How to Prepare for AP Exams

Learn how to prepare for your AP exams and discover some useful study tips that can help improve your test scores.

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by Staff Writers

Updated August 15, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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How to Prepare for AP Exams
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Advanced Placement (AP) exams can earn high school students credit at colleges and universities across the U.S. AP courses can also help learners earn admission into their dream schools and reduce tuition costs.

According to the College Board, 35% of the class of 2021 took at least one AP exam, with 23% of test-takers earning a score of 3 or higher.

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Ready to start your journey?

To help future test-takers prepare for their exams and maximize their scores, we put together some information that all students should know.

AP Exam Schedule: Dates to Know

The AP exam schedule offers testing dates for each subject over the course of two weeks. This year's AP exams will begin Monday, May 2, 2022. You can refer to the AP test schedule to find the exact dates for each subject.

Note that if you miss an AP exam or have two or more conflicting exams, you can take that test the third week of May.

Here's an overview of this year's AP exam schedule:

When Should You Begin Studying for AP Exams?

In general, students typically start studying between January and March. This gives them enough time to cover all the material, take AP prep courses, take practice tests, and develop an AP test strategy.

The required depth and strategy for studying depend on the course, the study schedule, and the student. Some learners can get away with studying just a few hours — especially strong students taking a semesterlong AP class that finishes shortly before their test date. Others may spend dozens of hours preparing for a single AP test.

Below are three factors that can help you determine how much studying you'll need to do before your AP exam(s).

Factor 1: Subject

When developing a study strategy, consider the subject and honestly gauge your aptitude with the material at hand. You should dedicate more time to the AP subject(s) you struggle with and less time on strong courses.

While your strengths and interests may vary, some subjects also tend to test easier, such as AP Music Theory and AP Psychology. Conversely, many students find exams for AP Physics 1 and AP Chemistry more challenging. As such, these tests may require more dedication and preparation.

Factor 2: Target Score

AP tests are graded on a 5-point scale, with students typically aiming for a score of 3 or higher — a score that generally indicates a student is qualified to receive college credit. Learners aiming for a 5 in a subject typically need to study more than they would if they were targeting a 3.

Furthermore, not all colleges view test scores the same. While some schools may grant credit for a 3 on an AP exam, others may require a 4 or 5 depending on the test subject. Check with your target schools to determine which scores you should aim for.

Factor 3: Areas of Interest

While some students find value in simply retracing their steps and reviewing AP course material the same way they went over it in class, it can be useful to think about areas that might require more attention.

Spend more time on sections you struggled with to ensure you have a balanced understanding of the curriculum. Reviewing old homework assignments, quizzes, and tests is a useful way to spot potential trouble areas.

Studying for Multiple AP Exams

Taking one AP test can be difficult, but taking multiple AP courses and exams presents unique challenges.

First, you need to know your exam schedule, which can help you plan ahead and make sure you dedicate the appropriate amount of study time to each subject. You may find that committing an entire study session to one subject allows you to focus and retain information better.

You should also think about whether you actually need to take the AP class or if you can get away with studying for the AP test on your own.

4 Essential Study Tips for AP Exams

As you prepare for your AP exams, keep these four essential tips in mind.

1. Develop a Study Plan

Creating a study plan can help you stay on track and avoid neglecting important material. A study plan and schedule can also make it easier to stay motivated and make progress. Once you master a concept, cross it off your list and move on to the next topic.

2. Practice

AP practice tests can help familiarize you with the testing format, provide an idea of the type of questions you'll see, and make it easier to identify the areas you need to work on. Ask your AP teacher for practice tests. You can also search online or create your own practice exam by compiling sample questions.

3. Avoid Cramming

Last-minute studying can do more harm than good. Instead, you should start studying for your AP exam(s) early and maintain a slow and consistent pace. Stick to a schedule for an extended period of time and minimize long and arduous study sessions so you don't get overwhelmed.

4. Think Outside the Box

When studying, try and think beyond your notes and AP class materials. Formulate new ideas using your knowledge and ask teachers and study partners questions. This varied engagement with the course can help you think about and apply the material from multiple perspectives.

The Night Before and Morning of the AP Exam

The night before your AP test, make sure to eat a balanced meal, stay hydrated, and get a good night's sleep. It may be tempting to cram all night, but basic preparation is usually more effective. If you're tired when trying to take your AP test, your scores will likely suffer.

On the morning of the exam, try and follow a similar pattern. Eat, drink water, check that you have your test materials, and confirm where and when your test takes place. If traveling to take your exam, give yourself enough time to arrive calmly and in the right state of mind.

AP Prep Resources

Here are some of the best AP study materials you can use in your prep.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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