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Studying for the AP Exams: How to Start


Passing an AP test with a high mark could transfer to college credit, and high scores look great during the college application process. Here’s a basic guideline on how students should approach studying for AP tests.

Know What to Study

Randomly reviewing facts, theories, or equations won’t cut it when it comes to the AP. Since these tests are nationally standardized, the questions and material on each test are carefully selected, and students need to know what to study.

The first place to check is the College Board website. From their site students can see exactly what material is meant to be covered in each course, which will give them a hint as to what’s going to be on the exam. The College Board site also details the format and number of questions for each individual AP exam, which is also crucial information.

The class syllabus is also a fantastic way to review material. Toward the end of the year, students may begin to forget the material they learned early in the fall. Looking at the course rundown, reviewing old tests, and reading notes from the prior semester are essential for reminding students of the material they need to be familiar with.

Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

Once AP test-takers know what they’re going to be asked to do, they should identify what material they feel comfortable with as well as what concepts they need to review. The tests cover a lot of ground, and it doesn’t make sense to study each concept in equal parts. For instance, if a student is taking the AP Psychology test and they already feel confident in their understanding of Developmental Psychology, they might want to spend more time reviewing the unit on Biological Bases of Behavior.

Review College Board’s course requirements to narrow down which units need the most attention. This way, it’s easy to create a study schedule that focuses on relearning and reviewing hard concepts.

Know the Test’s Format

Not every AP exam is set up the same way. The AP US History exam is going to be much different than the AP Chemistry exam, for example. Some exams are multiple-choice heavy while others are more focused on free-response and essay questions. Again, head to the College Board’s website for a breakdown of how a particular exam is proctored. There, you can find the allotted time and number of questions for each exam section. Being familiar with this information will make students feel comfortable and prepared for the actual test!

Don’t Underestimate Practice Tests

Practice makes perfect. And when it comes to the AP tests, nothing could be truer. Sitting through full practice exams helps familiarize students with the kinds of questions asked on the exam, promotes good time management skills, and will get them ready for their three-hour test period (a formidable thought to most high schoolers). Practicing specific subsections—multiple choice, essay, and short response questions—are also good ways to help students familiarize themselves with the AP exams in shorter, less intimidating intervals.

Practice exam questions are available from reliable sources all over the Internet, and there are even entire books dedicated to compiling AP exam questions and answering strategies. Investing in a few hours each week to practice with these kinds of materials will go a long way in prepping for the exam and getting the highest score possible.