the official CLEP website. This has the calculator that will be available during the exam. You can use this to practice at home before the exam and get familiar with the features on the calculator.

Schaum’s** - use the Amazon link and scroll down to “Search inside this book”
organic functional groups – search IUPAC, choose p. 229
bond order – search antibonding, choose p. 130, 144, and 145
EE – search EE4, choose p. 370

Note: Before you go to all of the work of studying for and taking this exam, be sure that your college will accept it for the credit that you need for your major and make sure that any lab requirements can be earned separately.

This may seem like an overwhelming amount of material to learn, but it is really not that bad, considering it represents a full year of college chemistry classes. With great resources and giving myself enough time to learn, I was able to pass this exam having started with no prior knowledge. I know that others can do this, too!


  1. Thanks! This has been very helpful

  2. How hard were the practice tests of REA and the official one comparing to the actual test? thanks.

  3. Well, I have procrastinated long enough . . . time to start studying.

  4. Thanks for this information. I'm guiding my teenage son through the CLEP process right now. He has been using ALEKS to prepare for the chemistry exam.

  5. thanks man! before this i was clueless

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