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Scoring well on Advanced Placement (AP) exams is an opportunity for students to show college readiness, earn college credit and maybe even save money on tuition.  These exams cover substantial material and test sophisticated concepts, which necessitates a sound study plan if you want to score well.  Head into test day with confidence using these tips.

Consider Your Goal

Any good study plan starts with a realistic goal.  Reflect on your course grades, your motivation level and interest and then review the AP’s data on historical score distributions.   If you want to score a 5 on a subject that is particularly difficult, then your time commitment and study schedule may look more ambitious than it would be for the student who hopes to score a 3.  In 2019, 43% of students scored a 5 on BC Calculus, while a mere 6.2% reached that same goal in English Literature and Composition.  The data may be encouraging or it may be a sobering reality check. 

Collect Your Resources

Ensure a low-stress study experience by investing in an AP review book with practice exams – there are dozens on the market for any given exam.  For AP History exams, you can find packs of flashcards for sale online that hit all the major figures, wars and themes.  For STEM classes, make sure you have a full list of all the equations the exam will cover.  If you don’t know these cold on test day, you may stumble.  The AP website offers detailed study materials, including at least one free practice test for each exam.

Manage Your Calendar

Give yourself the space to focus all your energy on the AP hurdle.  Whether you’re a sophomore attempting your first AP exam or a junior or senior juggling three or more, start with the May AP exam schedule.  Know when your test will happen and begin studying at least 3-4 weeks in advance.  Think of how to manage your stamina if you have back-to-back exams.  Consider how a big event (track meet? school play?) might interfere with studying.  The run-up to one or more AP exams is probably not a good time to prep for another major test like the SAT or ACT. 

Are you in an AP course?  Find out how much class time your teacher will commit to exam prep.  Will he or she offer a full-length practice test?  Remember that in-class prep is rarely sufficient, so you’ll need to block multiple two-hour windows for independent study.  Consider whether you have the motivation to study on your own or if you need to find friends with similar study habits and goals who might make good study partners.

Know the Test and Yourself

The College Board’s published materials are very transparent about what to expect.  There’s no reason to be surprised with the format, pacing or concepts that will be tested.

Be aware of any concepts or periods not covered in class.  Students occasionally need to independently study significant portions of the exam if, for example, their AP U.S. History classes run out of time before covering World War II and the entire post-war era. 

Reflect on your weaknesses.  A reluctant writer should practice more long-form essay questions and create a “template” that will help answer questions on a wide range of themes.  Use practice tests to  learn pacing skills, such as honing in on easier multiple choice questions at the top of the exam.

Read our blog about how to build stamina for a three-hour long test such as the AP exam.

Tungsten Prep offers individualized AP exam prep for 18 separate AP exams.  Contact us to discuss one-on-one tutoring or build your own small group class at a discounted rate.