UTC: Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

Lamenting the loss of inorganic in AP Chemistry

The second week in May is always an odd time of year for me. With the administration of the AP exam behind me, the whole purpose of the majority of my teaching for the year has passed, and I am left to reflect. It’s this same time of year that I see my ex-colleagues across the pond, feverishly cranking UP the heat in precise contrast to my winding down. In one way, I envy them. They have so much more to work for, and in a totally different (and in my opinion superior) system, but they are also under far more pressure than I am.

One of those ex-colleagues (I use the term loosely), is @MaChemGuy. As he prepares his students for their A-Level in chemistry – an infinitely higher stakes exam that AP – his year is still to come to a crescendo. As he frantically revises with them (in England we call what you Americans call ‘review’, revision), I follow his tweets with a mixture of relief and lament. In a series of Tweets from May 8th, I found myself thinking about something else – something that I’ve always known, but that was brought to the surface by the pictures extracted from those Tweets, below.

What is it that I lament? In a nutshell, the horrible lack of inorganic chemistry (you know, the ACTUAL REACTIONS that the stuff on the periodic table undergoes), in the AP curriculum these days.

Honestly, there never was that much inorganic chemistry in the curriculum anyway, but the old NIE’s in Question #4 at least kept us honest. They required me to teach what a complex ion was, some simple naming, a few ligand exchange reactions, and the destruction of some ammine containing complexes with acid. The same was true of organic in terms of some very simple naming, a combustion reaction, maybe an addition and/or a substitution, and (the admittedly highly unlikely) esterification. I also used to lean on complex REDOX reactions quite hard as well, but with the demise of question #4, the exam has become one almost exclusively about physical chemistry. That seems like a shame to me, almost like the actual CHEMISTRY of the elements has somehow been lost.

Sure we can still expect one or two simple, straightforward reactions, but these appear to be ones that we would expect kids enrolled in chemistry classes below the AP level to handle with relative ease. A simple neutralization or precipitation isn’t exactly the reaction of dichromate(VI) ions with tin(II) ions, or a reaction of hexaamminecobalt(III) chloride, is it?

So, when @MaChemGuy‘s colors and complex ion list came across my radar, I felt more than just a pang of nostalgia, I also felt a little sad.




  1. Josh Branham says:

    A lot of AP Chemistry teachers were happy to see #4 go away but I really liked that question. It was arguably the most chemistry-y question of the AP Chemistry exam.

    • BINGO! I loved that question too! It was the hardest thing to get the kids ready for, but the learning curve was HUGE, and most of my kids ended up with close to 15/15! I ABSOLUTELY agree that it was the question that was furthest away from math and physics, and therefore was the most “chemistry-y”. I think it’s basically WRONG to call the AP Chemistry exam a “Chemistry Exam” with so little inorganic. I really miss it, and would argue that even WITH the old question #4, there wasn’t enough inorganic there. Of course, Organic is a whole other beast in the USA, but that would mean changing the whole system over here.

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