Chemistry and Biochemistry

Proficiency Exams

To assess proficiency for incoming graduate students, we administer exams in five areas: analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry. These exams are taken on a pass/fail basis. To show proficiency, chemistry students need to pass four out of the five area exams; biochemistry students need to pass only the biochemistry proficiency exam. They are standardized exams of the multiple-choice type. These exams are intended to encourage you to review, strengthen, and broaden your general knowledge in the field of chemistry/biochemistry. With adequate preparation, many of our new graduate students pass the required number of exams on the first testing. Passing these exams on the first attempt will enable you to move directly into studies for your chosen area of interest.

Below is a list of some course descriptions and textbooks that have been used for the related undergraduate courses in our department here at BYU. Other textbooks written for courses at the same level should serve equally well for study purposes.

Analytical (one or two semesters beyond Freshman or General Chemistry)

Douglas A. Skoog, F. James Holler, and Stanley R. Crouch, Principles of Instrumental Analysis, 6th Edition. Brooks Cole, 2006.  Exam topics can include:  aqueous analytical methods, modern instrumental methods and basic principles of instrumentation.


Biochemistry (two semesters with organic chemistry prerequisite)

D.L. Nelson and M.M. Cox, Lehninger - Principles of Biochemistry, Sixth Edition, Worth Publishers, New York, 2013.  Exam topics can include: molecular components of cells, chemical structure and function, enzymes, metabolic transformations, photosynthesis, replication and transcription, and protein synthesis.


Inorganic (one semester beyond a two-semester general chemistry course)

D.F. Shriver and P. Atkins, Inorganic Chemistry, Fourth Edition, W.H. Freeman and Company, 2006.  Exam topics can include: elemental properties, periodic trends, atomic structure, group theory, molecular orbital, valence bond and crystal field theory, solids,

coordination compounds, organometallic chemistry, reaction mechanisms, acids and bases, electrochemistry, and bioinorganic chemistry.


Organic (two semesters)

Smith, Organic Chemistry, 4th Edition.  Exam topics can include: molecular structure and bonding, acidity/basicity/pKa, nomenclature of organic compounds, conformations of acyclic and cyclic molecules, stereochemistry of organic compounds, reactions of different organic functional classes, mechanisms of common organic reactions, synthesis of organic compounds, and spectroscopic identification of organic compounds.


Physical (two semesters)

P. Atkins, Physical Chemistry, W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, Eighth Edition, 2006.  Exam topics can include:  states of matter, thermodynamics and equilibria, kinetic-molecular theory, quantum mechanics, atomic structure, spectroscopy, and group theory.

The BYU Harold B. Lee Library has copies of the study guides for the General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Physical Chemistry ACS exams, . Listed below is information on each study guide and a link to the library page.
TITLE: Preparing for your ACS Examination in General Chemistry: The Official Guide
AUTHORS: Eubanks, Lucy T. and I. Dwaine
Available at Circulation Desk — 8 copies
TITLE: Preparing for Your ACS Examination in Organic Chemistry : The Official Guide
AUTHOR: Eubanks, I. Dwaine
Available at Circulation Desk — 10 copies 
TITLE: Preparing for your ACS examination in physical chemistry
AUTHOR: Homes, Thomas A.
QD 456.H65x2009
Available at Circulation Desk -- 9 copies
The American Chemical Society does not produce study guides for the analytical chemistry or biochemistry exams. All of the practice exams are  available online through ACS and can be found here: .

Students will be given three consecutive attempts to pass the proficiency exams, the first being administered at the time of entry into the program. The second round will be between Fall and Winter semesters, and the final attempt will be between Winter and Spring terms. In the event students fail to pass an area exam on their first attempt but score within 20% of the required pass level, they can choose to (a) study on their own and take the exam again, or (b) register for a specific clearance course in that particular area. Students who score lower than 20% below the pass level are required to enroll in a requisite clearance course. The department will pay tuition for clearance courses and include these courses in the program of study along with other required courses. A grade of "B" or better in a clearance course, obtained by a student while enrolled in the BYU graduate program, substitutes for passing the corresponding proficiency exam. (A grade of "B-" or below is not sufficient.) Students who do not earn at least a "B" in a clearance course will need to retake and pass that area exam. It is necessary to pass the required number of proficiency exams and/or clearance courses (with a "B" grade or better) by the third exam offering in order to continue in the program. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to call Kari Van Sickle, Graduate Program Manager, at 801-422-4845. We look forward to receiving your acceptance and are eager for you to begin your graduate studies.