Chemistry and Biochemistry

Proficiency Exams

Newly admitted Chemistry Department graduate students must take pass/fail proficiency exams in five areas: analytical, biochemical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry.  These exams try to encourage graduate students to review, strengthen, and broaden their knowledge of chemistry. Demonstrating proficiency allows students to proceed directly to studies in their field of interest.

Proficiency exams are multiple-choice. Students of chemistry need only pass three out of five exams in order to demonstrate proficiency. Students of biochemistry need only pass the biochemistry exam. Students may attempt to demonstrate proficiency three consecutive times (upon admission, between fall and winter term, and between winter and spring term). 

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 study individually and take the exam again or register for a specific clearance course in that particular area. Students scoring less than 20% below the pass level must enroll in a requisite clearance course. The department will pay tuition for clearance courses and include these courses in the student's study program along with other required courses. A grade of B or better in a BYU clearance course substitutes for passing the corresponding proficiency exam. Students who do not earn at least a B in a clearance course must retake the course or proficiency exam. Students must pass the required number of proficiency exams and/or clearance courses by the third exam offering in order to continue in the program.


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 analytical chemistry or biochemistry exams. All of the practice exams are available online through ACS and can be found here: .