How to Prepare for AP Exams

How to Prepare for AP Exams
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By Staff Writers

Published on April 2, 2021

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Advanced Placement (AP) examinations can earn high school graduates advanced standing or credit in colleges and universities across the country. AP courses can also help learners earn admission into their dream schools and reduce tuition costs.

According to the College Board, more than 38% of high school graduates took at least one AP test in 2020, with approximately 64% of test-takers earning a score of 3 or higher. 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 in three two-week blocks. In 2021, the first block of testing begins May 3, and the final block concludes on June 11. You can refer to the AP test schedule to find the exact dates for each subject.

The three testing blocks feature different administration methods. For Administration 1, students complete tests for all subjects at their schools with paper and pencil. For Administrations 2 and 3, learners may complete tests digitally at home or at school, depending on their test subject and when they schedule an exam.

Administration 1: May 3-7, 10-12, 14, and 17 Administration 2: May 18-21 and 24-28 Administration 3: June 1-4 and 7-11

When Should You Begin Studying for AP Exams?

All students should set their own study schedules, but the earlier they begin their preparation, the better their chances of getting a higher score. In general, students typically start studying between January and March. This gives them enough time to cover all of the material, complete 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 semester-long AP class that finishes shortly before their test date. Other learners may spend dozens of hours preparing for a single AP test, especially if it's been a while since they covered the course material.

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 subject(s) you struggle with and less time on strong courses.

While your strengths and interests may vary considerably, some subjects also tend to test easier, such as politics, geography, and psychology. Conversely, many students find AP tests in physics, calculus, and chemistry more challenging. As such, these tests may require more dedication and preparation.

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 even a 5, depending on the test subject. Check with your target schools to determine which scores to aim for.

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

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 subject, cross it off your list and move on to the next topic.

Practice

AP prep exams can help familiarize you with the testing format, provide an idea of the type of questions on the real test, and make it easier to identify the areas you need to work on. You can find practice AP tests from various online resources or create your own by compiling individual questions.

Slow and Steady

Last-minute studying can do more harm than good when it comes to test day. Instead, you should start studying early and maintain a slow and consistent pace. Stick to a schedule for an extended period of time and avoid long and arduous study sessions to avoid getting overwhelmed.

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

The College Board offers students access to AP courses, practice AP tests, exam information, and mentoring programs on the AP Central section of its website.

The NROC Project provides visitors with open access to numerous educational resources, including AP classes, review materials, AP prep exams, and personalized support.

Coursera provides students with access to courses from more than 200 higher education institutions. Members can find AP courses, practice AP tests, and study materials for free.

Kaplan Test Prep provides study and preparation resources for various standardized and national tests, including AP exams. Visit Kaplan's website to access AP class materials, practice tests, and review sessions.

AP Practice Exams offers students access to AP prep tests in various subjects. You can take advantage of the site's study guides, practice questions, and various other resources, all for free.

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