The 7 Best AP Exams to Self-Study For

Did you know you can take an AP exam and earn college credit without taking the AP class? Consider self-studying for these seven popular AP exams.

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by Danika Miller

Published on March 29, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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The 7 Best AP Exams to Self-Study For

Created by the College Board, the Advanced Placement (AP) program allows students to take college-level courses in high school. Every May, students can take AP exams to try to earn college credit.

Each AP class has a corresponding AP exam. But these tests aren't limited to students in AP classes — any high school student can sign up for an AP test.

Whether you're homeschooled, your high school doesn't offer the class (or any AP classes), or you simply prefer independent learning, you can self-study for an AP exam.

If you choose to self-study for an AP exam, you'll need to be proactive at the start of the school year. Research high schools where you can take the exam if your school doesn't administer them and sign up for an exam-only section through the College Board. Note that tests must be ordered by Nov. 15.

A good rule of thumb when choosing which AP exams to self-study for is the more specific the subject, the less material you'll need to study. The College Board details the scope and skills for each AP test on its website. You can even find what percentage of questions each topic accounts for on the exam.

So which AP exams should you consider self-studying for? Here are our top seven picks.

1. AP World Languages

If you already speak a language offered by the AP program, you'll likely have a much easier time passing that language's AP exam. Currently, you can take AP exams in seven languages:

Even if you're fluent in one of these languages, you may still have to do some self-studying. The tests cover not only language skills, but also culture and history.

For example, the AP Chinese Language and Culture exam (which had an 88.2% pass rate in 2021) covers cultural concepts like familial structure, the influence of art, science and technology, and political challenges.

2. AP Art and Design

While you can learn a lot about art and design in a classroom, artistic skills are often self-taught and developed outside the classroom. If you're an artist or designer and feel confident you can put together a strong portfolio, it's worth registering for an AP Art and Design exam.

There are three AP Art and Design exams: 2-D, 3-D, and Drawing. In 2021, about 86% of test-takers passed the AP Drawing exam.

The AP Art and Design exams require students to submit a portfolio of original work as well as an investigative portfolio containing any research, inspiration, planning, and investigation of material or format they conducted.

3. AP Psychology

AP Psychology isn't a commonly offered class at most high schools, but a regular psychology class can provide a solid foundation for an AP exam. You may need to do some additional studying based on the course content outlined by the College Board.

The AP Psych exam covers a variety of psychology concepts, including behavior, perception, development, emotion, learning, cognitive psychology, and clinical psychology. You'll also need to memorize information about notable psychologists, vocabulary, and famous experiments.

4. AP Environmental Science

AP Environmental Science is one of the more popular self-study tests, largely because it's a less commonly offered class at U.S. high schools. The content tested overlaps with the material covered in high school biology classes, especially AP Biology.

Many of the foundational elements for the exam are taught in a variety of science classes, including data analysis, cause-effect, experimental design, and chart reading. All you need to do is apply those skills to the Earth, humanity's impact on the environment, and potential solutions to environmental issues in your self-studying.

5. AP Comparative Government and Politics

Nearly 72% of test-takers passed the AP Comparative Government and Politics exam in 2021. The College Board details the political systems, institutions, and behaviors you'll need to understand in order to ace this test.

For students with a knack for and interest in political science, this test is mostly just memorizing and applying that information.

The exam covers content similar to the curriculum for most U.S. history and government classes offered in high school. Be prepared to apply political concepts to situations, compare political systems, analyze data, and define political terms.

6. AP Human Geography

The AP Human Geography exam questions are mostly information recall rather than concept based or analysis driven. Much of the content is also covered in high school history classes. This means your self-study plan should largely focus on memorization.

Human Geography is a shorter AP exam at just over two hours long. To prepare, you'll need to memorize various facts, maps, and dates related to geography. You should also understand how different cultures have developed and migrated around the world.

7. AP English Language / AP English Literature

The best strategy for deciding which AP exams to self-study for is to play to your strengths. Many students develop an affinity for English and reading outside the classroom.

You have a good chance of passing an AP English exam if you are a strong English student or are taking an honors English class.

AP English Language and Composition tests critical reading and writing skills, with a nonfiction focus. For this test, you'll be asked to evaluate sources, consolidate information from multiple sources, revise a piece of writing, and develop an evidence-based argument.

In contrast, the AP English Literature and Composition exam asks test-takers to evaluate and analyze an array of fiction, drama, and poetry. You must be able to draw conclusions using support and evidence from the text, identify literary techniques, and develop clear interpretations of the reading material.


Feature Image: Ed Bock / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Wondering if AP classes are right for you? This post outlines five questions to ask yourself before enrolling in AP classes. We've ranked the 10 hardest AP classes and tests based on exam pass rates and scores. Learn what you should consider when selecting AP classes. Learn how to find the "easiest" AP classes, which have more flexible study requirements, and earn college credit through classes with high exam pass rates.

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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