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AP Chem vs AP Bio: Which Is the Harder Course?

Every Advanced Placement (AP) subject is more challenging than its regular course. Both AP Chem and AP Bio courses for high-school students include curricula that are otherwise taught in college. Which one is harder?

The harder course between AP Chem and AP Bio will vary from one student to another. AP Chemistry involves Algebra, while AP Biology has statistics. Students who find logarithms difficult may find AP Chem harder. Those who don’t like math may find the statistics in AP Bio somewhat demanding. 

The challenges of studying a course or taking a particular class are subjective, depending on aptitude, interest, and effort. Some students may not like the intense memorization required for AP Bio or dislike the “no calculator” policy for the first section of the AP Chem exam. Let’s look at both courses in more detail.

AP Chemistry vs AP Biology - Which is Harder?

AP Chem vs AP Bio: Curricula Comparison

AP Chem curriculum covers the following: 

  • The study of atoms, molecules, ionic compounds, and their properties. 
  • Subatomic and intermolecular properties 
  • Chemical reactions 
  • Kinetics and thermodynamics 
  • Equilibrium
  • Acids and bases

There’s quite a bit of physics in AP Chem, including thermodynamic favorability. The AP Chem curriculum doesn’t include organic chemistry.

AP Bio curriculum covers the following: 

  • The study of water, macromolecules, cells, and evolution.
  • Cellular interactions 
  • Biological processes 
  • Heredity and genetics 
  • Ecosystems
  • Darwin’s theory of natural selection, including evolution

There’s a bit of chemistry in AP Bio as there are correlations and overlaps. The AP Bio course does not cover microbiology.

Both AP Chem and AP Bio involve practical studies in laboratories, sixteen and twelve, respectively. The exams have multiple-choice questions and free-response sections. Students must complete the AP Chem exam within 3 hours & 15 minutes and the AP Bio exam in 3 hours.

AP Chem vs AP Bio: Pass Rates and Top Scores

More students take AP Bio than those taking AP Chem. In 2021, 212,198 students took the AP Bio exam in comparison with 134,316 students that have taken the AP Chem exam (source). The numbers imply AP Bio is more popular among high-school students.

The AP exam scoring system goes from 1 to 5. Considering 3 as the qualifying or passing score, more students perform better in AP Bio than in AP Chem. In 2021, 51% of students scored 3 or higher in AP Chem. 

In contrast, 61% of students achieved a score of 3 or higher in AP Bio.

Students uncertain if AP Chem or AP Bio will suit them can refer to the numbers scoring 1 in each exam. 

Only 10% of students scored 1 in AP Bio in 2021, whereas 24% received the lowest score in AP Chem for the same year. This fact may also reflect why more students prefer AP Bio over AP Chem.

On the flip side, two students scored a perfect 100 out of 100 in AP Chem, while only one student scored a perfect 120 out of 120 in AP Bio. The pass rates and topmost or lowest scores do indicate trends and popular choices among students. 

However, it’s unwise to generalize or presume personal experiences from statistics or data.

According to Matt Packer, Head of the AP Program and the Senior VP of Advanced Placement & Instruction at the College Board, AP Chem students scoring even a 2 in the exam perform much better in college than others that don’t take the class in high school.

Source: CollegeBoard

AP Chem vs AP Bio: Majors and Career Options

AP Chem and AP Bio have 48 and 52 majors, respectively. 

Students taking both AP Chem and AP Bio can choose from 41 common majors, including but not limited to: 

  • Agricultural engineering 
  • Animal sciences 
  • Biochemistry 
  • Biomedical engineering 
  • Biotechnology 
  • Chemical engineering 
  • Environmental studies, including engineering 
  • Food science 
  • Forensic science 
  • Genetics
  • Pharmaceutical sciences
  • Public health

Students taking AP Chem and other sciences are eligible for: 

  • Astronomy 
  • Computer software engineering 
  • Electrical engineering
  • Industrial engineering and management
  • Forensic chemistry 
  • Materials engineering

Students taking AP Bio and other sciences may also consider: 

  • Anthropology 
  • Athletic training 
  • Communication sciences and disorders 
  • Ecology 
  • Emergency medical technology 
  • Gerontology 
  • Practical nursing
  • Statistics
  • Surgical technology

There are more than 80 career options for AP Chem graduates, depending on the major. AP Bio graduates can explore a little over 100 career options based on their major. Students taking AP Chem, AP Bio, and other sciences in high school are eligible for many more majors and career options.

The eventual career options depend on the major in college, which shall determine the specialization, and hence role. 

You may consider academics as a teacher, professor, or scientist.

You may explore professional opportunities as an engineer, technician, and even federal agent. You can consider a career in every industry engaged in the applications of the various sciences, especially the major you choose.

Students taking AP sciences in high school may choose vocational training, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s, and then a Ph.D. Also, the spectrum of engineering degrees is available. Those taking both AP Bio and AP Chem can pursue a career in the medical sciences.

Related Articles:

AP Chem vs AP Bio: Either, Both, or More?

Biology and chemistry are related, as chemical reactions power all biological processes. Likewise, chemistry and physics are related because the laws in physics are similar to those in chemistry. Chemistry connects biology and physics, and math connects everything in the universe.

Source: Scientific American

Galileo inferred that mathematics is the language of the creators of the universe. 

MIT Professor Max Tegmark’s theory is that the universe is made of math. Countless scientists, mathematicians, physicists, biologists, and theoretical chemists, among others, connect the sciences in myriad ways.

High school students can ensure their eligibility for several more major and career options by taking AP Chem, AP Bio, and more science classes, if possible. Those aspiring for a career in healthcare or the medical sciences must consider AP Bio. 

Those interested in any field of chemistry should choose AP Chem.

Final Thoughts

All AP courses assist and prepare aspiring students for a major in the same or a related subject. The AP test scores are not the ultimate indicator of one’s academic prowess or potential in the sciences. Treat the AP courses and exams as your stepping-stone and whetstone. 

Recommended Reading:

AP Chem vs. Chemistry: Differences and How to Choose

Is AP Biology Easy? Let’s Dissect This!